Getting elbowed on the subway or stacking like sardines on a crowded bus can turn a morning sour—even if you were lying in a blissed out savasana just moments earlier. And though it would be nice to have a seat on the express train every morning (hey, a girl can dream), a long and crowded commute is a daily reality for many of us.
Arriving at the office already stressed and tense sounds way less than ideal—and it is totally avoidable, according to Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of Headspace, a super popular meditation app. The former Buddhist monk and author of The Headspace Guide to Meditation & Mindfulness believes that the key is, quite simply, just a little mindfulness.
“When we look at our daily commute, it can be tempting to see other people as an inconvenience, perhaps forgetting that others might view us in just the same way,” Puddicombe explains. Have a meeting that starts, er, right now? Sure, it’d be nice if all the other commuters magically disappeared, but it’s likely not going to happen.
“So we have a choice: We can either swap the storyline for something positive (often easier said than done), or better still, we can drop the storyline altogether,” says Puddicombe. “And this is the practice of mindfulness.”
“There is no way of controlling everything around us, so we have to look inside, at our reaction to it.”
While you may not be able to quiet your brain for the entirety of a city bus ride at rush hour, creating a mindful awareness is still completely possible (Headspace even has some commute-specific content).
“There is no way of controlling everything around us, so we have to look inside, at our reaction to it,” Puddicombe explains. “Because it is the point of resistance, the moment the mind decides it does not like what’s going on and gets involved in that inner dialogue, that our internal struggle begins.”
So though you may go into autopilot as soon as you step out the door (AKA keys/phone/wallet/coffee mode), this is actually the perfect time to practice mindfulness. You may even realize that it’s a looming deadline that has you huffing your way through a crowd, rather than the walk to the office itself.
If the steps below resonate with you, you might want to explore Headspace (Puddicombe’s soothing, British voice was made for this medium). Note that the following tips are meant for non-driving commuters—you need another type of awareness behind the wheel!
Ready for a calm and collected commute? Keep reading for a super-effective mindfulness exercise to kick off your day.
1. Shift your mindset
“We are not ‘stuck’ in traffic, we ‘are’ the traffic,” Puddicombe points out. “Simply remembering this idea that we are all sharing the same space can help us to feel better.” Can I get that on a billboard?
2. Focus on what you want to do
“Set out on your commute with the intention of being mindful throughout,” he advises. “This motivation will help you cultivate awareness and a daily habit.” And don’t let that intentional optimism stop when you get to the office—it’s pretty powerful there, too.
3. Pay attention to your body
“Take a few minutes to settle into your body, just noticing how you feel, where any tension is being held, and allowing the body time to relax,” instructs Puddicombe. It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting or standing—just loosen your death grip if you’re holding on tight…
4. Observe everything
“Notice the space around you, the sounds, the smells, the sensations—not thinking about these things, but observing them, present with the senses,” he adds.
5. Be kind to your fellow travelers
“We are all in this together. The people around you are experiencing their own daily commute and all it entails,” Puddicombe explains. “Try sharing a smile or offering up your seat.” Turns out, a little positivity in the morning is the easiest way to start your day on the right foot.