7 Relaxing Things To Do In NYC When You Need To Chill Out

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If you live in NYC, learning to relax isn’t just a nice skill to have. It is a necessity if you want to survive in this city, and actually enjoy your time here.

And don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love living in NYC. But as magical as it can feel living here, it can also be equally as stressful.

Maybe it’s the concrete, maybe it’s the crowds – maybe it’s the cost of living or the rat race everyone seems to abide by.

Regardless, one of the most powerful ways you can relieve some of that stress and anxiety is by engaging in activities that help you stay present and mindful. 

A Quick Lesson On Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a state where you are consciously aware of what’s happening in and around you. It means accepting your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations in the moment. It is a therapeutic practice that is proven to reduce stress and anxiety.

And in this post, I’m sharing some of my favorite places in NYC that can help you cultivate a sense of mindfulness. Because when you immerse yourself in a more calming, mindful space, it can be a bit easier to understand how mindfulness actually works.

And once you get a feel for it, you can eventually start to be mindful regardless of where you are. 

Below are some of the hidden gems that NYC has to offer that can help you relax and hopefully practice mindfulness. And in turn, start to counteract some of that stress and anxiety that is forever woven into the fabric of this city. 

Go For A Stroll In The Brooklyn Botanic Gardens

When the cherry blossoms bloom in the Spring, you will be transported to another world!

If you have not yet been to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, then stop what you’re doing, hop on a train and GO. RIGHT. NOW. 

Okay, maybe first check their operating hours . But luckily, BBG is open to the public all year long, and has so much to offer, even in the colder months. 

In Fall, the leaves are changing and they host some great events, like the Chili Pepper Festival and Autumn Harvest. 

And in Winter, you can escape to their Tropical Plant Conservatory, or explore the grounds after it’s coated with a fresh blanket of snow. 

Don’t even get me started on Spring. The cherry blossoms are in bloom, then the lilacs, then the peonies and the bluebells! The list goes on. 

And in the Summer, you don’t just get the flowers. You also get the fireflies, which turn the gardens into a mystical fairy wonderland.

When I’m in the gardens, I feel like I’ve been transported to a different place and time. Being there brings me so much relaxation and peace, it’s hard to explain with words. You simply have to visit for yourself to understand. 

Pro tip: Try visiting early in the morning to beat the crowds, or becoming a member so you can visit even when it isn’t open to the public.

Check Out An Exhibit At The Rubin Museum of Art

My beloved Aunt Jane, who was one of the most mindful and spiritual humans I have ever known, was the first person who introduced me to the Rubin Museum. She took me to a talk that was given by a female Tibetan monk. I wish I could remember who it was! What I do remember was it was one of the most powerful discussions I ever attended.

The mission of the Rubin Museum is to inspire personal connections to the ideas, cultures, and art of Himalayan regions. Many of their talks and exhibitions reflect on concepts that involve spirituality, intention, power, mindfulness, and beyond. 

And, did you know that they host mindful meditations every Wednesday?!?! 

It costs $20, but if you join as a member, it’s FREE. And when the meditation is over, you can explore the museum itself, which, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful and calming spaces in Manhattan. 

Sharon Salzberg, world renowned meditation instructor and author, often leads the Wednesday meditations. The food isn’t too shabby either.

Bike Along The Hudson River Greenway

mindfulness nyc

Whether you bike, walk, run, stroll, or simply sit on a bench by the water, the Hudson River Greenway is a great place to go to pause, reset, and take a moment to be mindful. You can easily access it from almost anywhere in Manhattan – just head West! 

Flowers. Birds chirping. The smell of the ocean breeze. A beautiful sunset, if timed right. 

There are plenty of parks along the Greenway you can stop at. If you decide to walk or bike, you’ll also get some movement in, which can serve as a mindful practice in and of itself. (I personally love to bike along the greenway; if you want to try but don’t have a bicycle, you can rent a citibike for $12/day.).

Being in nature, is, well, in our nature. One of the downsides of being a New Yorker is constantly being surrounded by buildings, garbage, and combustion.

Practicing mindfulness in NYC can be easier simply by stepping away from the concrete! Instead, spend some time marveling in the glory of the grass, the trees, the air, and the sea. I promise, it’s good for your soul.  

Sign Up For An Art Class

flow states in nyc
The watercolor art class at the Brooklyn Museum was one of my favorite activities I’ve ever participated in!

Have you ever been so immersed in an activity, and are enjoying it so much, that you lose track of space and time? That feeling of being completely present in what you’re doing is known as flow. 

And although being in a flow state is a bit different than relaxing, or practicing mindfulness, it can also offer respite from feelings of stress and anxiety.

When you’re being mindful, you’re present in yourself and your surroundings. You’re taking a moment to ground yourself and be aware of what’s happening for you in the moment. Your thoughts, your feelings, your surroundings, etc.

When you’re practicing flow, you’re present in what you’re doing. So instead of being consciously aware in the moment, you’re “in the zone.” Time flies, because you’re completely focused on an activity.

