The mindful commute

You’re hearing the word more and more. You might even see it cropping up in your work space. You’ve read about mindfulness links to mental health. But you’re still asking yourself what on earth is mindfulness? And how can I practise it?

Mindfulness is all around us in every breath we take. It’s up to us to wake up and acknowledge it.

Mindfulness is the complete awareness of any present moment. It’s the observation of feelings in each moment and the positivity, energy and calmness created within us as a result.

You may well be mindfully reading this article right now. Your thoughts are completely engrossed and your mind is actively present in every word read. If that is the case I urge you to really enjoy that feeling.

There may be some parts of your life where you might already be practising mindfulness perfectly, without knowing. And perhaps there are other parts of your life where mindfulness is so lacking that it is of no surprise that you are seeking to fill “the void”.

The trick is to acknowledge and find joy in every moment in existence. It really is that simple.

Let’s take an everyday example.

Commuting to the hustle of “work” is something that you are probably doing most days. It comes with challenges no doubt. The focus tends to be on the arrival and the stresses that come along with the journey: traffic, late trains, moody commuters, invasion of space on a crowded train…the list could be endless.

The focus on those challenges doesn’t have to be this way. Even in the worst of commutes.

You are either getting a train, cycling, driving or walking to work. Let’s break down each of these journeys whilst I share mindfulness exercises for you to acknowledge or even practise during your next commute.

The Train

Trains can be late. People can be moody. Crowds can be big.

But you are still you and you don’t need to get sucked into the low vibrations of external factors that you cannot change.  

In fact by mindfully radiating a positive energy you will naturally bring a positive impact to those commuters around you. You could be responsible for creating a positive energy in a “doom and gloom” carriage and therefore allow others to absorb your positive energy for their day too. This will naturally act as a domino effect and the people in your carriage will carry those good vibes to people they then meet during their day!

Some simple and mindful ways of passing on a positive energy to fellow commuters would be to:

  • Smile at fellow commuters
  • Offer a seat to a fellow commuter
  • Let fellow commuters get onto the train before you
  • Hold the door for fellow commuters
  • Thank the train guards as you leave the station
  • Accept the fact that trains will from time to time be late or even cancelled and be ok with that
  • Leave a post-it note on a seat, with a positive message or thought for the day for a stranger
  • Write 5 things that you are grateful for in that moment during your morning commute
  • Share those 5 things with a stranger you are sat opposite
  • Enjoy the time spent on the train and acknowledge it as time for you ahead of any noise in the day that might allow your mind to otherwise wander
  • Acknowledge your breath during your commute. What does it feel like? Is it fast? Slow? Shallow? Deep? Just observe and breathe and enjoy attaching no judgement.

Your train commute can be a positive pocket of energy for your day and others around you. Take joy in that responsibility and observe the spirits of those around you lift.

The Car

It can be difficult not to get outraged or feel anxious as a result of inconsiderate driving from other motorists on the road. Remember that you are in control of those feelings of overwhelm, annoyance or stress in the car.

  • When you get into the car ahead of your commute try to refrain from turning on any music. Music or the radio can act as an immediate distraction. Spend a few moments acknowledging how your body and mind feels whilst you are sat in the car in silence.
  • Be aware of your breath. Just observe what it feels like and how it sounds.
  • As you start your journey bring your attention to the physical experience of driving. Acknowledge what it feels like to sit in the seat, bring your attention to what the steering wheel feels like in your hands and what it feels like for your feet making adjustments on the pedals.
  • Is there any tension in your body? Are your shoulders relaxed or hunched? Is your jaw clenched or soft? Perhaps your neck needs a gentle roll to get rid of some tightness.
  • Your mind will wander. And when it does it is your role to gently bring your attention back to the moment. Bring awareness to your surroundings as you drive and notice things on the road as you make your journey. Acknowledge sounds, cars and the environment you are driving through.
  • Try and take deep breaths at every red light. Create a ritual for breathing and acknowledging your breath as your drive.

