Steve Ellis’ journey to free weekly mindful awareness classes at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica was inspired — like so many Santa Monica decisions — by traffic on the 405.

Ellis has been going to, and loving, the same classes on Thursdays at the Hammer Museum for nearly two years but, when he found out that UCLA Medical is offering them every Tuesday from 12:30 to 1 p.m., he decided his practice should have a new home.

Until January, the classes, led by teachers from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, were offered twice a month on different days of the week. The regularity, Ellis said, was all he needed to make the switch.

“It helps any kind of anxiety. It helps any kind of mood swings, lowers the heart rate, keeps you away from doctors, basically. That‚Äôs what I‚Äôve found,” Ellis said. “I think when I do it I‚Äôm distracted from the daily routine and having to navigate through all the things that we do everyday. This class keeps me awake and it lasts through the whole day.”

Last Tuesday, Ellis, a Santa Monica resident for 20 years, was trying the UCLA Medical Center session for the first time, expecting to like it.

Meridee Joseph and Evelyn Challis were also Santa Monica residents visiting for the first time. Joseph said she’s considering taking Mindful Awareness Program classes, which are offered to members of the community and free for students at UCLA.

“My thought was, take the class at UCLA, but I wanted to test it out first,” she said.

Joseph said she’s practiced meditating sporadically in the past.

“They, whoever they is, say it‚Äôs one of the top things you can do for your health,” she said, smiling. “You can do it in your room. You don‚Äôt have to come here, but it‚Äôs very hard to force yourself to do it.”

A class of about two dozen locals, hospital workers and patients gathered in the courtyard — the conference room where it’s usually held was occupied — and listened to Mitra Manesh’s clear, calm and strong directions.

Some lay down in the grass. Others sat on a short wall. Many sat cross-legged. Some simply stood.

Manesh guided the class around the sounds of a distant car alarm (which came to sound like crickets) and nearby buzz saw (which still sounded like a buzz saw) and into a more balanced, aware and uncritical mental space.

After about 15 minutes of mindful awareness, Manesh, who’s been practicing for about 30 years and teaching for 25, brought the class back with a bell and spoke briefly about the concept of rebirth as it relates to the spring equinox and one’s life.

Several first-timers thanked Manesh profusely as the class ended.

“It was terrific,” Ellis said. “I‚Äôll be back. For me, what always happens is I’m on the brink of that calmness inside and that nodding-off but it never gets to the nodding-off point.”

dave@smdp.com

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