So much of the composition of a city is, of course, predicated on history. We understand the demographic makeup of urban areas based on the specialization of industry, or the stains and triumphs of their political current. Generally we can make inferences on how religious groups have settled in one place or another, some of it purposeful, and some of these trends utterly happenstance. Why, for example, Mormons settle in Utah, but white Anglo Saxons went to Connecticut. Why the ultra-religious form enclaves, while the more secular sometimes seek diversity, and sometimes, inexplicably, prefer sameness. Why artists live on the south side, and scientists on the east.
When we think about the top cities for meditation in America, we look for the buzz. Where are people gathering? How are they gathering? Is it virtual? Academic? Religious? Devout? Are practitioners moved by tradition or innovation, and is this essentially democratizing practice reliant on charismatic leaders at the center? Or can it truly proliferate, carried on virtue and technique alone?
We won’t answer all these questions here, but it’s worth thinking about the geography of these cities in which meditation has become increasingly mainstream (though it’s interesting to note, how it has continued to be seen as “alternative healing” in so many of the places listed here). It would seem that natural beauty plays a big role on meditation’s presence. Perhaps situating oneself at the foot of mountains, or by the crash of waters, makes one more apt to rejoice in quiet and become interested in the fluctuations of the mind. Perhaps being on the outskirts of a booming city inspires its citizens to rest in peace and subtle awareness. Or perhaps it’s happenstance.
You may notice a few places typically known for meditation are not on this list, such as New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. That’s because the top 30 cities were ranked by the following criteria: number of meditation studios per capita, the presence of academic research and funding in the field of meditation and/or contemplative sciences, and the prevalence of Google searches in meditation and mindfulness. Attempts to quantify the presence of meditation in a place may always fall short of seeing firsthand the effects of dedicated community practice, compassionate leadership, and institutional support for contemplative pursuits. Yet, we hope this analysis still provides an interesting snapshot of mindfulness in America, including a few unsung heroes that have helped bring the practice to more people in all pockets of the country.
To those newer to meditation, it may seem strange that a city in the center of America’s heartland is a hotbed for meditators. But the truth is that thousands have flocked to Fairfield since 1973 when Maharishi Mahesh Yogi founded a university by his name right in the center of town. Since then it has become somewhat of a mecca for practitioners of Transcendental Meditation around the world.
In many ways, Berkeley is the prototypical “mindful” city—with nine meditation centers, and dozens more yoga studios, residents of the city are known for attention to healthy living. The University of California Berkeley houses the Greater Good Science Center, which produces extensive research in meditation and mindfulness.
Home to a Shambhala Buddhist Meditation center, as well as Millikin University, which has recently conducted research on contemplative writing, this southern town is rife with budding pathways into practice.
On the precipice of the Rocky Mountains, this liberal city is home to eight meditation studios and has ample opportunity for contemplation and mindfulness practice. The University of Colorado at Boulder conducts extensive research on meditation, its most recent study cites the power of mindfulness in mollifying postpartum depression.
Home to the University of Virginia, Charlottesville touts The Contemplative Sciences Center at UVA, perhaps the most comprehensive combination research-practice academic institution of its kind in America. With events and instruction from internationally renowned teachers in the field, as well as ongoing research and learning projects, this center has put Charlottesville forever on the map of contemplative studies and practice.
Asheville, North Carolina
Home to five meditation centers, as well as several counseling centers that teach meditation, this unique and colorful town nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina, with a population of 88,000, has its pick for regular practice.
Sag Harbor, New York
For the 2,000 residents who stay in Sag Harbor year round, their two premier centers (Kadampa, and Vajravarahi, two different forms of Tibetan Buddhism) welcome renowned teachers from around the world.
In southern Ohio, this 25,000-person town has a population eagerly consuming online information about meditation, according to Google search data. With one center for meditation practice, we may see more popping up soon.
Taos, New Mexico
With two vibrant meditation centers in town, packed with classes, speakers, and workshops, and several retreat centers on the outskirts, there are ample opportunities to create a steady practice in Taos, which is typically known for its Native American History.
Located just 65 miles southwest of Lake Tahoe, Placerville is somewhat of a hub for meditation, with a population of 10,000 and three distinct non-denominational centers for meditation practice.
