Everyday Yogi: Subway Meditation

by Valerie Reiss

A visiting friend riding with me on a New York City subway said, "Wow, I didn't realize so many people here had a meditation practice." I looked around and laughed, hard. Indeed, we could have been surrounded by meditating monks using a variety of techniques. Some stared into the middle distance, others had an eyes-shut, chin-down approach, and some riders were fixed on a small gadget, jaws dangling.

Alright, so maybe they were doing the opposite of meditation–checking out so they could be anywhere other than crowded public transportation. Been there. A lot. Eco-friendly as they may be, trains, planes, and buses are simply not where most of us choose to be. Pretty much everyone in transit has a psychic bumper sticker that reads: I'd Rather Be… Absolutely Anywhere Else. This, of course, is what makes these interim spots, these transitional moments, perfect places to practice being present. (Say that six times fast!)

I've heard some yoga teachers talk about the importance of these over-looked transitional moments on the mat. Our minds are so focused on lining up the pose just right, breathing with movement, holding, watching our minds, etc. but when it's time to switch postures we often drop it all—our gaze, our breath, our attuned awareness. That's why, anecdotally, most yoga injuries happen while we're shifting from one asana to the next.

We ignore the boring-seeming in-betweens, which of course, makes them the juiciest bits—the spots most ripe for our non-judging attention.

See if you can try this the next time you're in an everyday in-between situation, off the mat. For city dwellers, this might be while you’re bouncing along on a subway or standing on an interminable line at Whole Foods.

Notice your breath. Yep, it's basic, but just start tuning in. Are you so cranky about not being where you want to be that you've stopped breathing? Notice.

Deepen your breath. Come into a quiet, calming Ujayyi. Trust me, no one will notice. Do that for a few moments.

Close or semi-close your eyes. If it feels comfy, go for the full close. If you're concerned about people around you—either thinking you're nuts or stealing your bag--go for the soft gaze, eyes lowered to the ground.

Feel inside. Take an inner assessment. What are you feeling right now? Cranky, excited, happy? How's your heart? Your muscles? Are you squeezing anywhere unnecessarily? Keep breathing your quiet Ujayyi.

Root down and reach up. Feel your feet on the ground, and if you're sitting, also feel your sitz bones meet the seat. Breathe into the earth. Imagine reaching up into the sky too, as if a beam of light is going out your head to the clouds that are out there somewhere. Keep breathing, slow and steady.

Bonus: As you inhale, sense into your heart. Breathe there for a few breaths. Then, on an exhale, imagine your heart is sending out loving white light to all these people--who may be happy and calm, or knotted up and frustrated. See yourself sending them light and blessings of love.

Now open your eyes and see if anything's different. In you, in your surroundings. I like to do this for about five minutes--you can use your handy gadget to time yourself. (I love the i-Qi Timer iPhone app.) All those in-betweens from here and there add up to a lot of life—I’ve found a whole lot of magic happens when I start valuing them as much as the “theres.”

Valerie Reiss is a writer, editor, speaker, consultant, and Kripalu Yoga instructor whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, The Huffington Post, Women's Health, Natural Health, Yoga Journal, Beliefnet, Vegetarian Times, and more.

© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. To request permission to reprint, please e-mail editor@kripalu.org.