Health + Fitness

How to Find Your Zen in Chicago

(Photo: Panom/

With nearly 3 million people living in Chicago, an occasional escape from the honking cars, roaring “L” (the elevated train), and jam-packed downtown sidewalks is always welcome. Fortunately, serene escapes are everywhere — you just need to know where to look. Here are some local favorite spots to reconnect with your inner self.

Commune With Nature

Regardless of the season, Lake Michigan has a meditative effect. In the summer, the crashing waves are a reminder of Mother Nature’s beauty and force. When the weather turns frigid, the slowly moving, iceberg-capped swells are seriously hypnotic (and the lack of crowds is a relaxing bonus). An 18-mile path runs along the lakefront, so pick a point and run, walk, bike or sit to commence relaxation.

If you prefer to enjoy nature from indoors, visit the ninth floor of Harold Washington Library, home to the alluring Winter Garden. A popular space to rent for weddings and private events, it’s also open for the public to enjoy. The expansive atrium, filled with trees, plants, windows and natural light, is easily the best place in the city to snuggle up with a book (which you can get from the floors below).

Float in Thought

If you’ve ever wondered what an isolation tank would feel like, this is your chance to find out. SpaceTime Tanks offers meditative flotation experiences. That means that you lie in a tank amid 10 inches of water and 800 pounds of Epsom salt. During your full hour in isolation, you have nothing to do but relax. As a bonus, the salt will leave your skin feeling downright velvety.

Visit a Sanctuary

The North American Baha’i Temple, just outside of Chicago in the suburb of Wilmette, is tranquility defined. The white-domed wonder is surrounded by manicured gardens and peaceful reflecting pools. Inside, natural light floods through the windows, casting a sense of openness and reverence. The temple was built as a place for contemplation and welcomes people of all faiths. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s the only Baha’i temple in the Western Hemisphere, making it well worth the 20-mile jaunt from downtown.

Little known fact: There’s a church within a skyscraper in the Loop. The first-floor sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple is lined with stained glass that’s actually back-lit to appear as though the sun is coming through from the outside (it’s not, the church is built within the structure of the building). But that’s just the beginning. Take the elevator up 22 floors to the small Sky Chapel and you can meditate from 400 feet above the city. Tours are available Monday through Saturday at 2 p.m. and on Sunday following services.