I grew up in California, land of the laid-back vibe and, “It’s all good, dude.” I also spent nearly 20 years in the quiet, slower-paced Pacific Northwest following a stint in Montana, where I could go all day without seeing anyone. I’ve also been immersed in the density of Bangkok or Marrakesh and embraced the isolation of Iceland or New Zealand’s Chatham Islands.
Several years ago, I moved to New York City, my husband’s hometown. Having visited more than two dozen times, I thought it would be an easy transition to live there. Nope. Daily living is an intense grind, and even simple things can feel overwhelming. You need a strategy to get coffee and mental armor not get ripped off buying an avocado.
Though it wasn’t exactly Armageddon, sometimes it felt close. Daily, I watched people rage because, say, someone stepped in front of them. After a Citi Bike rider whizzed by me within inches, whipping my hair into my face, then screamed at me, “Look out!” when it was my right of way, I knew I had to step up my yoga game to stay sane and not let the city that never sleeps rob me of sleep or good health.
In the overall scheme of life, singular moments like these are not the worst (nor life-threatening), but if unmonitored and allowed to build up, these moments (and sensory overload) can lead to chronic stress, which is medically proven to be a killer. OM-my God, what a sneaky dark side of this awesome city.
To cope, I amped up a lesser-used part of my yoga practice, the use of a mantra, to reroute my brain and actions when needed: “I will be patient (inhale). I will be kind (exhale).” Similar to a Biblical verse, “Love is patient, love is kind,” just saying it detoured me from a negative response and elevated my internal steadiness. I am not religious, but I do believe in goodness, so I called upon the mantra to help me.
People shoved me out of the subway after I had moved over to let others in. I will be patient. I will be kind. Repeating it just once silently kept me from shoving back, and let me trust they really need to be somewhere. People pushed in front of me, cut me off, snapped at me, etc. I will be patient. I will be kind. Even if I couldn’t avoid their actions, I was able to alter my reaction.
Listen, this mantra wasn’t a fix-all for all things annoying in New York City, and there were days I would stand my ground or be more assertive to get things done. Some days, “I will be patient. I will be kind,” didn’t cut it. On days I thought couldn’t take it anymore, I would say to myself, “You can do this,” or “I love New York!” to turn it around. Another mantra, another matter. Another day, another way to reduce the overwhelm and feel more positive (which, by the way, is an important immunity booster—desperately needed when you’re around people all the time).
Big city, small town, wherever you are, a trusted message to yourself could be the difference between getting really mad and spiking your blood pressure or just noticing how you react to the madness around you, and becoming better for it.
Further reading: A Beginner’s Guide: Chanting Your Way to Better Health