By Alexa Pellegrini
Dealing with aggressive drivers and battling traffic jams all make for a chaotic morning. By the end of the day, we want nothing more than to head home and relax — but more often than not, we face the same stress we battled at the beginning of the day. Commuting to and from work can cause even the most levelheaded person to lose their cool, and research has proven that the negative effects of our daily commute may have long lasting consequences on our well being.
According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2010, Americans with longer commute times are more likely to suffer from a wider range of psychological and physical ailments. Workers with an average one-way commute of 46-60 minutes only scored 66.4 out of 100 on the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, a nod to how lengthy periods of time behind the wheel can lead to an increased risk of obesity and high cholesterol. However, meditating during your daily commute can reduce these risks and even help you become a better driver.
Is Driving a Form of Meditation?
While most of us are tempted to get lost in our thoughts, text or check our inbox while stuck in traffic, dealing with the stress of committing by meditating is an excellent way to increase your capacity for stress and lower your chances of having an accident. In fact, drawing your attention away from your thoughts and directing it solely on the road is a form meditation in and of itself. As Maria Gonzalez eloquently explains, “being present matters greatly, quite simply, because life only happens in the present moment.” Some of the most devastating mistakes we make behind the wheel occur when our mind wanders into the future or what happened hours or days ago. Rehashing your performance at work or rehearsing a conversation with your boss traps you in a fantasy mindset, which worsens anxiety. Instead of focusing on the past or imagining what could happen, take your time behind the wheel to watch the road and quiet your mind.
In his book Learning to Drive Into the Now: PRND, Solan McClean agrees that mindfulness meditation is one of the best ways to remain calm and in control behind the wheel. McClean advises that “if perceive someone has done you wrong on the road…feel that initial feeling, and then take a deep breath and consciously let it go.” Mindfulness meditation allows us to step outside of the confines of anger and see the big picture. More often than not, someone may cut us off or tailgate if they are late, anxious or having a bad day — they may even be distracted and unaware of the road themselves.
Here are five simple ways to meditate effectively while driving:
- Keep your eyes on the road. The main goal of mindfulness meditation is to keep your focus on the road at all times. However, you can enhance your focus by using the white noise of your engine or the sounds of the road (if your windows are rolled down) to quiet your thoughts. When stuck in traffic, you can focus on the clouds, the sky or an object in your surroundings.
- Remain in the moment by listening to the sounds of your breathing. Each time you feel your mind wander, gently guide it back to the present moment with ten deep breaths in through your mouth and out through your nose.
- Allow yourself to wipe the day's events from your mind. While it's easy to focus obsessively on what went wrong during the day, projects you need to complete or conversations with your boss, doing so draws you away from the present moment.
- Forgive yourself for mishaps at work. Assure yourself with positive affirmations about your abilities and confidently state that you'll improve your performance tomorrow. We all make mistakes; it's how we learn. Let go of the past, and enter the now.
- Pay attention to your body. Using your car as an extension of your body can also help: grip and tap your steering wheel with both hands, tap your foot, and flex your back against your seat.
Although commuting often feels like just another part of the daily grind, it gives us an invaluable opportunity to increase our self-awareness, relieve stress, and realize the value of accepting what is. We can’t control how fast traffic moves or what other drivers do; we’re powerless to change events of the past or accurately predict the future. However, as mindfulness meditation teaches us, we can control our emotions, our breath, and where our mind wanders.