At Two Chairs, we believe meditation can be a useful and at times, transformational, component of an individual’s mental health toolkit. Many of our clinicians encourage their clients to incorporate it into their lives, and you’ll find us doing brief 10-minute group meditations on a weekly if not daily basis at our San Francisco HQ.
Especially for people new to meditation, guided meditations are particularly helpful, which is why we’re excited to partner with Chorus Meditation. Chorus Meditation was founded earlier this year by Ali Abramovitz and MK Hurlbutt, who are bringing energy and warmth to something that often feels unapproachable: “Our experience is a 45-minute in-person class where we draw from different meditation techniques — including a style of rapid breathing that we set to the beat of an energizing soundtrack. The combination of the music, breathing, and welcoming environment makes it easier to reach that blissful, stress-free state, which in turn enables you to connect with yourself and those around you. You leave class with a resounding sense of clarity, calmness, and connection!”
MK is a Senior SoulCycle Instructor based in San Francisco, and just celebrated her 5 year anniversary of teaching, and Ali was working in investing and corporate strategy before starting Chorus Meditation. Both are passionate about mental health issues, and adopted meditation practices of their own to deal with symptoms of stress and anxiety. They were introduced by a mutual friend, and Chorus was born.
A Conversation with Ali + MK, Co-founders of Chorus Meditation
We are so thrilled to have a partner that’s so focused on mental health and community-building in the Bay Area. Why were you excited about this collaboration?
We truly believe in taking care of our minds in the same way we take care of our bodies, and meditation and therapy are great tools to do just that. Also, in the same way that your doctor can prescribe a prescription, that happens all the time with therapists recommending mindfulness and meditation. Two Chairs is changing the game in making therapy a more accessible and de-stigmatize practice. We are doing the same with meditation, and together they are a winning combo!
What motivated each of you to start a meditation company?
Ali: Prior to Chorus, I worked in fast-paced environments, and generally considered myself a very “happy” person. However, during an especially hard year, I realized I didn’t have the tools to deal with the difficulties I was facing. Namely, my dad had a recurrence of an illness we thought we had beat and I was experiencing major anxiety and fear as a result. Previously I had always used exercise to manage stress, but I was recovering from knee surgery during this time and that wasn’t an option. I woke up anxious in the mornings with chest pain.
A friend recommended meditation. I was resistant because when I tried meditating in the past, I had trouble sitting still, couldn’t quiet my mind, and wrote it off as “not working” for me. But because I felt like I had nowhere else to turn, I committed to trying it every day. After a while I started noticing amazing benefits. The pressure I was feeling had been subtly turned down. Once my dad recovered and I got out of the leg brace, I kept meditating, and continued to notice other incredible changes. I was sleeping better, more productive at work, better at communicating with my partner, more patient with my parents. I generally felt more connected with myself and those around me.
It felt like magic, and I wondered why more people didn’t do this. Then I remembered my first touchpoints and how hard it was for me to develop a practice because my initial experiences with traditional techniques were challenging. You sit there, wondering if you’re doing it wrong since you don’t notice the feelings people rave about. It’s frustrating! So that’s the goal for Chorus — to remove the friction of developing a mindfulness practice and make it something you WANT to do, not feel like you “should”.
MK: I formed a meditation practice in the fall of 2016 after experiencing acute stress and anxiety for the first time in connection with the presidential election. Like Ali, it was a last resort moment for me. Despite being well-versed on the many benefits of meditation, I had found it difficult to connect with a traditional practice. It took finding myself in dire need to finally get serious about the habit.
When we met, Ali shared about her own struggle to develop a meditation practice until she too found herself in an acute moment of stress and need. Her experience inspired her desire to bring the benefits of meditation to people, who, like us, might be struggling to do it on their own. She explained her vision of wanting to help adjust people’s perspectives and transform meditation from something we know we should do, to something we actually crave doing. I loved the idea of designing a totally new way to meditate that would feel accessible to people and help them reap the benefits after their very first class. I feel so passionately about providing people with the space, tools, and time to connect with themselves and others, and Chorus is doing just that.
Meditation is a trending topic right now, so there’s a lot of noise in the space. What advice do you have for someone approaching it for the first time? What do you wish more people knew about meditation?
MK: Well first I’d like to say — you probably already meditate and you don’t even know it! Do you do a certain activity to clear your head? Cook, go for a walk or run, play a sport, garden, go for a drive? I have news for you — you’re meditating! Maybe you’ve noticed, however, that these activities, while calming in the moment, aren’t providing the mental clarity and ongoing benefits you seek. Well then yes I do have some advice.
We literally created Chorus FOR YOU! We too had heard all the science behind why meditation was so good for us. We heard so many stories from other people explaining how meditation changed their lives significantly for the better. We had heard it all. And still it was nearly impossible for us to start our personal practices. It took intense moments of acute stress where we literally felt we had no other options to force us to develop the habit. And then once we had, we knew how good it felt and so we kept it up.
What do mental health and mental wellness mean to you?
