I wanted to create an urban space where people could go to reboot.
Khajak Keledjian launched innovative New York–based meditation studio Inscape in November 2016, aiming to make the practice more relevant to modern lifestyles. The accompanying app offers guided meditations, relaxation techniques and breathing exercises, which are available at all hours.
Previously, Keledjian was CEO of multi-brand fashion retailer Intermix, which he cofounded with his brother. He credits the success of Intermix to his curatorial approach, and is applying the same methods to his new venture, which offers a wide range of immersive meditation and relaxation experiences.
We caught up with Keledjian about the inspiration behind Inscape, and why people are flocking to mindfulness meditation in growing numbers.
What was the inspiration for Inscape?
I’ve been doing yoga and meditation for the past decade. Until 2015, I was CEO of the retail chain company Intermix. In fashion, it’s always on, 24/7, nonstop. The only way for me to balance out that lifestyle was to get into yoga and meditation. I started seeing how it impacted my lifestyle, from a way of eating, to a way of exercising—just 360, overall.
After I sold the company in 2012 to Gap, as I was transitioning out of that role, the Wall Street Journal did an article about my interest in meditation and my ability to maintain balance as a successful CEO. The headline talked about my “$15,000 bet”—a friend said he would give me $15,000 if I could sit still for 15 minutes—and it took me six months even to find a place to sit still for that long in New York City.
That article led a lot of people to reach out to me. I started helping people one at a time and then I realized, “oh my god, I’m not a teacher, but people are looking for this and they’re inspired, so where should they go?”
2015 was a big year for me. I went to Burning Man, and was very inspired by the temple there, which is where people go to meditate. It’s completely quiet and the opposite of what most people imagine when they picture Burning Man. I thought, why is there is not an environment like this in New York City, in an urban setting?
At the end of the year, my father ended up in the hospital while vacationing in Armenia, and I went to see him. After a few days visiting the hospital, the only thing to visit was the ancient third-century and fourth-century monasteries, which are like caves inside the mountains. It’s cool, you light candles, you see their reflections, you feel the humidity on your skin. I thought, people did this hundreds of years ago, but what happened to it?
With Inscape, I wanted to create an urban space where people could go to reboot, while making it completely secular, modern, and relevant to 21st-century living.
What are you doing with Inscape that sets you apart from a previous wave of wellness centers?
What I did with Intermix was to reimagine fashion, and with Inscape, we’re reimagining meditation. We’re making it modern and relevant, from the environment, to the smell, to the design, to the product that you touch. We offer different meditation techniques that have been around for thousands of years, and we’re putting them under one platform. We have focus-based meditation, mindfulness meditation, visualization, sound journeys, and mantra-based meditation. It’s one platform with multiple techniques.
The meditations are also audio guided. The guests have no outside distractions at all—it’s meditation 2.0, and it hasn’t been done before in a physical setting. We also have an app that helps you meditate anytime, anywhere. If you choose to come to the studio, you can come once or twice a week, or whatever you’d like, and then you can also use our app anywhere and get the same consistent message and a consistent experience.
But it’s important to come in person because there’s only so much you can control. Here, the rooms are completely sound-resistant, and it’s about the whole setting, it puts you into that state. It’s the difference between having a massage at your workplace versus going to Aire in Tribeca.
Meditation and mindfulness in general are being considered in a health context now, which wasn’t so much the case a few years ago. Why do you think this is?
We are living in an environment right now where we’re bombarded with information, constantly. We find it impossible to have a moment of silence on our own, anywhere. Technology has advanced us, but at the same time every precious moment that we have right now is taken. You’re on an elevator and there is a TV screen, or you have your phone, and you’re checking emails.
How do you have moments for yourself? People not realizing that even though the nation is getting wealthier, our quality of life is declining and the happiness level is not increasing. The only way you can be satisfied is by having awareness of yourself and your body; otherwise, your mind doesn’t allow you to feel anything because it’s always chattering.
You can’t shut down your thoughts completely, but if you can them bring from 50 thoughts per minute down to 40, it’s already progress. If you can bring it down to 10, it’s amazing.
Do you think we’ll get to a point where like doctors are prescribing meditation for people, so it’s more integrated into healthcare?
I’m already seeing guests coming in on the recommendation of doctors, therapists, psychologists, and even fitness instructors. Athletes are using it before games. It’s hitting many different industries. Some people say, “let’s calm our minds and reduce our thoughts,” which is very compelling. Who doesn’t want to do that? But some people just think, “oh my god, I have to sit in the chair, it’s a punishment. Am I changing religion?” If you really look at it, though, it’s just a practice, and people are realizing that.
We’ve seen sound therapy and sound baths becoming more popular—is this related to meditation, and how do you explain it?
Absolutely. We offer sound therapy, too, with top teachers and people who have done this for a long time. It puts you in a state where you’re not sure are you awake or did you sleep. People come in during their lunch break and afterwards wonder what happened to them. It’s very powerful and easy, because basically you’re doing the listening—the only job you need to do is not to fall asleep.
What’s the future for Inscape?
This is the beginning of an era and we haven’t even scratched the surface. How many meditation centers are there in America, for more than 300 million people?
I think that in the same way that yoga became mainstream over a few decades here—and the same thing happened with running and exercise earlier—in five or ten years, meditation will be a habit and part of a lifestyle for many people. Do I plan on expanding? Absolutely. However, the intention is not to just pop them up everywhere; we need to maintain the integrity and the quality.
Any more thoughts?
Companies think, why should we let somebody do that for 20 minutes? They should be working for 20 minutes. But if you watch people, you see how much time they spend in bathrooms, on smoking breaks, going for coffee, and so forth, and companies don’t count that.
The benefits of meditation are long term. It just makes people feel better, reduces insurance bills, and makes people more productive. But it starts, always, from the people on top.