Mindfulness and I are not particularly compatible; a typically harassed Londoner, I am more likely to be found listening to Alan Partridge on Audible than downloading a Zen session from Headspace. So last week, racing down Chiltern Street – best known in recent years for the frenetic Chiltern Firehouse – and into a café for my usual rushed lunch, I didn’t expect to find myself engaging in some postprandial meditating.
It turns out that the café, Yeotown Kitchen, not only serves delicious food – I tucked into a Tenacity wrap (egg, avocado and courgette featured), washed down with fresh mint tea – but holds a secret in the basement that makes it a calm sanctuary amid the bustle of Marylebone.
When I noticed a sign announcing a Meditation Station, I have to admit it wasn’t an urge for Zen that took me downstairs, but simple curiosity. I discovered a pair of meditation “pods” – two large, white, egg-shaped chairs facing the wall, with sizeable green headphones accompanied by tablets loaded with six guided meditations to choose from, each lasting only five to seven minutes. Even the busiest Londoner can spare five minutes: I parked myself in a pod and flipped through the options.
I settled on Brain Break, intended to soothe anxiety, and at first was distracted by chatter and the spa-like music I could hear in the background. Then, I don’t quite know what happened but somewhere towards the middle, the external noise muted, I got over my cynicism and embraced the exercise.
Yeotown might be a familiar name – the Kitchen is an offshoot of the multi-award-winning retreat in North Devon. “We have a lot of clients based in London and as everyone loves the food at Yeotown we wanted to open the café,” says Mercedes Sieff, co-founder of Yeotown Kitchen. “But we didn’t just want it to be about food. We thought it would be a good idea to bring in the mental aspects of health too.”
I can’t pretend that after a five-minute meditation I was up there with Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, but – even after such a short period of time – I walked out calmer, more focused and feeling a tad happier. Can there really be a difference in just five minutes? “Studies are showing that short meditation is more effective than longer periods of time,” says Sieff. “It’s more sustainable, too, so it becomes a habit, like charging your phone each day.”