Andrew Rose, the co-founder of Présence Meditation, at his studio in the Mile-End. Photo by Elisa Barbier.
Welcoming Montrealers to take a deep breath and relax at Présence Media
The sun’s early golden rays were subtly parting the shadows of potted plants through the curtains into the room. Only the faint sounds of birds chirping and distant voices from the street could be heard. Inside, a pleasant warmth caressed the faces of some participants. Sitting with crossed legs, tall spines, hands on their thighs, with eyes closed and a restful expression, they are meditating.
About a year and half ago, Andrew Rose, the co-founder of Présence Meditation and one of its instructors, decided he wanted a studio to solely practice meditation. On Sept. 13, he opened Montreal’s first secular meditation studio, in the Mile-End. For the occasion of POP Montreal—an annual international music festival—the studio offered free classes from Sept. 13 to 17. It was as an introduction to the practice of meditation and an opportunity to try different teaching styles.
If you walked by 207 St-Viateur St. W., it would be hard to believe the building is anything other than a regular apartment. Yet, if you climb the dimly lit stairs, you’ll find a bright and spacious room filled with potted plants and dark blue cushions spread across a squeaky wooden floor. In a hidden corner is a desk where people can register or sign-up for a membership. On the other side of the cushions is a small room with a sofa facing a bookshelf filled with books on meditation and mental health.
Rose said he wanted to create a space for people with varying knowledge about meditation to come in and sit for 30 minutes a day or a couple of times a week. “Every class is accessible and suitable for beginners,” he said. Varying in length from 15 to 60 minutes, the classes focus on periods of the day with sessions like late-riser, after work, lunch or morning meditation. On Sunday mornings, an outdoor class teaches meditation while walking. Rose said more classes will be added as the studio grows. Drop-ins, monthly memberships and inclusive 10-class cards are available at a student-discounted price.
Rose said he wants Présence Meditation to be a space for people to meditate together and become Montreal’s first cohesive meditation community. “You can certainly do it alone, but when you are starting out, having a group and someone to guide you is much more practical,” he said.
According to Rose, the studio has a unique approach to meditation with 12 teachers from different backgrounds and a partnership with Mindspace Clinic, a Montreal-based organization that specializes in using cognitive mediation to strengthen mental health. Rose emphasized the secular aspect of the studio. “We are not endorsing particular techniques or religions,” he said.
Rose said determining who is qualified to teach meditation is a sensitive topic at the moment. He pointed out that Présence Meditation focuses more on teaching techniques and less on the psychological problem-solving aspect that meditation can offer. “We made sure that our teachers have the techniques,” he said. “Some even went through the mindfulness-based stress reduction program taught in clinics.” While scientific studies show meditation can have considerable impact on the brain, Rose said it’s not a solution to tackle every problem. “Meditation is more efficient when practiced regularly. It is not a magic pill.” He explained that it involves long and arduous training—he has been practicing meditation for 15 years, but more seriously in the last 10 years.
Rose also mentioned the potential anxiety that comes with meditation, as one has to deal with unwanted emotions. He said that is a challenge in and of itself. “Sometimes the [emotions] come up to the surface as tears, sometime as laughs,” he said. Nonetheless, Rose emphasized the importance of the practice. “It is hard in the beginning, yet truly worthy on the long run,” he said.
This was a challenge I faced during a late-riser session at the studio last week. With little sleep and an empty stomach, the breathing exercises—meant to help visualize our bodies as spaces and our breathing as time—enhanced my hunger to a point of obnoxious discomfort.
Yet, as we kept going, the overwhelming hunger transformed into an unexpected deep joy and thankfulness that brought tears to my eyes. Needless to say, it was an emotional rollercoaster. After I completed the session, my outlook on things like breathing, mind and body connection were remarkably transformed.
Rose said he tries not to have overly high hopes about the studio’s future. While he said he believes there is a need and desire for this type of studio in Montreal, Rose doesn’t try to convince people of the benefits of meditation. Instead, he encourages people to experience them first-hand. Quoting his favourite line from the American TV show Reading Rainbow, Rose said with a smile: “You don’t have to take my word for it.”