By Elizabeth Chang
Sunday, June 15, 2008
A SMALL GROUP OF CO-WORKERS sits on a circle of chairs in a darkened room. Eyes closed, they listen to their meditation instructor's soothing voice as she helps them settle in for the session. "Obviously, our bodies are already here," Klia Bassing says, "but our minds still take awhile to catch up."
For these employees, a 45-minute break from the stress of work is a welcome respite. For Klia, her work has become a respite itself.
Klia, now 32, was in her mid-20s when a friend suggested that she try meditation to help her with compulsive eating issues. At first, she says, "I thought, no, that's weird and new age-y, and if I go to any meditation group, they'll brainwash me and make me give them all my money." But meditation helped her realize that her cravings had more to do with anxiety than hunger, and that she didn't have to stifle those feelings with food. The changes were so powerful that she decided she wanted to teach. "I just love the practice so much," she says. "It's a great honor to pass it on to other people."
Klia, who grew up in Takoma Park and lives in the District, worked for AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps before joining the World Bank, where she analyzed poverty indicators. While at the World Bank, she earned master's degrees in public policy and business, graduating from the University of Maryland in late 2004.
But when the Southeast Asian tsunami hit that December 26, it prompted Klia, who had recently lost passion for her World Bank work and was "looking into what inspires me," to reconsider the direction and purpose of her life. "I couldn't ignore what felt like a calling," she says. She quit her job, went on a two-month silent retreat and enrolled in a mindfulness meditation training program at a center in Northern California. (Mindfulness meditation focuses on bringing mind and body into the present moment, allowing one to become aware of thoughts without judging them.)
In spring of 2005, Klia started a meditation program for stressed Washington workers called Visit Yourself at Work. Friends introduced her to human resources directors at their workplaces, and then Klia started approaching companies on her own.
Klia offers ongoing classes, ranging in size from eight to 40 participants, at sites including the National Academy of Sciences, the World Bank and The Washington Post. She also leads stand-alone series, one-time seminars, private sessions and meditation retreats at other area workplaces. After beginning with half a dozen regional Kaiser Permanente sites, she is expanding into its centers nationwide. She leads five to eight classes a week, hires other teachers on a contract basis and estimates that Visit Yourself served 700 workers last year. Costs range from $85 per person for a five-week session to $500 to $800 for a group seminar.
At first, Klia had to support herself with supplemental odd jobs. While the business is not turning a profit, it is bringing in enough now to be her sole source of income: She pays herself $3,500 a month and hopes to be making $100,000 annually in a couple of years. "So many people are at their breaking point in terms of being stressed out with work and [are] ready to try something new," she says. "I feel like I caught the very beginning of a wave."
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