MK: Truthfully, mental health wasn’t something I thought too much about until my mid twenties. I was going through a quarter-life crisis, as one does, and realized I had been neglecting my mental health in a big way. I had a lot of blocks around vulnerability which meant I would often keep my problems and struggles locked inside until they overwhelmed me. I was grieving the loss of a personal mentor, questioning my career choices, and generally feeling confused and unfulfilled. So I went to therapy for the first time. I read Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly and started doing a lot of personal work to rewrite the stories I was telling myself in my head. I quit my job in finance and became a SoulCycle Instructor. I really started to take care of myself from the inside out in a deeper way. Those habits have only strengthened over the last 5 years. For me, my mental health is everything. And while I’m always open to sharing about the struggles, I try to also share the tools, habits, books, companies etc. that I use to maintain my mental health.
Ali: To me, mental health and wellness means taking care of our minds in the same way we take care of our bodies. It’s not just in times of acute stress that you can focus on your mental wellbeing. I benefit from having a habitual practice and building in the tools when things are going well, so that when, inevitably, life happens and things go “not so well” I am equipped to handle it. I also have seen my regular mental wellness practice allow my “best self” to come out more often. Prior to developing a meditation practice, I might have been feeling happy with nothing particular going wrong, but I still could snap at someone more quickly than I would have liked. While no one is perfect, with an ongoing meditation practice my mental wellbeing is in a much stronger place, and on any given day I have the ability to respond how I want and not succumb to knee jerk reactions.
How does your mental health relate to your role as an entrepreneur?
Ali: Oof — so much! I actually had a pretty hard time before Chorus launched, where some things didn’t pan out the way I had hoped. But despite all of that, the clarity and conviction I had around my passion to bring Chorus to the world never wavered. I directly credit my ability to listen to my intuition, even when it wasn’t the easy path, to having a meditation practice.
As for the day to day, everyone tells you starting a company comes with huge ups and down, and it’s true. But by prioritizing my mental care I am (for the most part) able to rest in the middle and observe what is going on with a much clearer mind than I used to have.
We also have an environment at Chorus of talking openly about what we need. Having a partner who is not only a co-founder, but a friend I can lean on when something outside of work is hard, makes me feel like I don’t always have to put on a brave face and can be real about what I’m feeling. And the power of that shared experience, the feeling of ‘I’m not alone’, is invaluable and what I hope Chorus can bring to many other people.
MK: I used to think starting a company would be too stressful for me. And yet, I now find myself as an entrepreneur looking to break the cycle of stress our society finds itself in. Because of the kind of company we are building, we are exposed daily to the benefits of meditation and mindfulness, little tricks to destress in the moment, and ways to cultivate clarity and calm in our busy days.
But I would be lying if I said that kept us totally protected from feeling the stress and overwhelm that comes from trying to start and run your own company. We have our moments too.
I just feel so grateful to be working with a cofounder who is so solid, compassionate, and invested in her own mental health, along with mine. It provides such a solid foundation for us to build a company where taking care of yourself is a core value. It’s invaluable to be able to talk openly with Ali when I might be struggling and need extra support. Or to chat with each other about our lives outside the company that may be causing stress as well. We are entrepreneurs in the mental health space, so it’s nice to be aware of what’s going on with ourselves and feel empowered to use the tools and resources we have to feel better.
How, if at all, has traditional talk therapy figured into your life?
MK: After that first initial trip to therapy more than 6 years ago, I never actually went back. It had been the catalyst I needed to seek help in other ways. Through books, exercise, community and a lot of personal development. I found the personal growth work I was doing deeply therapeutic. Though I did recently become a Two Chairs client and have had an excellent experience adding a monthly therapy session into my mental wellness routine. It’s nice to have a sounding board to discuss the new habits I’m building, the trends in my behavior I notice, and to ask for assistance when I feel stumped by feelings or situations and the hold they have over me.
Ali: My mom is a therapist so mental wellness has always been on my radar, but I used to view therapy as something to use in periods of acute challenge. A few years ago when my dad got sick and I was recovering from knee surgery, I started therapy here in San Francisco and at first I thought I would just go to deal with this particularly hard period. But she ended up being so helpful beyond that period that I now see her consistently — whether things are going well or not so well in my life. I find that having scheduled time to talk through things helps me see things from a different perspective, and sometimes helps me uncover the real reason I’m feeling a certain way. I think of a daily meditation practice in combination with therapy as literally working out for my mind and soul. In the same way I make sure my body is physically able, I do the same for my mind.
How do you think about building community through your business? How can meditation figure into building community?
Our brains are literally hard-wired for connection. As a species, humans function best when they are living in community with one another. The way we form community has evolved significantly and rapidly in recent history. We’re no longer dependent on our neighbors for our survival. We don’t need to live close to our families. Churches and other community centers have seen drops in membership. Yet the need for connection remains. It’s a key and universally agreed upon indicator of overall health and happiness. We just need new places and new subjects around which to form this community. That’s what our mission is with Chorus. We want to provide people with an accessible form of meditation to help them achieve personal peace and clarity. And then we also want to give them a space to connect with others as they are going through that process.
It’s difficult to truly connect with each other when our brains are racing every moment of the day and we’re constantly thinking about a million other things rather than the conversation or person right in front of us. We barely hear what the other is saying and it’s challenging to develop relationships when operating under those circumstances. At Chorus, we’re creating a way to quiet the noise in our minds, so we can truly connect with the people and experiences around us.
If Chorus sounds like something you’d like to try, Ali and MK would love to meet you! Use the code ChorusxTwoChairs for 25% off your first Chorus class. Check out their schedule here.
If you or someone you know is experiencing an emergency or crisis and needs immediate help, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. Additional resources can be found here.