West Chester, Pennsylvania
Located in eastern Pennsylvania, this town of nearly 20,000 people has a centrally located Shambhala center as well as several yoga studios and spiritual exploration centers, which is perhaps the reason so many of these Pennsylvanians are searching meditation online.
This gorgeous town, located close to the California border, and home to South Oregon University, houses three meditation centers—a Zen center, a non-denominational studio, and its very own Tibetan Buddhist Temple.
Princeton, New Jersey
While Princeton University may not be known for particularly spiritual or religious underpinnings, the town of Princeton has several destinations for regular meditators, including a Buddhist Temple, a Vipasana center, and studios for relaxation and healing.
Los Gatos, California
On the outskirts of the Redwoods Forest, Los Gatos is home to a Zen Center and a Self Realization Center catering to the local population of just over 30,000 people.
Mountlake Terrace, Washington
This northern suburb of Seattle, a progressive city with a booming population of yogis, houses a Buddhist center as well as a cutting-edge medical treatment center, called mindful therapy group, which forges a bond between Western psychiatric treatment and mindfulness practice.
San Rafael, California
The Bay Area is rife with possibility for meditation and mindfulness practice. In this San Francisco suburb, you can find three renowned meditation centers, including the highly acclaimed Spirit Rock Meditation Center, as well as numerous lay-lead meditation groups all over the city.
Laguna Beach, California
This gorgeous beach town in Southern Orange County is home to two Transcendental Meditation centers, including one retreat center reserved for women.
Palm Springs, California
The desert city known for its spas is also home to 50,000 people eager to meditate. With Vipasana, Buddhist, and TM centers, Palm Springs residents and tourists alike have their pick.
Elmhurst, New York
This working class neighborhood in Queens is home to three meditation centers, including a traditional Zen Center founded in 1977.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Home to a large and transient student population, Ann Arbor is home to a great many meditation and yoga studios. In addition to on campus meditation groups, the University of Michigan Medical School has a leading contemplative sciences center, which they call the Center for Consciousness Science, and which has conducted valuable studies in the field of neuroplasticity and neuro-feedback.
Santa Monica, California
If this list had “om tattoos” in its research base, Santa Monica may have come in first place. Known for its healthy food, its gorgeous beach views, and its avid yogi population, its no surprise that this community in the greater Los Angeles area is home to five meditation centers, and countless lay-led organizations and groups.
Though Sarasota has an older median age than the average American city, it has an online community of seeking meditators, and the city is home to three meditation centers—Buddhist and TM centers, as a well as a nonprofit mindfulness organization.
Garden Grove, California
Just 34 miles south of Los Angeles, this city of 175,000 people has the highest number of places of worship per capita in California. Included in that number are the almost dozen meditation centers, which the city’s residents frequent.
Mountain View, California
For the meditating San Franciscans who work from Google’s main campus in Mountain View, there is no shortage of opportunity to practice near work. With Vipasana, Zen, and TM options, as well as informal meditation groups at Google, the Silicon Valley city is eager for the practice.
La Puente, California
20 miles east of Los Angeles, La Puente is a fairly standard suburban area—a predominantly residential community, with T’ai Chi and Yoga studios, as well as two meditation centers that have cropped up in recent years.
With an Insight Meditation Group and a Shambhala Center, Davis is home to hundreds of regular practitioners. The University of California at Davis not only helps bring mindfulness to students, but it also houses the Saron Lab which does research in mind training, as well as sensory processing in autistic children.
Cambridge is known for its Crimson Pride and its robust student population. It’s no surprise then, that the city has four meditation centers including Zen and Vipasasna. At Harvard, theres is ongoing research on meditation’s affect on the brain, most notably in a recent study on Grey Matter.
Related: What is Transcendental Meditation?
New Haven, Connecticut
New Haven is almost identical to Cambridge in terms of its community of meditators. With Zen, Vipasana, and Shambhala strongholds, as well as a major university doing groundbreaking work in the fields of neuroscience and mindfulness, New Haven is a great place to be meditating today.
Home to Northwestern University and only 14 miles north of Chicago, Evanston is known for its lively and progressive population. They have an Insight Meditation center as well as a holistic health center that combines yoga, meditation, and alternative healing for their patients.
The capitol of Pennsylvania on the east bank of the Susquehanna River is home to just over 49,000 people who have access to three meditation centers, including two Buddhist, and one Zen center.