The room is so quiet that the only things you can hear are the buzz of the central heating and the soft gentle breathe of the young adults with their eyes closed and backs straight.
“Exhale completely. Emptying your lungs,” Pandit says softly. There’s a pregnant pause before he speaks again, “Inhale completely. Fill your lungs.”
Our drop-in space for LGBTQ young adults is usually buzzing with activity. The crinkle of bags of food, people coming and going, clicking on computer keyboards for job searching or simply checking in on friends and family. And always lots of loud conversations.
But twice a week, the space transforms as Three And A Half Acres Yoga hosts a yoga session — a practice that has emotional and physical health benefits that extend well beyond the walls of the classroom. Today, they’ve invited Pandit Dasa for a special session on meditation.
Pandit is an author, inspirational speaker and meditation teacher, on a mission to bring wellness into the workplace. He has conducted stress management workshops in organizations such as Google, Bank of America, Intel, Novartis, Columbia University and many other organizations. During these workshops, Pandit teaches healthy living habits and mindfulness meditation techniques to help individuals reduce stress and anxiety, increase their focus and productivity, and embrace work-life challenges with a greater peace of mind. Pandit has spoken at TEDx and has been featured on PBS, NPR, the New York Times and the Huffington Post.
In our time together, Pandit shared his own story — the son of immigrants who spent 15 years as a monk living in New York City — and then opened up the space for questions before leading a guided meditation.
What would you ask a monk? Here’s a bit of what we learned.
How did you get involved with nonprofit programs like ours and how is that different than—or the same as—speaking at places like Google?
For the 15 years that I was a monk, that was all nonprofit. 90% of that was volunteer, I hardly ever got paid. As a monk, your life is about serving others. The understanding is that you make advancement by serving others. Your meditation grows when you selflessly serve others, so that’s all I was doing. Most of my stuff has been as a volunteer. Since I’ve moved out of the monastery and companies have begun to hire me, the only real difference is that one place pays me and the other doesn’t. The techniques I teach in both places are very similar. The techniques I’m teaching are to help people reduce stress and anxiety and become more focused. The more positive you are and the more able to get in touch with your emotions so you can have more control over your emotions so you don’t lose your cool. And if depression is coming upon you, you can take a few breaths and realize that this is the mind doing this to me and I can have the power to try and overcome it.
As you saw, this space has a lot going on—people coming in, people going out—and sometimes our lives are unstable too—waiting to hear back from a job, staying on a friend’s couch—do you have any techniques on how your practices can be integrated in to the lives of someone whose life is a bit more chaotic… who isn’t living in a monastery or doesn’t have a steady 9-to-5 job… how do you fit that in?
You know, New York is always a chaotic place. To live here is to live in chaos. And anyway, the loudest and most chaotic place to live is our mind. The mind is working 24/7 pretty much. An average person has 25,000 – 50,000 thoughts per day, according to Psychology Today, so there is never a time when this is just like ‘quiet” so that’s why I say even if there are noises outside of us, the noisiest place is in our head. So that’s why techniques of breathing deeply and focusing, going through the body, getting in touch with your body, emotions, and thoughts. And not to get frustrated by the noises — if the phone rings or someone yells in the hallway, that’s ok, so what… that’s going to happen. We’re never going to be able to stop that. That’s life.
Life means stuff happens when you don’t expect it or don’t want it to. So let’s practice remaining calm while it seems like we’re being disturbed, because then when something else happens to disturb us when we’re not meditating, we’ll be able to remember our meditation and be able to pull away. We don’t have to let it affect us.
By breathing and focusing on a regular basis, we train the muscle of the mind to become stronger and when the mind becomes stronger, it is able to withdraw from—or diminish the impact of—disturbing situations.
Pandit has a ton of resources available on his website consciouslivingnyc.com and is the author of Urban Monk: Exploring Karma, Consciousness, and and the Divine which is available on Amazon. Pandit also contributed a number of guided meditations and mantras to the Insight Timer app. You can download the app for free on Apple or Android and then search for Pandit Dasa!