A handful of women chat quietly. Powering off their phones, they remove their shoes before stepping into the room where I’m already seated. I overhear snippets of introductions. The woman with the Gucci bamboo bag is a project manager; another wearing Nike sneakers and Outdoor Voices leggings works in real estate. Both have visited here before. After a few minutes Mama Medicine herself—Deborah Hanekapf—walks to the center of the room, and the guests go silent.
We’re at Space by Mama Medicine: a light and airy SoHo loft that looks more suited to a high-end fashion boutique than to meditation, aura-reading, and crystal therapy. But that’s just what happens here: busy, smart, successful women take an hour out of their week for spiritual guidance and healing. Welcome to the feminist spiritual movement.
Likeminded spirituality-based wellness practices are currently booming throughout this city. MNDFL, a sleek new meditation circle studio catering to group classes, hosts a similar ritual a few blocks over in Greenwich Village. Greenpoint-based holistic healing center Maha Rose already has a waitlist for its “Breathwork Circle.” Studios dedicated to spiritual training are almost as mainstream and pervasive as fitness studios these days, as demonstrated by their exposure. Vogue labelled Mama Medicine “fashion’s favorite healer.” Mass stores like Urban Outfitters and Forever 21 are decked out with meditation mats and crystal paraphernalia to help advance at-home practices.
Spirituality-based wellness groups give modern women a place to practice self care, and to enjoy the ritual and community of organized religion without–well–the religion part. Research shows that millennials are less pious than their parents were at the same age. (Barely a quarter of the generation attend church each week, compared with more than half of U.S. adults born before 1946.) Instead, they’re seeking spiritual guidance elsewhere: through moon circles, breath-work groups, group meditation, healing ceremonies, crystals, yoga, and aura reading.
To uncover why spiritual wellness is thriving among women right now, it’s necessary to unpack what came before. The patriarchal values that thread throughout almost all organized religions made self-expression and true spiritual seeking difficult for many women. The political entanglement of these religions only complicated the matter further. We see it today when right-wing politicians lean on pro-life Christian rhetoric to slash access to reproductive healthcare for women.
By contrast, this multi-faceted new age faction celebrates two things that strongly resonate with modern women: The Self, and the Divine Feminine. The Self. The Divine Feminine is an ancient concept representing the female face of deities and archetypes. These ideologies are basically the antidote to patriarchal religion, and women love it.
The feminist spiritual movement also offers something else wildly attractive that dogmatic organized religions can’t: flexibility. Women are encouraged to dial up or down their spiritual practices as needed, with zero guilt. (Too busy for a group moon circle this month? Write down your intentions for the month ahead at home instead!) It’s an attractive, more realistic proposition for a generation of women more likely to spend Sunday mornings recouping from their hectic gig at a startup or brunching with friends than sitting in church. The world is changing, and the way women receive spiritual guidance is changing with it.
This same flexibility allows women to pick and choose their favorite healing elements from a menu of different ancient traditions that are currently experiencing a revival. “By integrating a selection of traditions and tailoring them to a small group or an individual, the healing experience is more approachable and palatable for modern women,” Hanekampf explained to me after one of our sessions. Indeed, she draws on Reiki (a Japanese healing technique), sound meditation (a Vedic tradition), as well as energy and aura reading, which actually has a host of interpretations, like the halos in Christianity, the Indian concept of Prana, and “chi” in Chinese medicine.
For an isolated generation, these groups provide space to glance up from their iPhones and interact in a meaningful way—beyond pithy Instagram captions and hurried Whatsapp messages. A woman I met at MNDFL’s Upper East Side studio perfectly summed up this motivation: “I’m a real estate attorney in New York City, and most of my life revolves around work. When I catch up with friends we normally drink and chat, but I often feel like I take home a lot of their stress. I go to group meditation every week and a moon circle on the Upper East Side every few months because it’s a space where I can really be selfish and focus on myself within a very non-judgemental community of women,” she said.
My own private reading with Deborah Hanekamp delivered the most self-indulgent, calming hour of my week. She listened empathetically to my stresses and suggested holistic solutions—journaling each morning, infusing a bath with specific oils and herbs, crystals, and creating space for time alone—before leading a healing meditation. After a draining week spent acting as an emotional dumping ground for a few needy friends, her intuitive words and quiet space delivered the remedy I needed to build some spiritual resilience, and hold myself together.
Over the summer I was afforded another telling look into the forces driving the spiritual wellness movement-–this time at a late-night eclipse ceremony by the beach. Seven women in their 20s and 30s huddled around an open fire, while a healer-slash-astrologer handed around two scraps of paper and a pen. “Write the one thing you want to let go of from your life on one piece, and on the other write something positive you would like to attract,” she instructed. Each person in the group read aloud their scrawled-by-firelight intentions, before throwing them into the fire. I don’t think all of those women necessarily believe the stars and moon govern their lives, but instead enjoyed the powerful intimacy and community this eclipse circle offered. (There’s nothing like divulging your rawest hopes and fears with strangers to strike up a familiar rapport quickly.)
Sundays will always be sacred—only you’ll find millennial women perched on their meditation mat rather than a pew.