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Take Meditation Classes

Sunday, December 12, 2004; Page M07

Frantic gift-hunting! Desperate spending! Humiliating office parties! I-forgot-about-you fruitcakes! The holidays are supposed to be about peace, love and harmony, but anyone who's ever battled a fellow shopper over a Bratz doll knows that December's reality isn't always that pretty. This year, do yourself a favor and make an effort to clear your mind -- without taking early nips on the eggnog.

Meditation classes offer an hour-or-two-a-week indulgence to let you escape the chaos -- internally, at least -- through a conscious focus on deep relaxation. Medical studies suggest that regular practice can have a positive effect on conditions ranging from chronic pain to anxiety and high blood pressure. And last month, researchers at the University of Wisconsin -- Madison even suggested that it may help people learn kindness. At the very least, though, it'll Zen you out enough that you'll be able to brave that one last necessary trip to the mall.

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What to Expect: There are thousands of meditative practices, ranging from the deeply religious to the devotedly secular. We focused on "mindfulness meditation": Essentially a quieting of the mind, it aims to make one deeply aware and accepting of the present -- one's breathing, for instance -- to facilitate the letting go of stress. It's something that everyone, no matter their age or fitness level, can participate in.

Some classes have limited enrollment, so be sure to call ahead to see if you need to reserve a spot or can just drop in. Then make sure you arrive a few minutes early -- once the meditation begins, latecomers won't be allowed (too disruptive). Comfort is key here: If you don't think you can take sitting cross-legged, for example, talk with the instructor and find an alternative position. Meditations can last anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, depending on the instructor and type.

What to Bring: Wear comfortable, unrestrictive clothing. Most studios and some centers have towels or mats available for rent (usually for $1 to $3), but you might want to bring your own.

Cost: Class prices start at $10, though most studios suggest a donation (this usually ranges from a few dollars to $15). Kate Ghiloni

Where to find your peace of mind

Capitol Hill Yoga. 221 Fifth St. NE. 202-544-0011. www.capitolhillyoga.com. Weekdays, 6:30 to 7:30 a.m. $1 donation suggested. Try this Union Station neighborhood studio for silent meditation on weekday mornings. The first Thursday of every month is geared toward newcomers.

Insight Meditation Community of Washington.

River Road Unitarian Church, 6301 River Rd.,

Bethesda. 202-986-2922. www.imcw.org. Wednesday, 7:30 to 9 p.m. (beginner orientation at 7 p.m.). Suggested donation $8 to $12. Founder Tara Brach

draws large crowds for Vipassana meditation, a 2,500-year-old practice that's the ancestor of all

mindful meditation today. A discussion of Buddhist teachings follows.

Studio Serenity. 2469 18th St. NW. 202-276-6474. www.studioserenity.com. Weekdays, 8 to 8:30 a.m. Suggested donation $1 to $5. For those looking to clear work stress before the weekend, this Adams Morgan oasis has a new Friday class at 7:45 p.m.

Sun & Moon Yoga Studio. 3811 Lee Hwy., Arlington. 703-525-9642. www.sunandmoonstudio.com. Sunday, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Suggested donation $15. This community-minded studio, which relies on volunteers, has been centering the minds of Northern Virginia professionals for over a decade.

Yoga in Daily Life National Center. 2402 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria. 703-299-8946. www.yoga-in-daily-life-usa.com. General meditation Wednesday, 6 to 7:30 p.m. Intermediate meditation Thursday, 7:45 to 9:15 p.m. Six-week session $30. Drop-ins $10 (you must preregister for class). Perfect for inquisitive beginners, the general class here includes a question-and-answer session with the instructor. Your money goes to good work: Yoga in Daily Life supports numerous local schools and health organizations.

Willow Street Yoga Center. 6930 Carroll Ave., Takoma Park. 202-986-2922. www.willowstreetyoga.com. Sunday, 7 to 8:30 p.m. (arrive by 6:45 p.m.). Suggested donation $10 to $12. Also run by the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, this session includes talks from guest instructors. The first Sunday of every month boasts an after-party of sorts, allowing participants to grab a snack and get to know each other.

Know of a great outdoors opportunity in your area? E-mail getout@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and daytime phone number.

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