A haven in the mind

Outside, winter lingers like an unwelcome guest. Inside, however, it is a lovely summer day by the sea.

The thin, almost imperceptible line of the horizon and distant sails that flutter like white caps are all that separate the pale blue of the sky from the deeper blue of the water. As I stand on the pier of Playland Amusement Park in Rye, I smell the tang of the Long Island Sound and hear the lapping waves on the rocks, the echoing laughter of children on the beach. 

Stephanie Filardi strikes tree pose in Bali during a leadership training workshop. Photographs courtesy Bronxville Wellness Sanctuary.

As fishermen cast off from the pier, I look out at the Sound and am content.

Or at least I am in my mind. It is actually early spring, and I am at the Bronxville Wellness Sanctuary where co-founder Stephanie Filardi is guiding me through a meditation/visualization exercise. The room is warm and dark. Incense wafts through the air. Eastern sounds lace it as well. I am lying on a mat — a red velvet, lavender-scented, heart-shaped sachet that Stephanie has given me resting on my chest. I feel perfectly at ease and safe.

Before we begin, we chat. Stephanie is not only co-founder of the Sanctuary with trainer/masseur Peter Iocovello but the creator of Thriving You Thriving Life, an online educational and mentoring platform designed to help people find more joy in their lives. Certified in yoga instruction and holistic health, she’s also the self-published author of “Reclaiming Joy:  Your 4 Step Guide to Happy, Healthy & Free.”

Yet those three qualities didn’t always define her life, she says. There was a time in retail marketing in Manhattan’s Garment District when she was engaging in self-destructive behavior — drinking and shopping too much. Needing to take her life in a new direction, she joined forces with Peter, who was her trainer, and started the Sanctuary in 2011 in four rooms that were a former doctor’s office in the stucco and brick Studio Arcade that lies in the shadow of New York-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital in the picturesque village of Bronxville.

Stephanie debunks the myths of meditation. It is not the absence of thought. How can we empty our minds of all thought? she says. It’s not possible. Rather we acknowledge passing thoughts but stay focused and rooted. 

Secondly, there is no such thing as a perfect meditation practice. You don’t have to worry about doing it wrong. You may feel suffused with contentment but you may find your meditation practice dredging up intense emotions — which leads to her third point:  It’s not all Zen. Some meditation sessions may leave you more sorrowful than blissful.

Peter Iocovello.

But all are about three things, she says — awareness of yourself, your surroundings and your thoughts and feeling so that you can make choices that will lead you to nonjudgmental compassion for yourself and others. So you go inward really to reach out.

We begin with me lying on my back, a pillow under my head and a rolled blanket under my knees to take any strain off my back. I breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth slowly. As I continue to do this, Stephanie asks me to concentrate on each part of the body sequentially, moving from the crown of the head to the tips of the toes. Journeying through this landscape, she asks me to imagine I am buoyed and filled with a white-gold light. It’s only toward the end that she asks me to visualize a place that I experience in my mind with all my senses. I choose Playland and adjacent Rye Town Park, because it is a place where I have experienced much happiness with family and friends. In the end, I see myself sitting with my aunt as I often did on a park bench, looking out to the sea. We close with five minutes of silence before a chime invites me to return to the everyday world.

The Sanctuary has a variety of programs that include facials, massage and yoga therapy. I would definitely recommend meditating and the Sanctuary, particularly for anyone like me whose mind — and heart — are always running. 

You can get Stephanie Filardi’s meditation download and find out more about the Bronxville Wellness Sanctuary at bronxvillewellness.com.

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