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MINDSET Brain Gym: A new frontier in wellness

If you’ve come to MINDSET Brain Gym expecting an ordinary meditation studio, you will be disappointed. There are no Buddha statues and crystals here. 

Stepping into this extraordinary space, the noise and frenetic pace of Bay and Bloor streets in downtown Toronto simply fall away. It’s another world, the world of the mind, the inner sanctum from which true beauty emerges. You might even say MINDSET is a spa, specifically curated for busy brains; an opportunity to regenerate, refocus, and rejuvenate exhausted neurons.

“Meditation is the new frontier in fitness and wellness,” says co-founder Sean Finnell, who opened the studio’s inaugural Yorkville location in July.

Here, amid cool jazz vibes piped throughout, clients can come in, grab a complementary kombucha and melt into one of the plush couches or memory foam beanbag chairs in the airy and spacious lounges. “It’s made to evoke feelings of calm,” says Finnell, who worked with high-end designer Ariel Muller in creating the ambience that gently introduces natural elements, birch trees and a preserved moss accent wall, to help clients transition. 

“While we encourage people to come as they are, we do ask them to leave their phones in the high-speed charging lockers,” he says, adding that the act of locking mobiles away can itself be therapeutic.
Born and raised in Manhattan, with a business degree from McGill University, Finnell started in the music industry, running marketing programs for hundreds of concerts – and in the process discovering the benefits of meditation. “It’s a frenetic pace. At a certain point it’s harder to focus and get things done when you have a thousand different things pulling for your attention. Meditation is a way of focusing.” While he acknowledges that meditation can be a powerful tool for spiritual exploration, he felt its spiritual nature wouldn’t resonate with the business crowd on Bay Street or “Super A-type meditation skeptics.”

“What we really wanted to do was create a space that would appeal to the skeptic, someone that could see it in a new light, in the light of fitness, maximizing individual potential and strengthening resilience to stress, focus, memory, and creativity.” Nine out of 10 people that come to MINDSET have never meditated before but are curious to try it out. A number of professionals across the wellness industry have even recommended it to their own clients. 

The 45-minute intention-oriented classes include 15 minutes of reflection and discussion, and are held in the inner sanctum at the back of the studio, in MINDSET’s signature “mind gym,” infused with gentle blue light Nanoleaf installations that move rhythmically. While the blue is largely aesthetic, says Finnell, there is early indication that the colour blue helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the body’s relaxation response.

“We have curated every element in this room, from the blue light to the ergonomic seating to the sounds of water and aromatherapy with our own blend of diffused oils.” 

All elements are designed to activate each of the body’s senses to promote a state of focused relaxation. For those who prefer private meditation, there’s a zero-gravity Stillness Pod with immersive 3-D audio recordings.
One of the gym’s unique features includes brainwave measurement reports generated by the headset that clients can wear in class to track their progress over time. 

“You come out of here and immediately feel lighter than air. That immediate benefit of instant stress reduction and the tangibility of seeing your brain waves and seeing that you actually did something in those 30 minutes keeps people coming back.” In starting a business like this, there really isn’t a benchmark or best practice in the industry to learn from, says Finnell. For him, there’s an immense amount of scale to be found in the high-end luxury market. This location is just a first step in a plan to expand into U.S. cities. “Yorkville is a great place to be because it’s very dense, both commercially and residentially. We have a lot of high earners and the studies are abundantly clear that a high earner is a stressed worker. Sixty-eight per cent of people earning over $200,000 per year report high stress, so it’s really a relevant problem in this area.”

The corporate business is also growing, with companies bringing groups of employees, says Finnell. There’s opportunity here, he says, citing a 2012 study by U.S. insurance giant Aetna, that found employee mindfulness training resulted in productivity gains in the amount of $3,000 annually per employee. 

In terms of retail, Finnell is careful not to overload his clients with options. “Every time we bring on a different category of product, we do a lot of research into who is offering products, who we can partner with, and who can give meaningful support to our clients and value-add.” 

Complementing meditation practice, clients can purchase the MINDSET Journal, with daily prompts to promote gratitude, introspection and healthy habit formation. “It’s our own proprietary product, which we’ve spent months developing. Meditation and journaling done every day can dramatically change your life,” he says. 

Spa Facts: Mindset Brain Gym

Size: 2,600 square feet
Instructors: 4, with more to be added in the Fall. Instructors are certified, have established practices and bring expertise in teaching mindfulness in performance settings like corporations
Cost: Classes are available as either drop-in/pay-as-you-go at $25 per class, $100 for a 5-class package or unlimited membership starting at $150 
Retail: The MINDSET Journal, Muse headset, a selection of meditation books, Beekeeper’s Naturals B-LXR Brain Fuel with royal jelly, Halfmoon Silk Sleep Masks

Jana Manolakos
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