The Spa Spy blog

The Urban Guru: 5 ways to keep calm in the city

If you live in a city, you will know it never sleeps. The noise is constant and, while some of us find this comforting, many of us find it hard to switch off and relax. Studies reviewed in Scientific American state that city dwellers face higher rates of crime, pollution, social isolation, and a heightened risk of depression and anxiety. Just reading that stresses me out…

Meet our Urban Guru

Karine Kleb

Karine Kleb is a yoga teacher, holistic therapist and ‘urban priestess’ who runs wellness retreats in the UK and around the world, as well as yoga classes in London and Paris.

When we took Karine’s yoga class in Mauritius, we couldn’t believe anyone this chilled could be a city girl at heart – she divides her time between seething metropolises London and Paris, spreading peace and calm wherever she goes.

We asked Karine what she does to achieve urban zen? This is what she told us (we especially love the idea of creating our own sanctuary, see 4 below).

1 – Morning Ritual

Woman relaxing

Begin your day the right way, by connecting kindly with yourself. We tend to wake up with our minds already on our busy schedule. Instead, wake slowly. Take your time. Stretch yourself in your bed as a cat does upon waking. Be grateful for this day: 24 new hours to live, to bring enjoyment, peace for ourselves and for others. Grant yourself a moment of peace, and why not begin the day with a smile.

Before standing up, you can do this gentle mindfulness exercise:

  • Place your hands just above your chest. Feel the warmth and the softness of your skin, the weight of your hands, how your breathing makes your body move… Take 15 deep breaths, inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly.
  • Place your hands on your diaphragm, or solar plexus, located just at the bottom of the rib cage. Count 15 deep inhale/exhale breaths. Keep sensing and feeling what happens to your body as you breathe in and out.
  • Place your hands on your tummy. Breath in and out 15 times and notice what happens to your body and stomach – you should feel it expand and deflate.
  • If you mind wanders, bring it back gently to the breath. Slowly bring yourself back into the room, wiggle your hands and toes and open your eyes.

2 – Connect with nature

Woman in outdoor pool overlooking trees

I’m not suggesting that you run naked under the moon as soon as you see a park (although feel free if you want to!). But try and spend as much time as you can, daily if possible, in your nearest park or garden, and head to the countryside for the weekend.

Studies carried out by the Japanese government found that being among trees for two hours lowers your heart rate, cortisol levels and blood pressure, boosting your wellbeing. In Japan Shinrin-yoku or ‘forest bathing’ is now part of the natural health programme. There are plenty of trees in most city parks and green spaces. The same study found that the chemicals released by trees, phytoncides, could have an anti-microbial effect on our bodies, boosting the immune system.

A shot of clean air at the weekend can give the system a rest from city pollution. It might sound a little bit ‘new-agey’, but if you can, walk barefoot on the grass.

Observing the seasons changing, listening to birds, inhaling scents and being aware of the sensations that nature brings you will help bring you a sense of inner peace.

3 - Yoga and meditation

Woman meditating

Life can sometimes make you feel like a little wooden boat, tossed on a stormy ocean.  You can’t always expect to find calm externally: calm comes from within. 

I was born with a genetic disease called sickle cell anaemia, an inherited blood disorder, commonly treated with a bone marrow transplant, blood transfusions and medication. The obvious symptoms include anaemia, slowed growth and pain in areas such as the chest, abdomen, joints and bones. The ‘hidden’ symptoms are depression, anxiety, loneliness and chronic tiredness.

The reason I am sharing this is because yoga and meditation enabled me to transform my pain and enjoy life; it is why I truly believe they can help others transform their pain and stress. If I succeeded, you can, too.

Go to your yoga mat in the morning and evening and practise a few asanas. Even ten minutes in the morning or evening each day can be a game-changer. Choose poses that suit your mood or needs: do you want to relax or be energised? Warm up with cat poses and gentle twists, end with savasana or ‘corpse pose’. Make sure you breathe deeply as you practise and stop if it hurts.

For meditation, find somewhere you can be uninterrupted for 10 minutes. Tell your partner/kids/dog to stay away. Sit on the floor cross legged, in Hero’s Pose (virasana) which is good for circulation, or on a chair – it’s important that you are comfortable. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing (see above); disconnect from the external world to reconnect with your internal world: you.

4 - Create your own sanctuary at home

Pillows and candles

As a French woman, it’s in my culture to make my home a very important subject. I always find it very refreshing to come back to an atmosphere I love.

Create your own nest. Sit down for a few minutes and think what you would want and what you can afford: a few scented candles, cushions, throws, vintage vases from a flea market filled with few branches of your favourite flowers? Small changes can transform the way you feel on arriving home. You are creating a sacred space where you can feel relaxed, secure and comfortable.

You can also decide how to dress in your sanctuary; linen trousers, a caftan or a silky kimono that you can wear when you arrive at home. It can be a way to create a boundary between the external world and your private space.

5 – Treat yourself well

Be kind to yourself

Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish or narcissistic: it is simply acknowledging that you are responsible for your own wellbeing. If you show yourself kindness, your compassion will extend to the world which surrounds you.

  • Indulge yourself, if you can afford it, with a massage once a month or with a Reiki session.
  • Enjoy a bath with a handful of Epsom salt (to relax and release your muscles) and few drops of essential oils like geranium (a very good mood balancer), lavender (calm and quiet for body and mind), frankincense (aids focus).
  • Relax with a book. A real one…One made with paper, you remember? They still exist and it’s better to limit the times of exposure to screens. The prolonged use of smart phones and other screens decreases melatonin, the hormone of biorhythms, and harms the quality of sleep.
  • Enjoy your own company without looking at social media. We need to create spaces of silence to give our body and our mind time to integrate.
  • Avoid processed food; favour fresh and organic products.  Eat in a mindful way, noticing the flavours and textures. If you are alone in the evening, why not light candles on your dinner table and listen to music?