Which is why we took to the mantra of Vedic Meditation master Charlie Knoles (pictured at right), who says there are small ways to minimize the stress of sardine-packed subways, deadlines, and whatever else worries you.
Knoles is the director of the Veda Center in Venice, California, and has been meditating since the age of four. He currently teaches classes from Manhattan to Bali, rubbing elbows with wellness celebs, as he totes his Zabuton around the world.
And although he really wants you to learn the unabridged version of meditation some day, he shared five baby steps for getting a start on the road to inner calm right now. —Amanda Benchley
For beginning meditators, Knoles recommends a basic five-minute practice.
Sit down, close your eyes, and focus on something like your breath, an image, or a word—“one” is a popular choice—and simply allow your mind to drift, returning to your focus when you need to.
Knoles compares this exercise to brushing your teeth, an essential habit that should be done at least once a day to clean (and clear) your brain. But unlike brushing your teeth, you can try this anywhere, anytime.
Knoles estimates that 70 percent of his New York students regularly meditate while riding the subway. So what’s your excuse again?
It’s easier said than done, but there’s a reason that slowing your breath calms you down. When people are stressed, they tend to take sharp, short breaths. Our nervous systems are wired so that inhalation is linked to the stress response and exhalation to the relaxation response, explains Knoles. Taking a short inhale and emphasizing a long exhale helps prevent classic stress responses (like adrenalin rushes or insomnia) from kicking into gear.
Stress exists for a reason: it notifies your body that you’re in a dangerous situation. (Although it’s kind of overused these days.) Still, stress has physical symptoms—it can make your heart race, and it also pulls the blood out of your toes and fingers and sends it to your internal organs, says Knoles.
So as a calming practice, he suggests immersing your hands in warm water (rubbing them briskly together also works in a pinch) to open up the blood vessels and trick your brain out of its stressful state.
“Anytime you’ve done something stupid, it’s usually because you’ve been in a heightened state of stress; the physiological response to stress gives you a single point of focus and you can’t see any other option,” explains Knoles. Playing with your peripheral vision helps your mind expand, so it can think of other possibilities. Here’s how: Extend your arms to your side in a T-formation and wiggle your fingers. Then slowly bring your arms forward until the fingers are in sight, and then extend them out again. Repeat.
Knoles agrees with the studies that show that listening to music can change repetitive thought patterns. “It doesn’t have to be classical, just something you like,” he says. But loud sounds can trigger stress responses, so Knoles advises that you decrease your exposure to noisy environments. If that’s not possible as you roam the city, wear earbuds—nobody will know they aren’t plugged into your iPod!
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