A few summers ago, I was in desperate need of some creativity in my life. I took an art class at the Brooklyn Museum.

For 4 hours every Saturday, I let my creative juices flow. And for 4 hours every Saturday, my stress and anxiety melted away. I felt so Zen. (And, I kid you not, the amazingly patient and helpful art instructor at the Brooklyn Museum is also named Zen!). 

Just search for “art classes in NYC,” and you can find a range of options. Check out Creatively Wild Art Studio, The Painted Pot, Event Brite, or Airbnb Experiences. Even Apple offers Digital Art classes FOR FREE, and they also provide ipads.

The Zen Center For NYC

Zen is a type of Buddhism that emphasizes meditation, intuition, and the idea that you are already an enlightened being.

The Zen Center for NYC (which is actually located in Brooklyn) has a ton of unique and relaxing workshops, retreats, and classes online or in person. And, they give a huge range of suggested donations, which makes their services affordable.

If you’d like to delve deeper into Zen, they offer a Sunday morning program with chanting, meditation, and a zen talk.

To be honest, at the time that I’m writing this, I have yet to visit this center. However! I have a friend who was a member, and want to share this beautiful teaching he received from them years ago, on Expectations vs. Aspirations.

One clue: being driven by expectations will almost always lead to disappointment. Why? Because it is not based on what life is, but on what we want life to be. For example, expectation, which is based in the mind, is often rooted in the ego-driven ambition to get something, such as enlightenment, or, at very least, to feel differently, namely calm, free from fear, or to appear wise. Sometimes practice may, in part, meet our expectations and thereby reinforce them. But when practice doesn’t meet our expectations—that is, when we don’t get what we want—we experience disappointment. 

While expectation is based in the mind, we can say that aspiration is based in the heart, or in our essential nature. Aspiration has been described as our true nature striving to reveal itself. In other words, it can be seen as an inherent movement toward who we truly are, like an acorn becoming an oak tree. Conversely, the efforts of expectation are often characterized by ambition, neediness, and fear. The effort of aspiration is softer, not as driven by results as by the inner impulse to live more genuinely. 

Explore The Flower District

Lately, I’ve been in my flower era, and have been researching the ways that flowers can increase happiness. So of course I had to include the Flower District on this list.

The Flower District is located on 28th, between 6th and 7th Ave. It opens at 5:30am. If you walk down the street, you’ll see a bunch of flowers and plants on the sidewalk.

And, you’ll find it bustling even in the wee hours of the morning, because that is when all of the florists and designers come to snatch up what they need for their events.

You can practice mindfulness while you’re there, simply by paying attention to what you see. Look closely at each petal. Each leaf. The soft textures. The vibrant colors. Take your time.

Think about the magic that took place in order for a little seed to grow, in the ground, with sunlight and water. And how that itty bitty seed somehow turned into a glorious bloom and made its way to midtown Manhattan. And is now situated in front of your eyes.

When we really pay attention to what is in front of us, and think holistically about what it is, and how it got there, we are practicing mindfulness! I highly recommend using the beauty of nature as your muse to feel centered and grounded as well.

And, as an added perk, you can buy yourself a bouquet, and find yourself in a state of flow as you create an arrangement when you get home. Plus, the flowers will add some natural beauty to your home, and serve as a reminder to take some time to relax.

Be Present Wherever You Are

Mindfulness is something you can do anywhere, at any time. So of course I want to share one of the best places you can go to practice mindfulness, because you’re always there!

And that is, your mind.

By using the power of your own mind, any moment becomes an opportunity to practice mindfulness so you can start to feel more relaxed. And, the keyword here is practice. 

So how do you practice mindfulness? You can download my Holistic Toolkit For Overcoming Anxiety, which includes 3 exercises to help you improve mindfulness through mind-body-spirit practices.

And remember these 3 words:

Observe. Without. Judgment.

Crammed in a crowded Subway? Observe any thoughts (good or bad) that pass through your mind. Try to do so without judgment. 

Stuck in a long line at Starbucks? Observe your senses, one by one. Try to do so without judgment. 

Passing through Times Square? Observe the lights, the people, and heck, even your frustrated feelings. Try and do it without judgment.

By using the power of your mind to simply observe what is happening, a moment of zen can be created and you can learn to practice mindfulness in NYC.

Sometimes, it might work, sometimes it might not. The important thing to remember here is, it is a practice. And like anything else, the more you do it, the better you get. 

Hopefully you found this article helpful. If so, please like and share it below!

And if you’re still anxious living here in NYC, talking to a therapist can improve your quality of life tremendously.

I work with a lot of stressed out New Yorkers, and have witnessed some powerful transformations once they have a space to process what’s wreaking havoc in their minds. View more about my services here, and please reach out if you’d like to start working together.

So what do you think of this list? Are there any other places you like to visit in NYC that help you be more mindful? If so, please share them below!

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Hi! I'm Paige

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I’m a Licensed Psychotherapist based in NYC. 

I write about mental wellbeing, personal growth, and the never-ending journey towards self-fulfillment. Sign up below to get notified when I post a new article.

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