“At the Met Gala, whenever I told someone I’m focusing on meditation now, they had the same reaction: ‘I need that,’” says Donna D’Cruz, the celebrity DJ-turned-rockstar-meditation teacher. “Not, ‘I’m curious about that,’ or ‘What’s that like?’ No, it’s, ‘I need this.’”
That unanimous craving for inner peace in a multitasking, stressful world is exactly what’s driven everyone from Lady Gaga, socialites at Soho House, recovering addicts at Phoenix House in the Hamptons, and even inmates on Rikers Island to D’Cruz’s teaching. “We don’t have to fight for peace and love,” she says. “They’re within all of us. We just need to shut up and pay attention to them.”
On the surface, D’Cruz might look a bit better suited for, well, The Costume Institute’s Met Gala than meditation teaching. She has cascades of runway-ready curls, dresses in chic all-white outfits and shockingly cool color-blocked Y-3 platform sneakers. When she talks, her soothing Australian accent is punctuated by the quiet jingle of her arms full of bracelets, and a giant crystal ring or two adorn her hands. But her unique perspective—and path to find her calling—is part of what enables her to impact so many different people through her practice.
An unlikely guru
Born in India and raised in Australia, she says, “I didn’t come to the practice. The practice came to me.” When she was a teenager, one of her cousins would meditate every day, and she noticed that he was always smiling (he later went onto teach Transcendental Meditation). She wanted whatever he was having, found herself a teacher in Sydney and started meditating every day. As she pursued a career DJing, she used her daily sessions to stay grounded as she jetted to events around the world.
It didn’t become her life’s work until five years ago, when she was spinning at a benefit for Phoenix House in the Hamptons, and heard several residents talk about their struggles with drugs and alcohol addiction. She had an idea that meditation could help people in their journey to recovery, and when she asked the director if there was a program for them, he asked her to create one. “Whether you’re at Phoenix House or Soho House, you’re addicted to something,” she says. “It could be power, technology, drugs, novelty, or whatever.” Meditation, she argues, is a way of transcending that, momentarily at first, but more profoundly over time.
A theological remix
In building a program for addicts who had no experience with meditation, yoga, or any mind-body discipline, D’Cruz started from square one. She did some research and decided that her practice would be a theological remix, drawing on Islamic poets like Rufi and Hafiz, yoga luminaries like K. Pattabhi Jois, and a common sentiment throughout religions that prayer is talking to God, but meditation is listening to the response. She also adds a hefty dose of music, which, as a DJ, she sees as a native and universal language.
She’s careful to approach the practice as something that’s easy and accessible for everyone. You don’t have to sit on a mat. You don’t have to clear your mind of all thoughts (because she knows just how daunting that can feel with a to-do list as long as yours). All you have to do is spend at five minutes a day focusing your attention on your breath.
Dipping into bliss
When she leads sessions, she makes it even easier, by suggesting you silently repeat “let” with each inhale, and “go” with each exhale. The clientele—and buzz—soon discovered her simple approach, and she was asked to lead her “Dip Into Bliss” workshops everywhere from Wall Street to Palo Alto.
She found that whether she was working with a celebrity, someone managing a billion dollar hedge fund, or inmates at Rikers Island, everyone is struggling with the same two questions: Am I okay? Followed by: What can I do about that? And the more time time she—and then, her students—spent meditating, the better they became at reaching the answers and acting on them. Sounds like something you could use every day, doesn’t it? —Ann Abel
For more information, visit rasaliving.com
(Photos: Donna D’Cruz)