Take joy in this time as you focus on your feelings during each driving experience.

The Cycle

I’ve always taken cycling as my commuting option. My reasons for this are so that I can be outside in the fresh air and so that I can acknowledge the sunrises and sunsets in all their glory. I also love cycling to and from work to enjoy the feeling of all weather conditions – come rain or shine. It feels particularly invigorating to arrive home from a cycle commute after a torrential downpour.

I regularly practise mindfulness on my commuting rides. I shall explain how.

At the moment I cycle 32 miles a day (3 x a week) to and from a little cafe where I teach yoga and serve hot drinks and slices of vegan cakes to locals. The moment I wake up on a day I have a cycle commute a common thought is “oh gosh, those horrible hills – perhaps I can get a lift.”

Through mindfulness I acknowledge those feeling of resistance towards my ride and I observe my emotions that are attached to those thoughts. Gently, I reason with myself by taking a step at a time. Those individual steps to riding look like this:

  • I brush my teeth in joy and know that I have all this time ahead of my cycle to gear my mind up mentally
  • I wash my face with hot water and feel fresh and energised enjoying the powerful feeling of water against my skin
  • I put on a clean set of lycra for a comfy ride and acknowledge how good it is to feel snug and warm in the freshest of air
  • I fill up my water bottle and notice how refreshing it tastes now and during my cycle commute
  • I acknowledge my breath and enjoy the sensation of that very moment
  • I sit on my bike and start pedalling acknowledging as I click into my pedals and wake up my legs through the motion of my push and pull
  • I take an easy pace and enjoy the fact I am free to ride and move
  • I breathe during the uphills and know that I will at some point reach the the top. There is no rush
  • I feel invigorated on the downhills as I let the wheels roll naturally and take in the beautiful scenery of my route
  • I observe the incredible wildlife: deer, rabbits, birds of prey, squirrels, pheasants, foxes and I am simply awe bound by their natural habituals
  • I arrive safely at my destination (a little hot!) and I feel elated for the rest of the day. I made it!

Of course it’s easy for me to get distracted on my bike by mental challenges: impatient motorists, intimidating drivers, big lorries, fast cars, big hills, tired legs, flies accidentally swallowed, acorn showers. But I know that after each cycle commute I feel joy post ride and I know that every new challenge is just another test to keep me mindful and in each moment as it arrives.

The Walk

Walking is probably a more natural way of practising mindfulness. There are less distractions in terms of actions and the momentum of placing one foot after another is so simple. And yet perhaps as we walk our mind can wander quicker than our steps.

By practising mindfulness as we walk we can slow down those thoughts and bring our attention to our physical being in that very moment.

Here are a few essential ways to become more mindful when you walk to work:

  • Put your phone away. No music. No texting. No talking. Your phone is only a distraction from what is happening around you and within you during your walk
  • If you are walking to work don’t focus on work until you arrive at work. Try to stop guessing what your day at work with bring. Just focus on each step you make during your walk
  • Acknowledge your surroundings. Are there beautiful trees? Gorgeous colours? Birds singing? People running? Dogs playing? Cars tooting? Take joy in your surroundings. Even the sky can be a mindful focus. What colours can you see? What smells are you experiencing?
  • How do your feet feel as you walk? From heel to toe feel the ground beneath your feet and acknowledge the earth that supports you.
  • Are you walking briskly? Or slowly?
  • Is there any tenseness in your body? Breathe into that area and feel yourself relax into the natural rhythm of your walking style
  • Enjoy the movement of your legs and the relaxation of your arms swinging by your side

Arrive into the motion and feeling of your walking. Acknowledge the clarity of your mind and if your thoughts wander (which they will) – simply bring them back to the feeling of your walking motion. Enjoy.

Mindfulness doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to be this out of reach ideology that only yogis or spiritual gurus can achieve. Mindfulness is for everyone. It is simple. It is pure. It is you. It is me.

“Mind the gap” London underground says when you alight a train. Next time, really do mind that gap and observe yourself as you do so.

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