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A Canadian Learns to Meditate in NYC

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New York can be stressful. As much as I love it, moving there two and a half years ago was jarring to my Canadian nervous system. I was accustomed to the quaintness of Queen's University, Toronto Beaches and Algonquin Park -- not the incessant honking and swearing and bumping into strangers I experience on my way to auditions in mid-town Manhattan.

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A few people in Washington Square Park, New York

I decided to do something about it. In November of 2011, I met with Emily Fletcher, the founder of Ziva, a company that teaches Vedic meditation. I decided to take her four-day meditation course and have been meditating twice a day since. Vedic meditation is a simple style of meditation created for people with busy minds and lives. You do not have to sit in a cave crossed legged all day, take a vow of silence or chant in languages you don't understand. One of my favourite places to meditate? On the subway. With Vedic meditation, the only 'rule' is to sit with your back supported. Then what? Not much. Sit, with your eyes closed, for 20 minutes, and silently repeat an abstract sound, your mantra, to help your mind relax -- not necessarily stop thinking -- just relax.

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Since meditating, my digestion issues have disappeared entirely. I have not taken antibiotics this year for the first time in 10 years, I rarely need naps or caffeine, and I never feel the need to eat or exercise my way out of stress. Anxiety about work or social situations has dissipated immensely. By decreasing stress, no matter who honks or swears, or how many auditions go awry, I can think, "No worries."

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I asked a few questions of other Canadians who took the Ziva course. Sarah Baskin (SB) hails from Montreal and is now living amidst the arts as an actress in NYC. Tiffany Willson (TW), born and raised in Toronto, is a New York-based interior designer who recently launched an exceptionally innovative iPhone app called "Room Hints." Liza Fernandez (LF), is a Canadian born-Australian raised actress. And Craig Ramsey (CR), is a celebrity trainer you may know from his show "Thintervention."

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Here's what they said:

Did your stress levels increase when you moved to the States?

TW: Yes. Even though there is a strong Canadian network in New York, I was living in a heightened state of ambiguity.

LF: Absolutely, especially when I moved to New York City! It is vibrant and fast-paced. I remember feeling high one second and then low the next.

CR: I don't believe my stress levels increased with physically moving to the U.S. I felt the increased strain with growing career pressures and responsibilities, which happened to coincide with moving to New York and then to L.A.

What drove you to learn meditation?

SB: I felt like I was living with a baseline of anxiety from morning 'til night and found myself spending my thoughts, activities and time trying to keep that baseline quiet and under control. It became abundantly clear that this was stress induced and I found that no book, tea, pill, friend or boyfriend could provide me with a solution for my own anxiety.

LF: I was having constant mood swings; I would be up one minute and down the next. I was a new actor in the city and working hard on planting seeds. I had been practicing yoga for eight years, but felt I needed something different.

CR: Emily Fletcher and I were in the Broadway Musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang together. The Emily I remember was always pulled to her limits! So when I saw her in the early months of 2012, I was shocked at her calmness, patience and the beautiful way she put confidence over panic. I was so intrigued by this transformation I made it a priority to find out her secret. I have ADHD and never considered meditation an option for my overactive brain.

What is the biggest benefit or change you have noticed in your life since you started meditating?

SB: I no longer wake up with that unquenchable anxiety. I now wake up well rested and ready to greet the day.

TW: This might be over-sharing...but if it can help someone else, here it goes! I suffer from IBS (Irritable Bowel System) and was constantly seeing a nutritionist trying to understand what stress was triggering my stomach to bloat like a basketball and feel like a herd of elephants was stomping inside me. Meditation has done wonders in regulating my personal stress levels and in return, has helped my stomach anxiety. When I was stressed, I would crave the things that were the worst for my stomach: coffee, alcohol, sugar, cigarettes and white starches. I was poisoning myself. Since meditating, I no longer crave these items. A few of them, such as coffee and alcohol, now have a very strong effect. It's weird. A cup of coffee and I am wired and I'm back to being a super cheap drunk :)

LF: More time in my day! I wake up at 7:30 a.m. (I never used to) and am out and about all day with enough energy to do it all over again the next day. I also feel more at ease with my career.

CR: It feels like I am always in the right place at the right time with the right people -- in a way I never experienced before. Small things can become important happenings if you pay attention and listen.

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Ziva graduates meditating together in New York, Summer 2012

Canadians living in the U.S. are enjoying the benefits of mediation, but I don't think you have to cross the border to do so. Until I meet someone who says, "But I love being stressed!" I think all people can gain from meditating.

And if you're curious to know more or feel inspired to take the course, Emily will be giving a free intro talk on June 12 in Toronto followed by the four-day course. Find out more at www.zivameditation.com.

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