There are many things I love about living in London, but I’m not blind to its flaws including the frantic pace and cramped conditions. I’ve long wondered if it is possible to feel still while living and working in a metropolis like our capital and this weekend when I visited a Buddhist temple in Wimbledon, Buddhapadipa Temple, the question came back to me with force. It is such a peaceful environment and, if I lived closer, it would be the kind of place I would gravitate towards in times of unrest. So how do I find that calm in my everyday life?
Finding a relaxing way to start the day in London is a challenge – before I’m anywhere near the tube I have the daily mystery of whether the bus will stop/be full/get stuck in traffic for hours. More often than not I find myself walking to the tube station and mostly I enjoy this space to reflect on what lies ahead. The downside of walking to work is the temperature clash of outdoors and the sweaty underground environment. Then you watch tube after tube go by before being able to board and often being so squashed once you are inside that you become far too well acquainted with your ‘neighbours’.
Even if I do feel relaxed on my walk to the station, the next part of the journey undoes that. In fact it often leaves me feeling stressed and tense before I’ve opened my first email of the day.
So how can I keep myself calm and zen-like? As stress is a major trigger of myasthenia gravis symptoms this is a really important question and one I definitely haven’t answered yet. The following are a few things I’ve tried but I’m not sure I’ve cracked it just yet.
Writing on my commute or lunch break
I find taking time out to write a diary about my thoughts and feelings keeps everything in proportion. If I do feel stressed, it helps me work out what’s going on in a productive way and I find reflecting on what’s going on around me strangely peaceful.
I have done group workshops where I’ve found meditation quite calming, but I really struggle to relax when I do it on my own. It’s the clearing your mind part – I’m often juggling so many thoughts that it feels like if I clear my mins they will all drop and be lost. I know that’s the point, and my way sounds quite manic, but I find meditation doesn’t help. It’s more stressful than soothing.
This definitely does help me feel relaxed in a way very little else does. Whether it’s just 10 minutes in my living room, doing the learned breathing exercises before I go to bed or a full class like I intend to go to tomorrow, a little bit of yoga goes a long way towards a calm mind.
I think I feel calm with yoga because of the focus on breath, the concentration required, which helps me switch off without feeling like any balls are dropping, and the low lit ambience of most yoga studios.
My teacher said something interesting last week in the class:
If you learn balance in yoga, you learn balance in life
My initial reaction was ‘oh please do shut up with your mumbo jumbo’, but actually it stayed with me. The times I’ve had my best yoga classes are when I’ve been completely in the moment, unaware of my surroundings other than what I am being told to do, my breath and my body. Is that balance? Probably not as it’s an artificial environment but it is incredibly still and peaceful. It’s all about being able to focus on doing just one thing well and in this world of multitasking it’s a rare occurrence.
I find that even in the most intense situations, being buried in a book that engages me can work like a stress shield. In fact, if it’s a particularly good book, I look forward to my commute with the characters I’m so invested in. Now that’s saying something.
If I find any others I’ll let you know, but it’s Namaste for now.