Mindful Commuters

The front page of the October 20 Washington Post had an article “Mindful’ commuters say deep breaths, clear mind keep them calm under stress.” Although it might sound impossible, people who practice mindful commuting swear it brings tranquility to the daily misery of crowded trains, late buses, honking horns, and traffic jams. According to the article almost 2 million people use one meditation-on-the-go-ap, and plenty of others are downloading a recent explosion of guided meditation podcasts and Web recordings, and others take mindfulness classes.

Mindfulness also is used by drivers who commute. One commuter said she pays attention to her breathing and relaxes when her jaw tightens or her fingers clench the steering wheel during her hour-plus commute. She said that practicing mindfulness has expanded her driving field of vision beyond traffic to include trees, architecture and cloud formations. She says that she thinks that mindfulness makes her a much better driver. When you drive you have to be aware of everything around you. I think that the incidents of road rage would decrease in direct proportion to the number of drivers practicing mindfulness. Headspace is a meditation app for guiding commuting meditations used by about 1.7 million people.

Commuters who ride practice formal meditation focusing on their breathing, noticing when their minds wander and repeatedly returning to their breathing as a way to train their attention. People who drive or ride a bike practice a more informal kind of meditation aimed at increasing awareness. They focus on sights, sounds, and physical sensations that root them in the present moment than in their topsy-turvy minds.

Mindful commuters feel less stressed and can dismiss worries about arriving late. They also tend to be compassionate about their fellow commuters.

Six ways to have a more mindful commute follow from the same article.

Turn your attention from when you’ll get to your destination, it’s out of your control anyway, to your surroundings, particularly what you notice via your senses: Sounds, the feel of your feet on the ground or your rear in a seat, places in your body that feel tight or hot from tension.

If you’re not driving or riding a bike, focus on your breathing. Take five breaths, with deep inhalations and slow exhalations. Then return to normal breathing, but try to notice each breath. You can gaze ahead, or slightly down, at a fixed point or close your eyes. When you notice you’ve become lost in thought spiral of “Oh no, I’m going to be late. My boss is going to be so ticked. I’ll probably get fired. Then I’ll probably starve to death…”), gently return your attention to your breathing and sounds around you. Allow thoughts to come and fgo without attaching any significance to them.

If you’re driving or riding a bike, cut the music and become more aware of the sights and sounds around you: the view of trees or taillights, the sound of birds, the feel of wind on your face. When you notice yourself lost in thought, come back to your senses.

When angry or annoying thoughts are triggered, notice the physical sensations of those thoughts (a tight chest, feeling of heat, tense shoulders) and consciously relax. Try a silent mantra,such as “It’s okay” or “This is out of my control, I’m doing the best I can.”

Use redlights or stops on a train or bus as a reminder to notice whether you’re lost in thought. Then reofocus on your breathing or you senses.

When you walk, focus on the feel of your feet connecting with the ground, your breathing, the sounds around you (even it it’s the steady thrum of traffic) and the feel of the air on your face. When you notice you’ve become distracted or lost in thought, return to your senses.

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