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The Sacred Space opens a mindful world to Miami

This is the outdoor area of the Sacred Space urban sanctuary, complete with lush meditation gardens.
This is the outdoor area of the Sacred Space urban sanctuary, complete with lush meditation gardens. cguerrero@miamiherald.com

At the end of a gritty Wynwood street backing up to railroad tracks, an oasis beckons. Once inside the gates, a garden of native and exotic plants invites people to meditate or relax. Inside the building, an entryway minimally adorned with art opens to several large event spaces, which can be divided for more intimate gatherings. Underfoot are soft wood floors suitable for Prayer Dances, and no expense was spared for lighting and acoustic technology to unobtrusively enhance an event.

The Sacred Space Miami, a 12,000-square-foot center for healing and well-being on nearly an acre of property, opened its doors early this year with a full schedule of classes and workshops, as well as a plant-based restaurant and culinary institute. But the $10 million center is really the culmination of founder Karla Dascal’s 11-year personal journey into mindful living.

[Read more: Startups out to build a mindful Miami]

Back then, in 2005, the veteran event planner was obese and diabetic. Gastric bypass surgery helped her shed pounds and her diabetes, but she was still not eating well. “I wasn’t of the mindset. I was a mess.”

The $10 million center is really the culmination of founder Karla Dascal’s 11-year personal journey into mindful living.

A friend introduced Dascal to juicing and she undertook a raw diet, too: “I cut out everything, I went back to nature. I felt cleansed, clear, energized.”

Her event’s company, Karla Events, was thriving inside a Wynwood warehouse she purchased in 2000 and then renovated, as she continued her own journey into personal well-being, including yoga and meditation. But she was also beginning to notice her clients were increasingly requesting mindful or wellness-related events, something for which her own space or other venues in South Florida weren’t ideal.

Then the recession of 2008 hit her event business with a thud. She had to let go of half her company’s employees, many of them long-timers. Yet the recession also gave Dascal the opportunity to travel and meet teachers and healers and visit wellness communities around the country.

“I met some of our greatest teachers in this journey — Debbie Ford, Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson — and visited every raw and vegan restaurant in the country. I was on a holistic path … and as I met all these people, I invited them to this space to do their thing.”

She invited locals, too. The founder of Jugo Fresh held his first dinner event there, before the company took off, Dascal said. Conscious Bite Out, a conscious dinner pop-up experience, began holding regular dinners there. YogArt held fundraisers.

That’s when Dascal set her sights on redeveloping the warehouse, what she formerly called The Space, into The Sacred Space, with architect Rene Gonzalez.

“I said, you know what, this is my lifestyle, this is what I want to teach, this is what I want to bring to Miami,” Dascal said. “I was already building the conscious community. We put a spiritual movement practice here called Prayer Dance, which was led by my life coach who helped me tremendously on this entire journey. … I wanted to bring this to Miami.”

Along the journey, she partnered with celebrity chef Matthew Kenney, who raised appreciation for plant-based foods on the culinary scene. They built Plant Food + Wine restaurant and his Miami culinary education program, both housed in The Sacred Space.

“To me it was not about opening a restaurant, it was about bringing this education component to Miami. You could sign up for a class and learn how to prepare foods this way,” Dascal said.

Completely redesigned, The Sacred Space reopened at 105 NE 24th St. in January. The restaurant and WiFi-equipped garden, which can be rented for events too, opened a month later.

Both self-funding and bank financing were used to build out the space and deliver programming to the community. Land acquisition, construction, operations and marketing for the launch of The Sacred Space came to about $10 million, Dascal said. There’s room for expansion, and Dascal plans eventually to add a small boutique hotel to the campus, catering to the visiting mindful community and for hosting retreats.

We are creating a center for holistic transformation. It’s not for these who need it, it is for those who want it.

Karla Dascal, founder of The Sacred Space Miami

“My goal is to be able to help a lot of people,” said Dascal, part of one of Miami’s well-known philanthropic families. “We are creating a center for holistic transformation. It’s not for these who need it, it is for those who want it.”

Sacred Space, now with 11 employees, hosts corporate and community mindfulness or meditation events and workshops, both at the space and at company offices. Doctors interested in integrated medicine have been visiting to learn more about well-being. On any given week, workshops or classes might include yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, holistic nutrition, sound healing and raw eating. It still holds Prayer Dances every Sunday. The Seed Food and Wine festival will host its Friday night chef dinner and its closing day of its five-day vegan food celebration at The Sacred Space in November.

Next month, Sacred Space will co-present Modern Life, Miami’s first mindfulness festival with a full day of experiences and talks by national and local experts. Organizers expect about 500 people. (See more information below.)

Next month, Sacred Space will co-present Modern Life, Miami’s first mindfulness festival with a full day of experiences and talks by national and local experts.

“I want Sacred Space to be the epicenter for personal growth,” Dascal said. “You need to be happy and healthy and holy with yourself, and if you are that way with yourself, you will have an impact on everyone else.”

Co-founder Chira Cassel agrees. She said Sacred Space just did an event for wealth managers. “It’s lovely to go on a retreat, but how do you incorporate it into your day-to-day life?” she said.

“And that is the point of the center. It is not just the meditators and the yogis that are coming here, it is parents, it’s teens, it’s professionals, bankers and lawyers. Meditation isn’t just for the hippies or the self-help crowd, it’s for everybody.”

Nancy Dahlberg: 305-376-3595, @ndahlberg

Next month: Modern Life,

a mindfulness festival

What: Exploring mindfulness in Miami, The Sacred Space Miami and Modern ŌM present Modern Life, a first-of-its-kind festival offering diverse practices to help counter stress and information overload of the modern world. At Modern Life, festival-goers will not only learn how to cultivate conscious living in a high-vibration environment but will also have the opportunity to connect with like-minded doers. The curated program includes activities and workshops across meditation, music, art, fitness, food, entrepreneurship and technology led by some of the most sought-after teachers in the world of mindfulness.

Who: Scheduled speakers include rock-star shaman Alyson Charles; yogi and creator of The Sonic Butterfly Harp, Andrea Brook; Founder of 1111 Vibes, Andrew Clark; founder of Center of the Cyclone, Biet Simkin; MindBodyGreen meditation expert, Charlie Knoles; founder of Creative Insight Journey and life coach, Jennifer Grace; founder of Skanda, Ken von Roenn.

Miami’s community will also share their lessons and passions. Among them: Tony Cho, real-estate developer, will speak on building mindful communities. Ebony Smith, corporate coach, will offer a workshop on mindful leadership. Paul Toliuszis, famed yoga teacher, will discuss Oneness. Michael Capponi, nightlife impresario, will share his deep interest in humanitarianism and mysticism.

When: 9 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Oct. 15

Where: The Sacred Space Miami, 105 NE 24th St., Miami

Cost: $59-$69 for half-day passes; $109 for full day

(prices rise $10 in October)

Tickets/more information: www.modernlifefest.com

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