Blazing sun, pounding rain, crowded roadways—for many people the daily drive to and from their workplace is fraught with stress. But, what if this stressful, terrible, horrible, very bad time of the day could be converted into an opportunity for expanding your mindfulness practice while driving? “Count me in!” you say. Before we go any further, it’s important to note that we don’t recommend popping in your ear buds and sinking into a guided meditation while behind the wheel.
6 tips for mindful driving
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at some, safe, relaxing opportunities for incorporating mindfulness into your commute.
- Breathe. Once you’ve settled into the driver’s seat, take 3 deep breaths before you turn on the engine. Focus on the sensation of each breath as it enters through your nose, travels into your chest, and expands your abdomen. Then exhale gently through your mouth. Repeat this sequence when you turn off the engine after you’ve reached your destination.
- Savor the quiet. Many of us pass the time on our commutes by listening to music or the news. Instead, try turning off the radio or CD player and silencing your cell phone so that you become aware of the quiet that surrounds you. Use this opportunity to notice what you see in your field of vision, feel the speed and movement of the car, and appreciate the sound of the air as it rushes by. Take note of the noise the road makes, or the humming of your engine as you change speeds.
- Be aware of your body. As you quietly contemplate your surroundings, turn your attention to how your body feels. Notice the how your arms and legs move as you steer and operate the pedals. Also, look for any telltale signs of stress such as your hands gripping the steering wheel, or stiffness in your shoulders and neck. Take a deep breath and feel your muscles relax.
- Keep your mind in the moment. Avoid letting your thoughts wander off into memories or leap into future scenarios. Getting pulled into this unconscious mental pattern can result in brooding about past mistakes and injustices, or anxiously obsessing about events that lie ahead. Use your powers of mindfulness to corral your thoughts back into the present while driving. One exercise you can try is the “Five Senses” exercise. See if you can identify one thing you can see, hear, touch, taste and even smell as you drive along.
- Defuse road rage. Packed roadways and slow traffic can bring out the competitive instinct even among mild mannered drivers. Next time you feel your blood boil because another driver cut you off or someone is puttering along at a ridiculously slow speed in passing lane, take a step back. The other drivers on the road are also trying to get to their destination as quickly as possible, and they may feel equally irritated with you. In the end, it really doesn’t matter much if it takes a couple extra minutes to get where you’re going.
- Commit to kindness. Have empathy for the fellow driver who unwittingly ended up in the right lane when they wanted to turn left. Or, slow down and make room for other cars to merge into your lane when the traffic is heavy. Also, note when you are the recipient of a similar small kindness, and acknowledge the generosity with a smile, nod or “thank you” wave.
So, let’s recap
For many people, the daily drive to and from work takes a hefty toll of stress and aggravation. Using your time behind the wheel as opportunity to expand your mindfulness practice can transform this period of the day from a dreaded chore into a refreshing interlude.