As anyone who lives in New York City knows, the city is both exhilarating and draining. Keeping ourselves emotionally healthy in our hometown is an important goal for all city dwellers. Here are 3 mindfulness techniques that can help you manage the stress of living in the Big Apple.
Walking meditationOne thing New Yorkers do more than almost anyone else walks. Walking can be faster than taking city buses and cheaper than cabs. Who knew that it is also a direct way to experience feelings of ease and relaxation?
Walking meditation is walking with intention and focus on the act of walking. It’s a mindfulness exercise because it requires you to focus your attention on one activity or object (in this case, walking) while tuning out other stimuli.
To begin the meditation bring your attention to the complete sensation of your feet on the sidewalk. Feel where your foot contacts the ground and see if you can slowly feel the pressure, beginning with the ball of your foot through to the middle section and eventually to the heel. Feel the sensations in the leg and lower back. Notice the texture of the ground you are walking on. Notice, notice, note. Meditation allows us to slow down, become present and connect to the natural rhythm of our bodies. Walking also allows smells, sights and sounds to come in to your awareness without actively attending to them. Your mind will naturally wander, and don’t worry about that —that is what is it supposed to do. All you need to do is slowly bring your attention back to your feet. You will need to redirect your attention over and over. This is not a sign of failing at meditation it IS meditation—the subtle awareness of bringing our attention back to our feet.
Also remind yourself gently that your feet are taking you where you need to go, and that they know what to do. Let them do it while you focus on their magnificence, their ability and their presence. This allows you to be in the moment and begin to let go slowly—one step at a time.
Self compassion— hand to heart
So often we hear messages of “push harder,” “work harder,” “do more.” The subtle message that comes along with these “cheerleading” statements is that you are not enough. Feeling that we are not enough can cause both physical and emotional pain.
There was a time when it was considered motivating to be hard on one’s self and to push and push. Recently, research has revealed that self criticism can have the reverse effect and actually cause people to perform more poorly. In fact, self compassion—or being on one’s own side — has been shown to be a better predictor of performance.
When I discuss self compassion in my office, clients often say, “That sounds great, but how do I do that?” Applying self compassion is a lifelong practice. It is not something we are just able to do one day. Like all mindfulness exercises, they take PRACTICE and a lot of patience.
To begin to send compassion inward, try and imagine that someone you love is running to you crying. Spend a moment thinking about how your body would react to this person. Where would you put your hands? Would you put them on their back, around their waist, on their shoulders? Think about the gesture that you turn to when someone is in pain. Now try and offer this gesture to yourself, gently and purposefully. Notice what happens in your body as you give yourself this thoughtful touch. Sit within this movement/experience for a few moments if you can. Notice what happens with your whole body and mind when you make this gesture. At first, the exercise might feel uncomfortable or silly. That is natural since it is new. I encourage you to feel proud of yourself for even trying it out. See if you can try this gesture the next time you have a strong feeling, and just notice how your body feels. The great thing about this practice is that you can take it with you anywhere because it resides within you.
A cognitive practice you can use to encourage self compassion is treating yourself like a GPS. Think about what happens when you’re driving and you accidentally take a wrong turn when using you GPS. The computer kindly says “recalculating.” The GPS finds another route to your destination using your location, taking into account the wrong turn. The GPS does not say, “You have done this drive so many times, what is wrong with you?” Or “Maybe you should have left earlier and this would not have happened!” Instead it picks up from where you are and helps you get to your destination. When you make a mistake see if you can say to yourself “recalculating.” Remind yourself that we all make mistakes and this is simply a rerouting rather than a catastrophe. We can choose to to be kind to ourselves rather than beat ourselves up or go over all the things we should have done differently.
One of the biggest challenges of living in New York City is that we live so close to one another. We live in apartment buildings, squeeze next to one another in the subway and rely on others to move along so we can get to our destinations. These close quarters often lead to frustration. Often the stress we experience with strangers bleeds into our work and personal lives. Who hasn’t had the experience of a negative interaction with a stranger outside, which we, in turn, take out on a co-worker, child or partner?
Anger is a biologically adaptive emotion that can save our lives and make us miserable. The Buddha has been quoted as saying: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” So, how do we manage our frustrations from all that is coming at us in NYC without hurting ourselves?
We have all heard that to stop being angry at someone we should think about how fortunate we are. While it is good to recognize what you are grateful for, this strategy often leads to guilt more than empathy. To help create empathy and decrease frustration I suggest trying to send kind wishes to strangers.
When you notice a person is getting under your skin, try to look at them as directly as possible (within a safe distance). In your heart— and this is important, NOT out loud— send them friendly wishes. For example, look at the person and think “May you be happy,” “May you be healthy,” “May you be at ease,” “May you gain that which you most desire,” or “May you be free from pain and suffering.” We all want to be happy and have fulfilling lives. By connecting to others’ human-ness through this quiet practice we naturally release tension. This practice works with our natural desire to be connected to others and and can lead to a decrease in the intensity of the situation.
This practice is not as much for the other person as it is for you. Sending someone kind wishes allows us to open our hearts, touch on on our mutual connectiveness, and let go of our anger. Through this practice we see that the other person is simply human, and is doing the best they can.
These mindfulness techniques are not one-time solutions but instead require patience, practice and gentleness. Even reading this article and beginning to consider applying mindfulness into your life is a glorious step toward healing. Put your hand on your heart and tell yourself, “Good job.”