“Wait, what? Why?” is often the response I get when people discover that I belong to a gym on the Upper East Side, a 45-minute commute—each way—from my Brooklyn home.
It makes no sense.
My neighborhood is chock-full of ways to stay fit, including a pool down the road and a Crunch, SoulCycle, and Orangetheory each less than a mile away. Not to mention, I have the lush green Prospect Park in my backyard, complete with a 3.4-mile paved loop that’s ideal for walking, running, or biking year round, free of charge.
So why exactly do I choose to spend 90 minutes of my day, two to three times a week, on the train to chase an endorphin high? The answer is simple: I use the commute time for my Transcendental Meditation practice.
How I Stick to My Meditation Practice
Transcendental Meditation, or TM, is a mantra-anchored practice brought from India via the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (the guy who taught the Beatles) to the U.S. between the 1950s and 1970s. I picked up the popular practice (along with some six million people worldwide) in 2013 as a means to quell my anxiety, which was manifesting in the form of perpetual stomachaches.
After months of taking herbal supplements and getting regular acupuncture with no improvement in my symptoms, I turned to TM, learning the practice from a well-respected teacher at the David Lynch Foundation, a nonprofit founded in 2005 by the renowned film director to help fund TM training for underserved students, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, victims of domestic abuse, and a slew of anxious folks, like me.
Within months of working with the wise and wonderful Joanna Pitt, who also teaches lots of celebs, my tummy troubles subsided, and I suddenly had an amazing new tool in my belt for managing stress.
The trouble with my meditation is—much like my workouts—if I don’t plan it, it doesn’t happen. While I wish I could be one of those disciplined practitioners who subscribe to RPM (rise, pee, meditate) first thing in the morning, I always prefer to hit snooze or scroll through Instagram in bed. So, when I started going to TS Fitness, a boutique workout studio run and owned by Noam Tamir, I decided to use 20 minutes of my 45-minute New York City subway commute to disconnect from the outside world (there’s little to no Wifi underground, thankfully), and reconnect within.
The Art of Meditating on a Train
Meditating on a loud train is not easy, at first. It takes effort to zone out the external and home in on the internal. This is one reason why I love TM. Whenever my mind starts to wander to the conversation next to me or the music playing from the boombox of the subway performers, I come back to my sacred mantra—a personalized, meaningless, one- or two-syllable sound prescribed to me by Pitt—which helps me come back to my breath and calms my mind.
Once I’ve succumbed to the bewitching practice, it almost always helps me enter a state of total rest and relaxation. (In fact, I often return to reality after my 20-minute session half asleep, which, unfortunately, is not a great headspace for high-intensity interval training.)
While TM officially calls for two 20-minute sessions a day, I'm very happy sneaking in two to three 20-minute sessions a week. It might not seem like much, but it does accumulate over time, which means that I still get to enjoy some of the benefits of a consistent practice. Sure, it would be way better if I practiced twice daily. It would also be great if I ate broccoli every day. But let’s be real.
The good news is, I can make every train ride—not just my commute to the gym—an opportunity to get my TM fix. After a couple of years of TM-ing on the train, I’ve developed a Pavlov’s dogs response to meditating during every ride, even if it’s just 10 minutes. Actually, just yesterday, I only had a seven-minute train ride and I still managed to slip in and out of my practice with ease, enjoying the benefits of a few moments of calm before a client meeting. And I’ve learned that taking advantage of any free moment—whether it’s my train, waiting at a doctor’s office, or sitting on a plane—is one of the best and easiest ways to maintain my practice and reap the rewards.