Mindfulness, the practice of remaining aware and non-judgemental in the present moment, has emerged from the ancient teachings of Buddhism to the scientific laboratories of modern day, as a technique proven to help reduce stress, tension and anxiety.
To really benefit from mindfulness, it requires both formal and informal practice. Formal practice can be in the form of a set meditation practice, while informal practice means bringing this awareness to any moment or task in your everyday life.
One area that I have noticed is a source of daily stress for many people is the daily commute. Whether you travel to work in your own car or by public transport, the trip to and from work can become tense due to heavy traffic, gridlock, unpredictable drivers and also worrying about being late!
So here I have put together some useful techniques that you can use as you travel to and from work to bring more inner peace and serenity into your day.
Without trying to manipulate or force your breath in any way, place your attention at the entrance of your nostrils and simply feel the sensations of the breath here, as the air moves in and out of your body.
Perhaps the breath is shallow because you are feeling stressed or anxious, that is ok, notice without judgement and continue feeling the sensations. You may lose the breath frequently as your mind rushes with thoughts, especially if you are late, but simply return to the sensations at the nose.
Try to pay so much attention that you can notice the arising and passing away of each minute sensation, perhaps even the difference in temperature between the in-breath and the out-breath.
This technique is very effective, because it takes you out of the thinking mind, where our stress can run riot, into the realm of feeling and pure awareness where the present moment lives.
Relaxing The Neck And Shoulders
Make a habit of being stuck at the lights to let go of tension in the neck and shoulders and reconnect with your physical body. Let the head drop and roll in slow complete circles, stretching out the often tight muscles around the neck.
Hunch and drop the shoulders several times as well. Let go of any rushed thoughts and remain aware of the sensations in your neck and shoulders, feeling connected to your body.
The Body Scan
Mentally tune in to your physical being, slowly moving your attention from the soles of your feet all the way up to the scalp and the top your head, feeling into any sensations that arise in a particular body-part, however subtle or strong they may be.
Notice any parts that feel tight, pay attention to how your hands grip the steering wheel and then consciously breathe into each tight area, without trying to force the tightness away, simply hold that sense of tightness in your awareness and bring a sense of compassion to it, giving it plenty of space to be as it is.
We find equanimity and freedom from stress not by trying to make things be different from what they are, but by acknowledging and allowing them to be as they are. We have all heard the saying, what you resist, persists, so don’t try to force yourself to relax, it rarely works, simply bring your mindful, compassionate awareness to what is occurring in your body in the moment.
Enjoying The Stop Sign
One of my favourite teachers of mindfulness is Thich Nhat Thanh, the late Vietnamese Buddhist monk who made it his mission to spread more peace throughout the world. He taught that instead of being frustrated with a red light or a stop sign, you can actually use it as a reminder to return to your mindfulness practice.
He writes: “When you drive around the city and come to a red light or a stop sign, you can just sit back and make use of these twenty or thirty seconds to relax – to breathe in, breathe out, and enjoy arriving in the present moment. I think we can enjoy the red light; we can also enjoy the stop sign. Every time we see it we profit: instead of being angry at the red light, of being burned by impatience, we just practice breathing in, breathing out, smiling. That helps a lot.”
Another great thing to do on the way to work is listen to something relaxing. Particularly if you take public transport, you can listen to a guided meditation with headphones and really use your transit time as part of your spiritual practice.
If you are driving, a meditation recording is obviously not ideal, but you can choose to replace blaring radio and negative news stories with classical music or a spiritually uplifting audio book.
So, over to you now – I invite you to try using your commuting time for relaxation and mindfulness, I know you will be amazed at how it affects your whole day for the better!