I sat down to review Ira Israel’s new DVD, Mindfulness for Urban Depression, one Friday night at the end of a nonstop few weeks.
I’d been meaning to watch it for nearly a month, but having just returned from a week overseas, and with another teaching trip around the corner, my to-do list was miles long and growing.
Overworked, underslept, I felt lazy sitting down to watch a movie. I’m an urban yoga teacher myself, so I spend most days rushing from studio to studio across San Francisco. And as much as I preach about finding stillness and balance, most days it’s a constant struggle to do so.
So it wasn’t a little bit ironic when I finally cleared my schedule, eased my tired bones onto the sofa, and, crossing my fingers to stay awake, popped Israel’s DVD into my laptop.
The DVD is meant for folks a lot like me: fast-paced urban city dwellers, who, despite the best of intentions, have gotten so caught up in the swirl of day-to-day life that they sometimes forget what it feels like to sit still and just be.
Israel is speaking to those of us who’ve drifted so far from the present moment that our to-do lists, our plans, and our expectations have gotten the best of us. Buddhists would call this getting lost in the machinations of the mind, that endless, fearful, monkey-mind chatter that drives our thoughts. Even many of the yoga teachers I know and love suffer from this contemporary malaise, this over-scheduled, tightly-wound sense of anomie that mirrors the fast-paced, gritty reality of life in a city.
Israel’s DVD is meant to provide tools for coping with the stress of urban living, and I’d argue that, to a strong degree, it does.
He offers a grounded, calming presence with an easy onscreen affect, and the music and visuals reaffirm that sense. For the meditation rookie in particular, Ira’s patient explanation of the basics behind the historically-morphing, culturally-relative definitions of depression and grief and the basics of watching the breath will provide useful. Mindfulness flowingly incorporates vistas and street scenes from global cosmopolitan centers like New York, Paris and London, and these photogenic cities lend a striking visual backdrop to the potentially bleak, intangible notion of urban depression.
From both sociological and psychological perspectives, Ira’s understanding of the scope of urban depression is right on.
He points to an increasingly global phenomenon of over-scheduled, over-stimulated, under-connected city dwellers. As for real, practical tools to help relieve this ubiquitous sense of existential malaise? Well, Israel offers several guided meditations, smoothly-paced, structured intuitively into the DVD itself, and providing ample opportunity for the viewer to slow down, to ground, to get lost in the soothing music and the sense of the wind blowing—as evident even in the visuals of Israel seated in meditation, cross-legged, in various urban hot spots.
The DVD won’t offer much in the way of revelation to the advanced meditator or yogi, though it will certainly reinforce the devoted practitioner’s commitment to cultivating balance and stillness as a counterpart to the rush and the “rat race” feel that’s often so endemic to urban life.
I wish Israel would’ve offered a bit more depth to his final offering: that idea, grounded in yoga philosophy and Buddhist theory, that “happiness really is a choice.” To the seriously depressed guy stuck on his sofa looking for healing and hope in a DVD, that sentiment alone could be potentially disheartening. I wish Israel would’ve delved a little more deeply into that idea, and how in fact, through a committed meditation practice, it’s possible to watch the thoughts, to disidentify with the negative ones, and to cultivate the life-giving ones. Maybe that’s the next DVD, though?
All in all, Mindfulness is a worthwhile watch, and a great place to start for the rookie urban meditator.
I felt calmer and more grounded, more capable of being still, after watching it. And I was grateful for its visually-pleasing reminder, even (and especially) as a yoga teacher, to take a few minutes here and there every day to sit down on a street corner, close my eyes, watch my breath, and just pay attention.
Rachel Meyer is a San Francisco-based writer and yoga teacher who really digs a few minutes alone on a sunny park bench now and then. You can find her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com.
Prepared by Marylee Fairbanks / Editor: Tanya L. Markul