NEW YORK — Nearly 150 people sat in the maroon seats of the auditorium at the Rubin Museum of Art, with their feet planted on the floor, their backs straight, and their eyes closed, just as they had been instructed. On the stage, Tracy Cochran spoke of impermanence. Projected on the screen behind her was a ceremonial conch trumpet from the 19th century, the museum-selected art object for the class. It represented waking one out of slumber and ignorance.
For the next 40 minutes, Cochran led a mindful meditation session and Q&A, after which guests could join a tour, starting with the historical conch.
“I love the museum. I arrive stressed but leave better,” said Jean-Marc Chazy, 54, a freelance graphic designer who lives in Chelsea, and has attended this class weekly for the past year. “I have trouble with anxiety and never living in the moment. Sitting here is like a workout for my brain.”
Kathleen Conkey, 59, a lawyer, spoke similarly. “I have a lot of stressful business situations,” she said. “This recalibrates my attitude in the middle of the week.”
Many museums are incorporating wellness into their programming by offering courses in subjects like yoga and meditation that often mirror the aesthetics or philosophy of their collections. The Metropolitan Museum of Art drew attention to this concept when, earlier this year, it introduced workouts taught by professional dancers that explored 2 miles of the museum’s terrain. The course sold out.
“If you can engage people personally and emotionally while they’re working on their whole selves, that’s a huge gift,” said Dawn Eshelman, head of programs at the Rubin. “You’re not running on a treadmill here. This is a completely different kind of physical and mental experience.”
Other classes at the Rubin, a museum that focuses on the art and culture of the Himalayas and neighboring regions, include Sound Bath, which explores a vibrational healing process with singing bowls; and Ear Yoga, which hones hearing by stretching underused auditory muscles, and by asking participants to “think with their ears.”
“We’re helping people make or strengthen personal connections between themselves and the artwork,” Eshelman said. “How great to connect with where these traditions came from and literally meditate in front of a historical Buddha while working on your well-being.”
The Asia Society offers a weekly meditation class. The sessions, which can include sitting, walking and mindfulness techniques, were created to coincide with two Buddhism-themed exhibits. At first, only a few people attended. “Now 60 to 70 people fill the auditorium,” said Tom Nagorski, executive vice president of the Asia Society. “It’s become very popular,” he said of the meditation class, which was meant to have a limited run, but is ongoing. “It’s not a huge commitment of time or money. Many tour the gallery and have lunch at the cafe afterward. It’s a chance to recharge and get your Zen quotient around a busy New York day.”
In November, MoMA celebrated its one-year anniversary of Quiet Mornings, during which guests can stroll the museum starting at 7:30 and then go into a meditation session from 8:30 to 9. Recently Latham Thomas, a wellness expert who has worked with Alicia Keys, led more than 500 early risers through a meditation.
The National Jazz Museum in Harlem, meanwhile, is combining its subject matter — jazz — with a vinyasa yoga class. “Offering people a cultural experience in a nontraditional space while still giving them a traditional jazz experience was something we were interested in, but also allowed us to utilize the museum during a time when it sits empty,” said Ryan Maloney, director of education and programming. “People want to experience something beyond what a gym can offer,” he said. “We wanted to expand our jazz offerings while making the connection between health and music.”
The 90-minute yoga class starts off with a casual meet and greet, followed by about an hour of yoga, all of which is accompanied by live hip-hop infused jazz.
“People enjoy having something relaxing to do in the late afternoon,” Maloney said, describing the experience, for some participants at least, as “a precursor to a happy hour.”
The Asia Society
725 Park Ave.; 212-327-9295; asiasociety.org/new-york
Meditation, Wednesdays from 12:30 to 1 p.m. Free for members; $5 for students and seniors, $10 for nonmembers. Classes resume on Jan. 17.
11 West 53rd St.; 212-708-9400; moma.org
Quiet Mornings, meditation session followed by a stroll through the museum, take place on the first Wednesday of each month. $15.
National Jazz Museum in Harlem
58 West 129th St.; 212-348-8300; jazzmuseuminharlem.org
Vinyasa flow with live jazz, second Saturday of the month from 3:30 to 5 p.m. $10 suggested donation.
Rubin Museum of Art
150 West 17th St.;212-620-5000; rubinmuseum.org
Meditation: Wednesdays at 1 p.m. $15; free for members.
Morning Mindfulness: Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. $15, $13.50 for members.
Sound Meditation: Friday, Jan. 5, 2018, 7 to 8:30 p.m. $45; $40.50 for members.
Ear Yoga: Wednesday, Dec. 13, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., and 8 to 9 p.m. $35, $31.50 for members.