Mini studios for meditation at the center of busy city; Calm City & BEtime in New York

Hard thoughts about living well and dying well  

Everyone wants to live well, mentally, and emotionally, and build and maintain healthy relationships with families and other people in life. Also, people value intangible achievements in life and strive to live a better life each one desires. Unlike in the past when people wanted to have more material wealth, indicators for “living well” have changed, so people in modern society started to recognize the importance of balancing material wealth and emotional wealth, which increases attention on how to live well and plan well for the end of life. In addition, the world’s population is aging quickly and causes various social problems including a change in the demographic structure, family breakdown, increase in single-person household, etc. and new controversies arise, which is shedding a light on not only living well but also dying well, a concept around better quality of death at the final moments of life. In Korea, the concept of dying-well or well-dying was discussed as part of living well which was one of 30 major programs proposed for the study to establish a Basic Plan of Social Problem-Solving Design of Seoul Metropolitan City (2021-2023). The proposal established a master plan of key projects about developing a probe-kit that would facilitate reflection on past moments in life and digital content and improving citizens' mental health, and Seoul City is working with various institutions to promote “dying well” in the society to help citizens prepare for a meaningful end of life.  



The creation of the term dying well goes back to the mid-2000s. Back then when the society educated people about death, there was a public attitude that avoided talking about death, so instead, people coined the term dying well from wellbeing, a then-trending word. Dying well is a process of thinking about what makes a "better death", "death with dignity", "a good death" depending on values each person pursues in life, and actively preparing for the end of life from physical, psychological and relationship perspectives. Initially, the discussion about dying well focused on creating a culture that encourages the elderly to plan and prepare for a good end of life.  However, eventually everyone dies someday, so the thought about "how to die" to have a good end of life naturally leads people to question "how to live", which triggers them to view their life in a positive mindset. In the end, the thoughts about living well and dying well help motivate all people to live the present more meaningful.

In 2019, the Global Wellness Institute wrote about Dying Well as a wellness trend, which was discusses as actively exploring death as part of an effort to live a healthy life. Also, the institute’s another report that touched the relevant global trend, introduced Death Cafe where people can freely share thoughts about death, Death Tourism which is designed to prepare one's end of life moment in a status of mental wellbeing, and living funerals (Mcgroarty, 2019) which are gatherings where a dying person spends last moments with the loved ones. The cases of a dying well culture in western countries might seem more radical than what is being discussed in Korean society, however, both share the same spirit of being fully present in life through a fundamental contemplation on one's life.


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The importance of the society's perception on death with dignity

According to a survey about quality of death that was conducted by EIU (Economist Intelligence Unit) of the Economist in the United Kingdom in 40 countries, the top three countries with the highest quality of death were the U.K. (93.9 points), Australia (91.6 points), New Zealand (87.6 points) and Korea (73.7 points) ranked low at the 18th. The government of U.K. which topped the list has been expanding hospice care for the end-stage cancer patients since 2004 and launched "The National End of Life Care Strategy" in 2009 as a policy effort to raise peoples' awareness in death. As a result, the “Action for End of Life Care (2014-2016)” was established, as part of the government’s early efforts to define and discuss a good death in a public debate and spread awareness about “completing a life” and the government has been providing active support to comfort and care for people at the end of life. As such, the U.K. society started to create an attitude that respects people’s right to die and death with dignity instead of avoiding death as a taboo. The institutional approach helped minimize people’s feeling of loss at the final moment of life and set up a healthy response system.

The government's efforts to enhance awareness and creating a social attitude about dying well lead to relevant activities in the private sector. For example, LWDW (Living Well Dying Well), a private group in the UK nurtures and dispatches the End-of-Life Doulas based on an education about dying well. At present, these experts are spread out across eight regions in the U.K including London and other European countries and complete trainings related to understanding loss, emotional response to death, physical change at the end of one’s life and palliative care, attitudes, and practice toward death in different cultures, and provide proper emotional support and environment to the dying person and families. The purpose of LWDW which comes from a view that death is a very important part of one's life and a humane event, is to raise awareness about death to encourage people to cherish their lives as much as they can, which is why the organization focuses on providing psychological care to mitigate loneliness, anxiety, fear, etc. and educating the public. Detailed examples of activities include creating an environment to provide an end-of-life care service, strengthening a network with the service providers, campaigning to change awareness about dying well in the community and running a space (Cafe) where people can freely share their thoughts about death.  



Amid these international efforts to change peoples' attitudes about life and death and the relevant policy approaches and institutional supports, Korean society shares the same view that it is important for people to think about death and prepare for it in their daily lives. In January of 2017, the Seoul City Government established [Seoul City Ordinance about promoting a culture of dying well] and has been taking a policy approach to promote the culture and operating various systems and programs in the public and the private sectors. In general, policies to promote the culture of dying well across the society includes an extensive range of action plans including hospice care and palliative care, life-sustaining treatment, funeral arrangements, organ donation, education about death, etc. However, the concept of dying well is focused on "awareness and contemplation to live a better present " in addition to preparing for the end of life, therefore it is necessary to find effective ways to encourage people to concentrate on their being in the present moment in life. Also, things change quickly in today’s cities. People in the modern society are more frequently exposed to factors that would threat their mental health such as anxiety, depression, panic disorder, stress, etc. and diseases, which in turn, is causing another social problem. In this paper, I would like to explore examples of private sector efforts in other countries which took a holistic approach to emotionally support people to have death with dignity and a better life and to improve citizens' mental health.

