Especially here in New York City, life is stressful. The busyness of city life can be thrilling, but it can also be profoundly draining with the constant noise, crowds, traffic, expectations, and the ever-increasing cost of living. Dealing with all of the constant stimulation causes our brains to become overwhelmed in a way an after-work glass of wine can’t fix. Spending our every waking hour planning, problem-solving, and thinking simply drains our emotional reservoirs, leading to anxiety, stress, and even depression.
Mindfulness helps our brains step back from daily worries and anxieties. In mindfulness meditation, give your brain a breather by pushing all thoughts out of your mind for a certain period of time. Sound difficult? It can be, at first. But with practice, anyone can master mindfulness meditation and reap the benefits.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a type of meditation. Mindfulness meditation has gained a huge following in recent years because it helps people deal with anxiety, stress, and racing thoughts – and it can be done any time, anywhere. In mindfulness meditation, you focus on being intensely aware of the current moment, which creates space in the mind away from everyday worries and anxieties. Mindfulness meditation involves breathing techniques, guided imagery, and other techniques that help you relax and stay focused on the present moment.
Benefits of mindfulness meditation
Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years, leading to generations of anecdotal evidence that it is beneficial to the overall mental state. More recently, science has gotten involved. Research studies have confirmed again and again that mindfulness meditation has numerous psychological and physical benefits, such as:
- Improved sleep quality
- Decreased anxiety
- Decreased symptoms and episodes of depression
- Lowered pain levels
- Reduced stress
- Decreased blood pressure
- Fewer symptoms of asthma
- Fewer symptoms of fibromyalgia
- Improved cognitive abilities
- Decreased feelings of burnout
Yes, you can be mindful even on the New York City subway
Mindfulness meditation doesn’t require a quiet room or a fancy pillow to sit on. This may be part of why it has become so popular among New Yorkers, whose busy lives keep them rushing from one obligation to another without a lot of extra time to sit in silence.
Mindfulness meditation can be done anywhere, for any length of time from a few minutes to several hours. So whether you’re crowded into an NYC subway train, fighting for a taxi on Wall Street, waiting in line at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or waiting through intermission on Broadway, you can sneak in a few minutes of mindfulness to help you through your day. Any activity can be done with mindfulness, so it doesn’t have to interrupt your schedule or add one more “to-do” to your daily task list.
How to do mindfulness meditation
The following instructions for how to do mindfulness meditation are a starting point, not a formula. Follow these steps to get yourself started with mindfulness meditation. As you practice mindfulness more and more, you may find that what works best for you deviates from these steps somewhat. Do what works for you, and don’t be afraid to experiment with different places, positions, and techniques to find your perfect combination.
- Find a comfortable seat – Some people like to sit crossed-legged on a pillow or yoga mat on the floor. Others opt for a comfy chair or couch. Just look for a place where you can sit comfortably and let your body completely relax. We suggest not laying down – you may fall asleep.
- Close your eyes or drop your eyelids – Lower your gaze slightly toward the floor.
- Focus on the sensation in your legs – Are they pressing against the floor? Are your feet propped up on a table? Take a minute or two to focus on the sensation in your lower body. Does it feel relaxed? Heavy? Balanced?
- Straighten your spine – Sit up straight but in a comfortable position. Notice the natural curvature of your spine. Your head and shoulders should rest comfortably on top of your spine. For those of us that are used to hunching over a computer all day with poor posture, finding that healthy position may take a few tries.
- Put your hands on your knees or thighs – Rest your hands on your knees or thighs, whichever is most comfortable. Let your arms drop naturally by your sides. Let go of all the tension in your shoulders. Notice how your upper body feels.
- Relax and focus on your breath – Focusing on your breathing can feel a bit awkward if you’ve never done it before. Take deep, full, slow breaths. Count to four on the inhale, then four on the exhale. As you breathe, focus on the movement of your belly in and out. Do this for a couple of minutes. Focusing on your breathing is important because it gives your mind an anchor during your meditation.
- Observe your thoughts – The human mind is always active. Being in a meditative state purely without thought takes years of practice to master. Luckily, you don’t have to become a meditation master to benefit from mindfulness. Thoughts will invariably come into your mind. When they do, notice them, then wave them away. If you find yourself engaging in thought, come back to focusing on your breathing. Your mind will almost never be complete without thoughts while you meditate. This is normal. You will master the practice of waving them away with practice. Observe the thoughts, but do your best to not interact or engage with them.
- Stay in this state for your predetermined amount of time – Beginners may find it helpful to set an alarm on their phone for 5 or 10 minutes to alert them when their meditation session is over. This is infinitely better than watching a clock, which takes you out of the meditative state every time you open your eyes. Set the alarm to be a peaceful, low sound, so you’re not jarred out of your meditative state.
- Open your eyes – Once your alarm has dinged and your meditation session is over, slowly open your eyes. Stay in your position for another minute or two before moving. This allows your brain to slowly come out of its meditative state.