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One Taste Urban Retreat Center
Free Flowing Environment with a Full Body/Soul Experience
by Nirmala Nataraj on Sep 10, 2004
Editorial Note: One Taste Urban Retreat Center no longer provides spa or massage type services.
It's August 20th and I'm experiencing a quintessentially zen moment. A woman is systematically kneading my boot-bruised feet, and a softly burnished light glows through the screens of my closed eyelids. I hear the murmur of other voices all around me, a quiet buzz that's offset by the sound of the deejay playing random global tunes. A heavily synthesized New Age-sounding melody floats out from the speakers, and someone asks, "Isn't this the theme song to The Exorcist?" Thankfully, the composition quickly fades and is replaced by a soothing mantra from the Cocteau Twins. Life is good.
I'm at One Taste, a self-described urban retreat center that's a rare slice of nirvana crammed into a dilapidated corner of the SoMa district. The event: a massage soiree. One Taste's upstairs lounge area is packed with a dozen Bay Area massage therapists and a slew of customers who are eagerly waiting to sample a sumptuous array of massage styles, from reiki to traditional deep tissue. At first, it's an odd semblance of a massage studio. With people lounging on velvet cushions and yoga mats, there isn't a clear line of people for the massage therapists, who seem to be going in 10-15 minute spates. A woman with pre-Raphaelite curls and a kimono dreamily glides past me and, as if she's just read my mind, says, "This is a free flowing environment. Just walk around, see what you like, and make eye contact with whoever you want to get a massage from."
At first, that's easier said than done, especially for someone as bound to structure as I am. But as I flit through the crowd and check out the scene, it's obvious to me that people are here for more than just the massages. Men and women sipping juices from One Taste's café cavort with each other, exchanging information about yoga poses and the stress we tend to accumulate in certain parts of our body. It might sound a little hokey, and I certainly find myself snickering at first, but the thing that strikes you about the folks at One Taste is that everyone's completely accepting. Those who find the "New Age" scene somewhat suspect might be dubious, but One Taste is genuine in a way that makes going up to a random stranger and asking if you can be next for a massage seem customary.
With its plush yet simple décor, a cross between industrial chic and transcendental calm, One Taste is as hip as Urban Forage (San Francisco's raw food Mecca) and as hallowed as an ashram. In essence, it's a community center focused on mindful living. Offering a marketplace for people's physical and spiritual well-being, the center, which is a little over a month old, will soon include a fully functional café, bookstore, art gallery, and yoga/massage studios. It's currently packed with ongoing meditation workshops, gem stone therapy, community dancing, poetry readings, raw food happy hours, massage, and yoga (taught by Diego del Sol, who was voted San Francisco Magazine's Best Yoga Instructor of 2004). One highlight in particular is the Spirited Sunday event, a full day celebration that includes a morning meditation, yoga, dance, an afternoon feast, and a special guest speaker.
One Taste promotes and makes possible the idea of living a healthy and sustainable lifestyle; aside from offering disciplined inquiries into subjects as varied as meditation and orgasmic rebalancing, the center has also created a non-profit, Fill Up America, which directly provides food to local individuals and families in need.
What most of the offerings have in common is their commitment to One Taste's primary purpose: the development of full sensory awareness -- emotionally, spiritually, and physically. "We strive to bring language to the experience of sensuality," says Nicole Daedone, the center's founder. "It's an environment that's both electric and deeply connected."
While looking at sensuality in a particular context is a big part of One Taste, don't expect to find a swingers' club here. Above all, the center offers new forms of learning in a healing environment, which locals are already beginning to gravitate to. "A lot of people walk in the door and feel they've found their home," asserts Daedone, a pretty, soft-spoken blonde with a commanding presence. "The minute you step in off the street, there's a whole other world of sensations available."
Something that makes One Taste so different from most community centers is that the 14 core facilitators live, work, and play together. Each has a share in the day-to-day operations of the place, which range from managing the gallery to facilitating the courses to coordinating events and guest speakers. According to Daedone, the core group came together over a period of ten years, during which Daedone traveled and studied various systems of spiritual thought. "I basically gathered together all my favorite people and brought them with me."
Daedone herself started out on a different path, and was the co-founder of 111 Minna, a popular South of Market gallery/performance space. After her introduction to Theosophy, a mystical form of thought that draws inspiration from a hodgepodge of spiritual beliefs (Hinduism and Gnosticism, to name a couple), Daedone left her post at 111 Minna and started out on her mission of integrating sensation with spirit.
"There is this whole realm people feel uncomfortable going into, and it's their bodies," says Daedone. "The work we do is about getting people to be intentional with their bodies, to just plain be in touch with what's happening within themselves."
By the time I'm finished speaking with Daedone, my head is spinning with new terms I'm not altogether sure I get: bio-electography, conscious cuddling, transmission meditation. It's a peculiar way to spend one's Friday night, perhaps, and the sense of pleasant alertness that's taken hold of me, after a variety of tea blends and soothing body work, might be more apt for a Monday morning. (Now if only they had something like this in my neighborhood…) As I step out onto the busy street, which drips with nighttime activity and urban anxiety, I know that One Taste's distinctive flavor will persist on my palate for a while.
by Nirmala Nataraj on Sep 10, 2004