Yoga in a cathedral, fire rituals, "monkey conditioning": Find serenity at these 7 meditation-ready spots around the Bay
HEALTH AND WELLNESS January may be cold, but it's not particularly chill. The temps are low and it's still dark out, which makes it a natural time for hibernation. Problem is, no one's hibernating.
People, in fact, are exceptionally busy. We are trying to make up for time we lost during our temporary retirements in December. We are also frantically trying to realize our resolutions (before we forget them) and get back into shape after eating pie twice a day last month.
By the third week of the year, our holiday vacations are nothing but distant dreams, and we've all but tossed away any intention to be more present and calm in our lives in favor of strong partnerships with our coffee makers and datebooks to keep us afloat through the madness. Though Elton John once sang that "January is the month that cares", it's hard to believe it's true. If January really does care, it certainly has a funny way of showing it.
But I care. So here's my advice: Unplug. Check out. Hop in or on your vehicle of choice, and get thee to a refuge. Go someplace where you can reconnect with your breath and your body. And stay for an hour—or at least until you remember that there is more to life than organizing your inbox. Here are some of my favorite winter spots for dialing down the noise and reconnecting with oneself.
The Buddhist ambiance at these colorful lounges makes you feel like you're actually in a temple. The tea — which ranges from earthy, caffeinated varieties like the Blood Orange Puerh to delectable herbal teas like Moorish Mint — isn't cheap, but its surrounds really make it a spiritual experience. Two more bonuses for the midwinter urban escape artist: There is no Internet access and it's always toasty inside.
Various SF locations. www.samovarlife.com 
This beautiful Episcopal cathedral is home to awe-inspiring architecture, stained glass windows of Biblical scenes, and the famous indoor Grace Cathedral labyrinth, the walking of which evokes sweet, honey-glazed mind states. You can cruise the labyrinth any time during regular church hours, take a candlelit labyrinth walk on the second Friday evening of each month, or do yoga in the labyrinth each Tuesday at 6:15 p.m. with Darren Main.
1100 California, SF. www.gracecathedral.org 
Fire was a fantastic discovery — and not only because marshmallows are better toasted. Watching a fire burn is mesmerizing, and can take you to a different plane of consciousness in seconds. There's nothing quite like meditating on the power of heat and transformation. During select hours each week, the Yoga Society holds free fire ceremonies led by yoga teachers and other spiritual leaders who chant Sanskrit mantras as the flames dance around the indoor fire pit.
2872 Folsom, SF. yssfyoga.blogspot.com 
Sometimes you just need to play! Jump, spin, do cartwheels and handstands, fall down. Children know this intuitively, but adults tend to forget. If you want to honor your inner child, the Athletic Playground is the place to do it. Every day there is a full schedule of classes, including acro-yoga, "monkey conditioning", and aerial conditioning. It's a perfect treat on a chilly day, and you don't need to bring a companion — everyone plays very nicely at this playground.
4770 San Pablo Ave, Emeryville. www.athleticplayground.com 
This small, cozy day spa is on the edge of Western Addition, and is a nice, lower-profile alternative to some of the more popular spots in town. It's got a hot tub, a cold pool, and the requisite dry and wet saunas, but the real gem here is the red clay room. According to the spa, red clay removes toxins, boosts your metabolism, and gives you more energy. Lying naked in the hot (but not too hot) room on straw mats with your head on a beaded pillow also just feels really good.
1875 Geary, SF. www.imperialdayspa.com 
Any yoga class taught by a respectable teacher will take you on a journey of the spirit. But Rusty Wells' two-hour weekend morning classes here are one of the best antidotes for the winter doldrums. They are hot and sweaty (you'll need to be fairly fit to fit in), and have often been called "yoga church". Rusty sings, dances, beats a drum (or just the floor), and preaches the best of things: love, courage, and connection with your juicy self.
1543 Mission, SF. www.urbanflowsf.com 
Zip it. No, really, that's what you do at Spirit Rock. You stop talking. Sometimes for an afternoon, sometimes for a day, sometimes for 10 days. This beautiful, hilly retreat center in Woodacre is a great place to do a silent meditation retreat, one of the best ways to reconnect with yourself. We spend so much time thinking about what someone is saying, what to say next, and what we should say, shouldn't say, or shouldn't have said. Take all of that socializing off your plate for a few hours or days, and you're left with a contemplation of some serious depth. I couldn't recommend it more.
5000 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, Marin. www.spiritrock.org 
Check out Karen Macklin's yoga column On the Om Front on the Guardian's Pixel Vision blog