I love cities. I seek out the biggest and most famous ones any time I travel to a new country. I’ll take the hustle and bustle of a feisty urban sprawl over a suburban spread or tranquil countryside any day.
And I live in one of the biggest, fiercest, craziest cities in the world—NYC. I love living here.
Most of the time. Sometimes. Actually, it is more of a love-hate relationship (my fellow New Yorkers will agree I’m sure).
NYC is dense, culturally rich and full of vivacious life. It’s not the most crowded city in the world (I’ve kicked about in far more crowded cities like Delhi and Tokyo too), but at certain times the crowds are more than anyone can handle.
Like a few days ago, in the midst of our Indian Summer, which has blessed us with one last heat wave blasting a furnace as if it were the middle of July. It’s during these hottest days that we New Yorkers most drive each other crazy.
Starting on the subways. Rush hour commute: it is crowded. Just like in Tokyo, only we don’t have the white-gloved train attendants that take on the necessary (but otherwise could-be-considered rude) task of pushing as many people onto the train as possible so that the human traffic keeps moving along.
In NYC push just each other into the train. And during the heat, fuses run short and tempers flare. This past heat wave I found myself on a rush hour subway train being jostled and knocked and silently fuming about all the people around me fantasizing about ways to tell them all off.
I’m a peace-loving yogini, so I would never act upon my periodic unkind thoughts towards others (I hope). I was feeling pretty nasty on the train that day but it’s not so unusual: crowds can make you crazy. I’ve felt it myself and I have seen others feeling it.
The bottom line is that living together in cities, we humans are continuously affecting each other biologically, physiologically and psychologically. And we need to be careful about it, because unkind thoughts left unchecked can end up as violent or harmful actions.
So what to do when the crowds around you are starting to make you crazy?
I like to do what I call a Space Cleanse—clearing space in my body and mind. It can take the form of self-care spa days, long bike rides or cleaning up your home. Anything that clears the clutter from your physical and mental space will do the trick. Here are a few of my favorite ways to Space Cleanse:
1. Spend some time alone. I used to call this “alone time” but now I call it meditation. If you are at all interested in starting a meditation practice, do it! It is the best way to clear your physical and mental space at the same time. Sitting quietly, alone, will take the edge off of all kinds of unpleasant emotions like anger, irritation, fear, even claustrophobia.
2. Shhhhhhshing breath. This is a very simple yogic breathing exercise (a/k/a pranayama) that will clear your energetic space so that when you are dealing with crowded places you still feel open, spacious and calm. It’s easy. Just find a comfortable, upright posture (either on the floor or a chair) and close your eyes lightly. Take a few regular breaths, then inhale a deep breath through your nose and exhale through your mouth making the sound “shhhhhhhhhhh.” Make sure you exhale the whole breath in a shhhhhhhhhh. Repeat 10-15 times.
3. Metta. This is a mental practice that is like a salt scrub for your mind. The basic concept is that you wish peace and happiness for the people around you. If you are wary of the peace and love trip, don’t worry—the point of the practice is not that everyone around you actually becomes happy and peaceful, but only that you wish that they are. Your wish is what makes you calmer.
Traditionally, metta is practiced before or after seated meditation, but you can practice it anywhere really. Walking down the street, sitting on a bus or standing packed into a crowded subway car. Practice sending goodwill wishes to everyone around you, especially those that are getting uncomfortably in your space. If you want to know more about metta, find a detailed description of the practice here.
These are just a few suggestions and there are many more ways you can Space Cleanse to stay sane among the crowds…what are your favorites?
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