Calm City, a mobile meditation studio in New York City

Calm City, which is the first mobile medication studio in New York, offers people a space and a guide to meditate in various environments that they are in. The 100 m2 studio, created in a transformed recreational vehicle holds sessions, and each session can accommodate up to nine persons. Participants get on this mobile studio, take a seat, and listen to the audio guide. Calm City offers different programs to practice mindfulness which participants can choose from, and this quick practice session helps participants to reduce stress caused by uncertainty and hustle and bustle in life and have the time for recharge and recovery.


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Calm City started with an idea to offer people living a busy urban life a quiet space and a moment of tranquility without taking a day off or taking the time to go somewhere else. Kristin Westbrook, founder of Calm City, earlier experienced the healing power of meditation that reduces the feeling of anxiety, depression, and stress in the complicated and fast changing city. Inspired by a food truck in Manhattan, she set up a mobile Calm City Studio (Calm City RV) in the busiest street of New York in 2017 and started running medication programs with a trained meditation practitioner for people living and working in the city. The studio currently offers various customizable programs for people who need meditation. There are programs about breathing, self-healing through body scan, resilience toolkit building to get away from the uncertainty and anxiety in the real life, designing one's own wellness program for a happy life and future, drawing and mindfulness, writing, etc. Also, during the pandemic, the studio also ran virtual classes to ensure people live a happy and healthy life.

BEtime, a meditation bus in New York that seeks tranquility in the chaos of a city 

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association (ADAA), the feeling of anxiety affects more than 40 million adults in America and is critical in impairing peoples’ lives. Anxiety can be a response to life’s minor and major challenges in the modern society, and meditation and mindful practice are known to help respond to stress and fear as well as mitigate some symptoms. Recognizing these needs, BEtime started its service in a mobile bus to offer people in modern society much needed time for mindfulness and tranquility. BEtime is a bus converted into a meditation studio that the bus goes around the city and stops to let people get on and experience the healing power of meditation. Just like the Calm City introduced earlier, BEtime, a mobile studio, holds meditation sessions in different parts of the city and shares its real-time location on Twitter so that people can access easily.



BEtime along with the mobility as a moving studio, is also physically differentiated as providing an immersive meditation experience. Inside the studio which was designed by architects Ronald Rodriguez and Natalia Wrzask at Aidia Studio, lightings installed between holed panels with fractal design, the wooden floor and cushions create a comforting and cozy environment for the participants. The studio is fully soundproof which allows a complete time of tranquility in the center of a busy city, and the aromatherapy and sound adds to multi-sensory experiences and allows participants to be immersed in the meditation. 


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BEtime is open to anyone. People busy working in Manhattan can have a quick medication during their lunch time or after work to resolve stress in a positive and healthy way by addressing negative emotions, desires, and disoriented thoughts. BEtime mediation can also happen in company, school, and institution settings to help people with physical diseases who feel depressed and frustrated find emotional peace in recovery or improve their relationships with families and friends and reach a state of tranquility. Also, BEtime offers various meditation programs and participants who really did not have time for themselves out of their busy life and various outside factors can reconnect with their inner self and take a deep breath to find peace and tranquility in mind.



The business expects the launch of BEtime Circle application that would allow people to access various programs regardless of time and location. BEtime Circle is a technology-based content platform that offers online community and well-being content designed to encourage users to connect, interact and learn from each other. As the isolation and social distancing have become a new norm, the app provides on-demand tools in the online space and allows users to attend online workshops and live sessions. Also, the content library is a great space for sharing resources and building and promoting relationship with other people. This is a new form of customized solution in the digital era, and its great beauty lies in that it offers tailored content that fit into different needs or situations of users and ensures peoples’ physical and emotional peace. It is easily accessible and most importantly creates a community with shared purpose, which is why BEtime Circle has a potential to be the essential mind caring service for people living in the city.




The thought about living well has been concurrent along with the survival and growth of the humanity, and we are now focusing on dying well in addition to wellbeing and healing. In particular, the COVID-19 pandemic put much strain on a large population in the world including restriction in movement, feeling of loss, isolation and depression, anxiety, stress, etc., which has led us to be more aware of the importance of mental wellbeing than before. As explored in the above, it is worth thinking about dying well or a good death as it directly relates to planning a good life, and the interest in dying well not only provides a chance to make a life of everyone in the society meaningful but also serves a fundamental role to address the mental disorders that people in modern society have. Therefore, establishing a robust system that offers emotional support to address the anxiety and depression as well as death, will help build a more widespread thought that caring for the mind and living the present moment to the fullest indeed means living well and achieving a sense of completion about one’s life. 

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