Americans spend an average of 24.5 minutes commuting to work, according the U.S. Census Bureau. That's nearly half an hour of time to spend worrying about traffic jams, daunting projects ahead and how not to catch the cold that seems to be spreading like wildfire among surrounding subway passengers.
And yet, your commute doesn't have to be the most stressful part of your day. In fact, you can transform it into something quite extraordinary -- even de-stressing.
"In many ways, because it is something so ordinary -- so familiar -- it provides all the right conditions for us to practice [mindfulness]," says Andy Puddicombe, mindfulness expert and co-founder of Headspace. "The added bonus, of course, is that it doesn't require us to take any additional time our of our day. Instead, it makes good use of potential 'dead-time.' Think of it as time better spent."
Practicing mindfulness has been shown to have some hefty benefits. It lowers stress, promotes creativity and can even help you sleep more soundly when the sun goes down -- all improvements that'll make you more fit for the day ahead.
"The beautiful thing about mindfulness, is that no matter where we go, what we are doing or who we are with, we always have the opportunity to practice," Puddicombe explains.
Whether you're driving, walking or commuting by train, a commuter's mindfulness practice will deliver you to work and back home again with a nice dose of clarity and calm. Puddicombe's meditation below will add an extra purpose to your commute and could actually make you look forward to your ride. Check out the simple steps below, then try it on your next journey to the office.
1. Take a minute to set up the right approach to the exercise. Take a couple of deep breaths and remind yourself what your intention is: To be present, open and curious about the experience, and deciding not to carry all the usual dread you attach to it.
2. Next take a minute to acknowledge the physical sensations in the body. It might be the feeling of your backside on the seat (if you were lucky enough to snag one), your feet on the ground, your hand on the rail, the weight of your bag, or anything else. Not judging, just feeling.
3. Every time you realize your mind has wandered off, simply come back to those physical senses. By bringing the focus back to the the physical sensations, you'll be able to be less involved in your thoughts. Maybe you'd prefer to focus on the smell of something, the sound or even the taste.
4. The mind will most likely wander off often and will want to repeat the pattern of many years, getting caught up in thoughts. That’s fine, but when you realize you’re thinking, simply say to yourself (silently) “Oh, thinking” and then come back to the most apparent sense. No matter what the distraction (emergencies excluded), whether internal or external, treat it in just the same way, gently returning to the physical senses.
5. It really is that simple. In fact, it’s deceptively simple. The trick is to not get frustrated when the mind gets distracted, to not put in too much effort in simply being present with everything and everyone around you, to not getting caught up in the interesting stories or commentary in the mind. It is a fluid and effortless technique, all about cultivating awareness.
For more on meditation, click here.