Leading the 'Metrospiritual' Life

Experts explain the latest trend in seeking peace and contentment.

From the WebMD Archives

Are you a Whole Foods groupie? A Jamba Juice junkie?

Are you hooked on Starbucks' chai tea or the green tea frappachino?

Is your next vacation to the tony Ashram in the Santa Monica Mountains?

Does your dog practice doga (a.k.a. dog yoga)?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you may be a metrospiritual. But don't panic, it's not necessarily a bad thing. And you'll have company with other Americans who are embracing spirituality and seeking inner peace and harmony through yoga, organic foods, supplements, and other products and services rooted in ancient traditions such as Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism -- and any other "ism" that stems from the Far East.

In a nutshell, metrospirituality is about being hip and holistic. It's about seeking inner peace and looking great while you do it. From Jamba Juice, Starbucks and Whole Fields to Origins and Aveda, this nouveau form of spirituality comes in easily digestible and buyable forms.

But buyer beware, says Robert Schneider, MD, director of the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention at Maharishi University of Management in Vedic City, Iowa. Vedic City is an entire city built on principles of the ancient Vedic religion.

"Metrospirituality is all that glitters, but it doesn't glow," he says. "The media and advertising world are jumping into the spiritual world because they see the possibility of profit, but I would advise the consumer to discern all that glitters isn't going to give them the inner glow they seek," says Schneider.

Straying From Tradition?

Many of these new approaches to yoga, aromatherapy, meditation, and other spiritual practices are a long way from the ancient, authentic versions. "That's bad because people are messing around with something that has been time tested and that interferes with effectiveness," he tells WebMD. "People who mess with herbs and take out certain ingredients and put in others mess with ancient recipes and package them in a way that is more nouveau, and that is suspect."

For example, "we don't know what everyone is offering under the name yoga," he says. "They could be ripping off the name, so make sure to look into the lineage of the teacher," he advises.


That's not to say the trend doesn't have some positive aspects, he says. "Organic whole foods are great, and I am glad to see that they are more popular," he tells WebMD.

"It's like the dot-com boom," he says. In the 1990s, "everything with dot-com was glittering and now that has filtered out to those with real quality, and I think the spirituality business may be going though the same cycle now," he says.


Spirituality is not for sale and people who think it is are a long way from achieving inner bliss, says Mitchell Gaynor, MD, an oncologist and clinical assistant professor of medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York City.

"Spirituality is all about giving," says Gaynor, the author of Nurture Nature, Nurture Health: Your Health and the Environment.

"The spirituality that is rooted in giving will bring peace and joy, but everything else will bring transient happiness," he says. " Happiness is getting something you want like a vacation, but it's very, very temporary; joy is about giving from your heart," he says.

Seeking Lasting Joy

For Gaynor, spirituality came when he saw a young girl from India receive surgery for a deformed ear lobe. "In India, an ear deformity means girls can't get married," he says.

"For me when I see someone like this young girl given a chance, I feel joy."

Spending money on herbal concoctions and yoga classes is OK "if you are realistic and realize that anything that you are getting won't bring lasting joy or peace," he says. "The only thing that will do that is to learn what a precious gift this life is."

"All the aromatherapy, yoga classes, and massage are a transient escape from feeling of burden," Gaynor says.

The Giving Tree

"A tree gives fruit to thousands of people, birds, and animals, while an earthworm aerates the soil and supports all the crops grown in the world," he explains. "Insects are involved with the cross- pollination responsible for plants, and birds move fish eggs affecting thousands or millions. But humans have the greatest potential and are only concerned with their spouse and children," he says.


"Our attitude is typically to hold on to everything because our kids may not have enough or to save for retirement," he says. "We never feel we have enough so we don't give back and are constantly tense and worried," he says.

But "when you are able to surrender and have a real sense of trust and in the fact that things will always be provided be to, you will be more in a giving, sharing, and compassionate state of mind," he says.

Spirituality for Sale

"Most people would pay a lot of money for inner peace," says Nancy Lonsdorf, MD, natural medicine specialist in Vedic City, Iowa. "Products and services that promise spirituality are just taking advantage of the desire Americans seem to have for developing their spirituality."


That said, "there is an authentic and a good movement to find inner peace and re-evaluate the meaning of life and prioritize," she says.

In general, "more balance is coming into lives, and we are craving it because we have gotten exhausted and stressed out and are eating bad foods because [they are] convenient, so in a sense [metrospirituality] is what our society needs."

"I like to see chai tea on menus if not for peace of mind or enlightenment then just to confirm that spirituality is becoming more accepted and valued in today's society," she tells WebMD.

WebMD Feature


Published Jan. 23, 2006.

SOURCES: Robert Schneider, MD, director, Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention, Maharishi University of Management, Vedic City, Iowa. Mitchell Gaynor, MD, oncologist; clinical assistant professor of medicine, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York City. Nancy Lonsdorf, MD, natural medicine specialist, Vedic City, Iowa.

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