March 25, 2019 | Posted by Stephanie Banyas
A few weeks ago I posted this beautiful photo below on Instagram taken in Central Park with the caption, “trying to find the beauty in the chaos.’ If you live in NYC or if you have ever lived here, then you know exactly what I meant.
New York City is definitely one of the best cities in the world (and that is why I have chosen to live here) but is also one of the most expensive, noisy, overcrowded, filthy, competitive and did I mention noisy, overcrowded and competitive?
Every single day is filled with pressure: Work projects, competitive co-workers, subway overcrowding, public transportation delays, piles of garbage and rats...everywhere! There are nonstop traffic jams, street closures, long lines for everything. Don’t forget the newly added bike lanes and THE highest rents for some of the smallest spaces in the entire country. There is stress and then there is New York City stress.
A few months ago, I began to realize that the relentless pace of Manhattan was starting to wear me down…beat me up…Stress. Me. Out. I started becoming agitated, more sarcastic than usual and horribly sleep deprived. My mind constantly racing and my nerves shot. A few friends suggested yoga (been there, done that and it is just not my thing.) A few others suggested meditation.
Truth be told, I have always wished that I could meditate, I have even tried it on my own a few times by just closing the blinds and sitting in total silence and darkness. Recentl,y I have even tried using some popular meditation apps that you download onto your Smart phone. But I wanted something that had nothing to do with my phone. My phone with its work or life related text and email alerts, is part of the problem. I wanted to leave my phone behind and not think about it at all. Not to mention that my attempts to meditate on my own were epic failures which just gave me one more thing to stress out about. My co-worker and fellow B-Teamer Christie Bok suggested that I try taking a class at her favorite place in NYC called MNDFL.
MNDFL is a meditation studio in Greenwich Village (there are also locations on UES and Brooklyn) owned by Lodro Rinzler and Ellie Burrows. Rinzler and Burrows opened their studio several years ago with one thing in mind: Bringing the ancient spiritual technique of meditation to stressed-out city folk (like me). I was game and curious and Christie came along with me for support.
My first session was with Yael Shy and I loved it and I loved her!. She began the class with a poem by David Whyte titled Everything is Waiting for You and while I am not a "poetry person" per se, something about the words and the way she read them touched me. Her voice was calm and soothing. My body and mind seemed to immediately relax. She kept reminding us to breathe which may seem silly but breath is fundamental because it helps us focus our attention on our body and our mind. ... Deep breathing is an important aspect of meditation. It can serve as a focal point you can focus on in order to let go of your thoughts and clear your mind. In fact, breathing is essential to meditation.
I loved my first session at MNDFL and thought about it for days after. I had lots of questions that I am sure most people who are unfamiliar with the practice have too so I emailed Ellie and asked her if she could answer them.
What do you say to people who say that they won't be able to meditate because they just know that they can't "turn their minds off" for more than 2 minutes.
Meditation isn’t meant to turn off your mind. In fact, it’s a dynamic practice that requires the use of the mind to begin with: it is the act of bringing your mind to an object like the breath or a mantra. One of my first teachers, Emily Fletcher, likes to say, “The mind involuntarily thinks like the heart involuntarily beats. If we stopped thinking we’d be dead.” If your expectation is to have zero thoughts during meditation, then you are setting yourself up for disappointment. I’ve never had a thoughtless meditation in my life. Sure, meditation can help us change our relationship to our thoughts, but it can’t make them disappear.
What do you say to people who can't sit still during the session.
Well, it depends on what the root cause of their discomfort is. If their posture is incorrect, that could be contributing to the discomfort they are experiencing. At MNDFL we like to try and help you find your seat. That means, what’s right for your body might not be right for another body, so we have options including cushions, chairs and backjacks as well as blankets which can be used to rest your knees on if you have tight hips. Our expert teachers can also help you find the correct seated position before class or address any questions that came up during the sit after class. If someone is new to meditation and it’s a simple case of “ants in one’s pants,” then that will eventually subside as one practices more. After all, they call this a practice for a reason.
What do you think the purpose of meditation is?
There are many purposes depending on what style you practice, but here is one of my faves. One of the Tibetan words for meditation is "gom" which means "to become familiar with." Meditation helps you become familiar with all of who you are. For example, if you’re falling asleep during your meditation that means, you probably are tired and need more sleep. If we can begin to understand how we are feeling in the present moment (joyful, fearful, closed off, triggered,), then we can learn how to cultivate compassion for ourselves and then in turn have compassion for others. Meditation gives people permission to really take the time to be gentle and curious about their experience, so they can show up better for themselves and others in their lives.
How often do you think that it needs to be done? If you say every day is there a minimum amount of time that could be helpful.
Most studies show you need about 10 minutes per day for about 8-10 weeks to see the benefits.
What is your opinion of people who try to do it their first time by using an app on their phone?
Apps are wonderful if you don’t access to a live teacher; in fact, we launched MNDFL Video for community members who don’t live in the city, or those that do and travel and wanted to access our teachers remotely. However, if you do have access to a teacher, there is no substitute for one human being holding space for another human being, particularly when it comes to something intimate like meditation. It allows for a dialogue that is likely to result in deepening one's meditation practice and supporting consistency. It’s important in the beginning to be able to ask someone about posture, technique and/or any discomfort you might be experiencing when you are initially building a practice. And when it comes to meditating in a group, think about it like singing in the shower versus singing in the shower – both are great but have very different feels. Not to mention, the feeling of “we’re all in this together.”
I really did have a life-changing experience and I continue to wonder what made me cry during the last 10 minutes of my session. I honestly can't even remember thinking about anything and all of a sudden tears just came pouring out of my eyes...What is your thought on crying during meditation?
When we sit on the cushion, our nervous system can often dictate what our practice might look like that day and that’s totally ok. It’s very common for people to have some sort of release during meditation. In my tradition, Vedic, tears are evidence that the body became relaxed enough to release some stress that it was holding onto. We see it as a corresponding physiological response to the relaxation of the nervous system. We can also go back to the Tibetan word “gom” I mentioned before. We might be carrying some sadness or stress with us when we sit, and thus our practice helps us become aware and connect to that feeling. It’s simply evidence that your body is responding to the experience you’re having.
I look forward to commiting myself to the practice of meditation and to becoming kinder and more mindful of the people and world around me. If you live in NYC, stop by MNDFL and check it out for yourself and in the meantime, rememember to be mindful and to just breathe.