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How “woo-woo” wellness went from weird to waitlist

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Photo: Sonya Kitchell

At a time when women’s circles are the new girls’ night out, crystals are your new home companions (and maybe a growing part of your jewelry collection), and sound baths are becoming downright mainstream, it’s clear that more people are embracing what used to be called “woo-woo” in a new way. It seems like it happened quickly—but how? We asked Lisa Levine—founder of Maha Rose in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, a mecca for reiki, breathwork, crystals, and more—to share her perspective on what it’s like when the zeitgeist comes knocking on your door.

When Maha Rose first started, it was just a meditation circle in our living room.

I was designing jewelry and living with a steady rotation of artists, musicians, and yogis. I had gotten into yoga and wanted to learn meditation, but I didn’t want to travel to Manhattan at 7 a.m. So I asked a teacher my friends and I had met if he would come to Brooklyn and teach us, and he kindly said yes.

My reiki teacher and good friend Padma Gonzalez would also come up every year from Mexico (and, later, India) to work with me, and then friends of mine, and then friends-of-friends—and it grew. We had a funky low-budget website that my friend and collaborator, Luke Simon, had made. Mostly our friends came: four to six people. If 10 people came, that was a full house.

There was a “Wild Woman, Sexy Dance” class and a shamanic acupuncturist from California, Dr. Mei Jen Weng, who would come and treat 10 people at a time on the floor.

Being artists, we created the workshops we wanted to experience. Besides the traditional practices like meditation, they were all pretty experimental and wild. There was a “Wild Woman, Sexy Dance” class and a shamanic acupuncturist from California, Dr. Mei Jen Weng, who would come and treat 10 people at a time on the floor.

She didn’t take pulses, she just looked at you and began inserting needles. Then, with everyone lying on mats and blankets on the floor, she would sing Buddhist songs and mantras loudly, with her whole heart and soul.

maha rose brooklyn
Early days in the space, circa 2009. Photo: Lisa Levine

The Maha Rose name came in 2009—and with that, a few more friends. I started leading breathwork circles, after studying with Scott Schwenk and then David Elliott. The type of breathwork I began teaching is a powerful breathing technique you do while lying on your back on the floor. The heavy breathing pattern shuts off the busy, day-to-day laundry list part of the mind and helps you to access all the other parts—and there are so many other parts!

One time 20 people came to a breathwork circle I was leading, and that felt like something was happening, something big.

People, myself included, have very powerful experiences. People cry, laugh, scream, fall in love with themselves, have catharses. It can be quite psychedelic—the tapping into other dimensions of our being. I had already been practicing reiki and massage, which most of my friends could get into. (I mean, pretty hard to not get into a massage!) But the breathwork circles were a little bit of a tougher sell—at least at first.

One time 20 people came to a breathwork circle I was leading, and that felt like something was happening, something big. That was in 2010.

A few years later, when I finished acupuncture school in 2013, we decided to make Maha Rose a “real business.” We upgraded the website, and I moved out of the loft.

Photo: Lisa Levine
Construction in 2013 to convert Maha Rose into a real holistic center, with treatment rooms. Photo: Lisa Levine

In the fall there was a big milestone. I forget what the event was, but a guy came who none of us knew. We asked him how he had heard about the event, and he said: from the website. We were shocked, but tried to hide our delight. Perhaps New Yorkers were ready for healing!

They were. Something was shifting, and more and more people came to the workshops and events we were hosting: reiki trainings, breathwork circles, weekly meditations, and sound baths.

I’m not sure what had shifted, but more and more people were opening up to what we were offering.

I’m not sure what had shifted, but more and more people were opening up to what we were offering. I think we also had more of a foundation, a few more years of spiritual practices, and a few more years of practicing our healing arts. People liked what they felt from us and were drawn to learn the tools we were using.

People also came for private sessions in traditional alternative healing: reiki, acupuncture, hypnosis. We held an official grand opening party in February of 2014, and it was packed—you couldn’t get through the hallway. I thought to myself, “We’re going to need a bigger space!” It was beautiful.

Lisa Levine in Maha Rose.
Photo: Lisa Levine

It has continued to grow steadily, evolving from creative and spiritual sparks to a clear mission of light and love. Today, we are busting at the seams with sold-out workshops regularly, a beautiful roster of practitioners, an amazing management team (a real team—not just me and Luke!), and new clients and students coming in every day. And we’ve added a second location: Maha Rose North, in the Catskills Mountains north of New York City.

People accept now [that] energy is real and we can shape it, clean it, make it better, and feel good.

Five or six years ago, no one had heard of reiki. And if someone was going to write about it, they would have to be coming from an unbeliever’s—if not straight-up cynical—point of view. I did an interview recently with Vogue and was so pleasantly surprised with the writer’s total lack of disbelief when discussing reiki, crystals, and energy healing. People accept now that it’s all real—energy is real and we can learn tools to work with it, shape it, clean it, comb it out, make it better, and feel good. Really, really good.

Why have these “out-there” wellness practices become more mainstream? A few things have become clear to me…

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Photo: Lisa Levine
Photo: Lisa Levine

It’s an intense time to be alive

I think it’s also a wonderful time to be alive, but it’s important to have practices to help us to ground and stay clear and happy. Intense times call for serious magic. Maha Rose offers tools, trainings, and community to keep us uplifted and bright.

Photo: Lisa Levine
Photo: Sonya Kitchell

New Yorkers are a creative bunch and are always looking for something new, different, and powerful

It’s a creative and ambitious city. People who come here work hard, but they’re now ready and need something else, other tools to get in touch with other parts of themselves.

Photo: Lisa Levine
Photo: Lisa Levine

Energy work is the new yoga

This year has been so much busier than last year; it’s exponential. When I started doing healing work, it wasn’t an industry at all, and now it’s becoming one. The same way that yoga went from a handful of teachers and yoga studios to what it is today—that’s what’s happening right now.

Another “out there” thing that’s become super common in the past couple of years? Group meditation, whether you’re going to large-scale eventshitting up a studio on the reg, or taking the plunge to do teacher training (which, yes, is now a thing).