From meditation to mindfulness: How to feel your way to calm in Amsterdam
Before I begin, I want you to drop the demands of your day and allow yourself a moment to tune in. Take a long deep breath from your belly, all the way up to your chest, and hold it for four seconds. Then, very slowly exhale through your mouth or nose; stretching out the breath for as long as you can. Repeat this a few times over and, if possible, close your eyes.
So, what do you observe?
Being attentive to our bodies and breath - and understanding the connection between the two - is rare these days. We’re over-stimulated, overworked and over-committed; and we’ve forgotten how to focus. Luckily for us living canal-side, there’s been a rise in workshops and courses dedicated to helping us zone back to zen.
From 8-week mindfulness meetups to intense breathwork immersions and a little blissful sound healing, Amsterdam is full of curious ways to help us ditch the gadgets, step away from the noise and sink into the silence.
Sounds simple, right? But the art of breathing is making a huge comeback thanks to Dutch pioneer Wim Hof; a.k.a. “The Iceman”. Inspired by ancient Eastern practises, The Wim Hof Method uses a specialised breathing technique to ignite our “inner power” which is tested to the max with cold therapy.
“Breathing is about reconnecting the mind and body for health, happiness and strength,” says Bart Biermans, a Wim Hof Trainer who runs breathing workshops from his houseboat in Amsterdam. “After breathing, you’re fully in the body, so you can then go even further with your meditation”.
Bart’s Iceman Training workshops, (over one day or a whole weekend) use this breathing technique with an ice bath immersion to foster an intense inward focus. This brings us back in tune with ourselves, so much so, that it releases emotional blockages within the body and gives us a blissfully relaxed state of mind. “The cold gets the stress response system up, then I teach people how to stay calm with trust, focus and just letting go”.
Breathing alone has been proven to have huge benefits to the immune system, as well as increasing energy and reducing stress. And the best part? We can all do it!
Mindfulness teaches us the art of silent observation, which really is a skill to be mastered in today’s society. “Our mind is not made for this 24 / 7 fast digital world,” says Wineke Van Ankle, Founder of MettaMind.
“That’s why we all get stressed and burned-out. There's too much information and we don’t have a safe haven anymore. The community of 150 people that we used to live in: that defined what our life looked like. These days, the whole world is our reference and everything seems to be possible. We just don’t know what kind of life fits with our needs.”
Through MettaMind, Wineke runs a series of 8-week Mindfulness courses, in Dutch or English, at Centrum De Roos: a beautiful meditation-come-yoga centre on the edge of the Vondelpark. Through a variety of guided meditations, body scans, slow walking and gentle yoga, we learn to use mindfulness to detach from our thoughts and objectively observe the mind, releasing a new sense of calm and control.
“Mindfulness teaches you not to get entangled in your thoughts and emotions, but just to let them go without responding. That will calm the monkey mind and give you space to get in touch with your intuition, your gut feeling.”
If you’re curious about consciousness and want to try something of the spiritual sort, head to Amsterdam’s ultimate cabinet of curiosities: The Conscious Club.
A beautiful building on a quiet corner of the Jordaan, The Conscious Club hosts a heap of workshops and classes designed to expand body, mind and spirit. From candle-lit sound healing meditations, to Ayurvedic lifestyle classes and restorative flow yoga, this peaceful place has it all. And if you’re simply seeking a moment to chill and reflect, pop in to see the gorgeous interiors, grab a vegan slice and try out some silent contemplation from their canal-facing cafe.
If West is your place, a little further across the city you'll find Lab 111, which aside from the cinema, now offers 45-minute pop-up meditation workshops for those looking to take a break from it all.
Calm doesn’t always have to be conditioned on a mat, in fact, it’s often better to head outdoors, kick off your clogs and feel the natural surface of the earth beneath your feet. “Earthing”, as this is officially known, is about intentionally walking barefoot in soil, grass or sand to make contact between our bodies and the electrons in the earth.
In doing so, you absorb the planet’s natural charge, known to regulate the nervous system, reduce stress and improve overall health. Amsterdam is full of forests, parks, and far-stretching coastal beaches, giving us every excuse to leave our phones at home, take off our shoes and give that serotonin a boost.
How do you feel your way to calm in Amsterdam? Let us know in the comment section below!