Finding it hard to get more calm and focus in your life? Do you struggle to fit yoga, meditation, or just a moment to yourself in a busy schedule filled with picking up the kids, meeting your work deadlines, or sitting in traffic? It’s enough to frustrate even the most “zen” person.
Because when plans to find some quiet “self-time” fail — people tend to blame themselves first.
They feel bad for not taking care of themselves the way they want to. And they’re too exhausted to come up with a solution that sticks.
Which makes sense. Finding peace and space in the midst of all that noise can be increasingly hard in our modern, urban world.
That’s why learning to be an “urban monk” can be such a game-changer. It’s a practice designed to fit perfectly into a fast-paced “go, go, go” lifestyle.
Here are four simple Urban Monk Time Hacks for relaxing your mind and creating space between all that noise.
1. “Four Count Breathing”
This is a classic Buddhist practice that’s easy to do anywhere — your office, a public park, waiting in line for lunch, or in a parked car.
Start by sitting in a comfortable position and closing your eyes. Now, focus on breathing from your lower abdomen, directly below your belly button.
- Inhale for 4 counts
- Hold for 2 counts
- Exhale for 4 counts
- And, hold for 2 counts
Congratulations! You just meditated.
Keep up this breathing exercise, focusing only on your breath and the counting. When your mind wanders — which it will — gently return back to the counting and the breathing.
Just 10 minutes a day of this is enough to start building a regular, healthy meditation practice. And if you can only do a couple of minutes per day, that’s fine too. The idea is to give yourself a tool you can use whenever you feel the need for a “reset.”
Grab a few minutes here and there for this breathing exercise throughout your day. It’s amazing what taking a deep breath can do for your health.
2. Create an Evening “Wind Down” Routine
It seems that everyone is struggling with poor sleep nowadays. And the greatest threat to your sleep are the electronic “leashes” you’re constantly attached to — meaning your laptop, smartphone, and television.
Between emails, text messages, and the countless amount of shows to watch — it can seem like these devices are constantly fighting for our attention.
And that can really put a damper on good sleep if you’re using these devices right before bedtime.
That’s why a great little trick for better sleep is what I call decelerating into your evenings. Because it’s almost impossible to “turn your brain off” if it’s overstimulated when your head hits the pillow.
In order to unwind before bed, just follow a few key steps:
- CUT caffeine after 1 pm — it takes about 10 hours to get caffeine completely out of your system. Stopping in the early afternoon will help ensure you’re fully tired when it’s bedtime.
- DISCONNECT from electronic devices once you enter your home for the evening — Focus instead on your partner, your kids, or other things you love to do. Set automated emails that tell people you won’t be checking email until 9 am. It’s important to set boundaries and cherish your free time.
- CREATE an ambient environment an hour before bed by dimming the lights, or my favorite… using candles
- AVOID alcohol at least two hours before bed so that your body has time to process it. Alcohol can disrupt your sleep cycle by wreaking havoc on your circadian rhythm and blocking essential REM sleep.1,2
- PICK UP a good book or magazine. Reading a book is one of the most calming things you can do right before bed. And, if you start a ritual of reading just a few pages before you turn out your light, it’s a great cue to your mind that it’s time to go to sleep.
3. Carefully Select Your Daily News Cycle
Ever hear the saying, “You are what you eat?” Well, it turns out you are also what you mentally “eat.”
We live in a time where folks are bombarded with news 24 hours per day, 7 days a week. And this 24-hour news cycle not only eats up your precious time, but the constant negativity can also wreak havoc on your stress levels.
In order to cultivate a calm mind, you need to become picky about the information you’re digesting on a daily basis. Sure, it’s important to know what’s going on in the world — but there’s no benefit to overwhelming yourself with bad news.
Here’s a good way to relax your mind when it’s being bombarded by too much information:
- Select a few key news or information sources that you trust, and subscribe only to those. That way, you can stay in touch with the more important stuff and ignore the useless chatter.
- Set up alerts for once or twice a day so you get your news at specific times that you choose.
- Social media should be included in this. If you must be on social media, then designate two times a day, and stick to it. You can delete the apps from your phone to prevent you from compulsively checking throughout the day.
- Check emails only a couple of times a day.
Ultimately, a relaxed mind is a mind that isn’t overloaded with information.
4. A Superstar Morning Routine
Perhaps you don’t have much time to spare while getting the kids ready for school in the morning… or maybe you just can’t find time in your busy schedule to get to a morning yoga class. And you know what? That’s okay! Here’s a simple trick for fitting in some “you time” no matter how busy your schedule.
A great way to start the day is with my quick “one-two punch” relaxation technique.
Start your day with a brief visualization of what your day is going to look like. You can do this in bed, or even in the shower. See each major step clearly in your mind and notice how easily each part of your day comes together. Even just a few minutes spent on this can bring clarity to the day ahead. The key is to easily see yourself achieving each task throughout the day. You’re not trying to stress yourself out with your to-do list.
2. A Bit of Qi Gong
Now, find a place with a little bit of room, and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Anchor yourself into this stance.
- Start by breathing into your lower belly and really focusing on your breath.
- Then, when you’re feeling centered, take a deep breath and bend all the way forward, exhaling as you lower your body down towards your toes. Only go as far as you’re comfortable.
- Then, as you breathe in, slowly come back up, one vertebrae at a time, leaving your head till last.
- Next, twist slightly to the right, and exhale slowly as you lower yourself down towards your right foot. Slowly roll back up, and breathe in.
- Now, go back to the middle and exhale slowly, bending down straight in front of you again.
- Then, twist slightly to the left and exhale down slowly towards your left foot, and then slowly back up.
Try these relaxation techniques as whenever you’ve got time. 1 minute, 5 minutes, 10 minutes — it’s up to you. You can also do more throughout the day, whenever you feel the need to relax your mind and resolve any stress.
By building this practice into your life, you can give yourself a “mental cleanse” whenever you feel your stress levels going up.
A Practical Monk
Just remember, as Pedram likes to say, “An urban monk is someone who is practical, real, and tolerant of life’s ups and downs.” Take the pressure off of yourself, and find small ways to give yourself peace of mind in your daily life.
For more health wisdom from Eastern philosophies and the Urban Monk, keep reading here: