Talking while driving? Overrated. Texting while driving? Illegal. Living in the ‘burbs like Shoreview, North Oaks or White Bear, you probably spend around 200 hours/year commuting; and, maybe it seems like all 200 of those hours occur in the summer months when you’d rather be doing anything BUT driving. Closures, jams, detours got you down? Try driving meditation–you’ll calm your mind and keep yourself and fellow commuters safer on the road.
It’s scientifically proven that commuting:
1) increases risk of depression
2) increases anxiety
3) increases cholesterol
4) spikes blood pressure
5) decreases overall quality of life/happiness
6) decreases quality of sleep
7) increases back pain
For more, check out the article in Time Magazine here.
What if you could undo almost all those negatives with one thing? Would you try it–even if it seemed a little new-agey crazy? Did you know that meditation is proven to boost your mood and energy, while decreasing anxiety? Did you ever consider you could improve your posture while driving and reduce back pain? What if the same “fix” could lower your blood pressure and cortisol levels, making your commute more relaxing? Would it be worth switching off the radio, cell phone and giving it a try?
By combining several meditation methodologies, you can offset some commuter negatives so you arrive home more positive. Once you’ve switched off your devices, make sure you’re breathing through your nose (never the mouth) and try the following:
Metta or “loving kindness” meditation: When someone cuts you off or doesn’t let you in, send them compassion/ loving kindness. Think: they must be really stressed out, had a terrible day and just can’t help themselves at this point in time. That’s OK~ I’m in a better place and can make way. Instead of making your blood pressure spike, you’ll feel a magnanimous generosity, like you’re doing a favor for the greater good. Often your paying extra attention will make-up for another driver’s poor focus and maybe even prevent an accident.
Make your driving Japanese “joozu” : A high level of concentration is a jumping off point to meditation. In Japanese, the word “joozu” implies a sense of mastery and skillfulness. I’ve noticed it used in describing performing everyday activities Westerners wouldn’t, well, notice: cutting up carrots, writing in cursive, folding laundry. “Yamada-san, your keyboarding is totally joozu–you hardly make mistakes.” (loose translation). It’s just another way the Japanese bring mindfulness into everyday tasks. So, when you take to the road, imagine you’re a masterful ninja, cultivating your craft. Since Google hasn’t quite taken over that aspect of our lives, why not put all your focus into being the best driver you can be? How gradually can you apply the breaks? How carefully can you observe the 2-second rule? Treat it like an athletic event and maybe you’ll get into a state of flow.
Zazen: focus on the spine. The good news is that cars have become safer; the bad news is that they do so by putting us into evermore fetal positions, so we’re prepared to crash. Think about the old “bench seats” back in the day, conducive to sitting up straight. Nowadays, our bums are in “buckets,” our shoulders are pushed forward and our heads and necks follow suit, chins craning ahead. The spine starts to bow out, losing it’s natural curves at the back of the neck and the lumbar area. What if you focused on trying to relocate your shoulders back to your side bodies, at the end of the chromium processes where they belong? Once again we turn to Japan for the method: make small adjustments, perfecting your spinal alignment (as in “sitting zazen” ). For instance: widen your collar bones, but don’t forget to send the occipital ridge of your head (where it joins the neck) back to align w/ the new shoulder position–maybe slightly pressing in to the headrest. While it’s hard to have great posture while driving, it could be “less bad.” You might find you can somewhat adjust your seat, creating more lumbar curve and importantly, more curve in the back of your neck. You’ll know you’re improving when sitting actually becomes easier and requires less effort–nothing fatigues the back muscles like poor posture!
WARNING: Driving meditation might seem difficult at first, primarily due to the absence of noise. The “monkey brain” seeks distraction from anything unpleasant. Over time however, you’ll start to crave the peace and quiet. The second you switch off your phone or radio, you’ll have a relaxation response, finding it a tremendous relief. The simple act of driving provides enough sensory inputs to be amusing; you really won’t miss all those commercials and calls. In the end, what might be your biggest incentive for practicing driving meditation is when you see how little attention others are paying to the road– it might just scare you into becoming a great guru!
Breath — Ujjayi.