I am really feeling the benefit of peppering my day with mini-meditations right now. The next one I want to share with you is this: mindful driving.
Christmas is a great time to bring this practice into our days. It has two huge benefits — restoring calm in the moment and delivering insight into what is going on for you. Let me explain.
Some say that nothing shows us more clearly that we all have the seeds of anger in us than getting caught in traffic. There is no doubt that Christmas driving can be pretty maddening. Let’s first focus on what we can do in the moment to restore calm.
The first is to see this as a new habit you are establishing. (The first step of habit formation is to have a trigger to remind you to practice.) Therefore, every traffic jam is a gift — an opportunity to practice.
You might be thinking that is just a silly gimmick, but if you genuinely engage in the experience, it has an almost-instantaneous effect on your psychological and physical stress levels. You will find that curiosity or interest arises instead of frustration (“oooh, traffic, I can practice my breathing!”). Consequently, your cortisol levels will not spike and you will be relaxed instead of tense and constricted.
Now take a few deep breaths and send yourself kindness, no matter what comes up. Slow your breathing down to 4-6 breaths per minute, 5-15 seconds in and 10-15 seconds out. This activates the prefrontal cortex and parasympathetic nervous system, increases heart rate variability, and shifts the brain from stress mode to calm mode.
The second part of this is to tune in to your automatic reactions as you breathe through them. Open up your awareness to include your thoughts, feelings and physical sensations and bring that same light curiosity to tune in to what they are telling you. Continue to breathe deeply, more slowly on the out breath.
Are you hungry? Tired? Overwhelmed by too much to do? Rushing when you could move more peacefully? Catastrophizing or running old “stories” of Christmas or traffic hassles that are feeding your stress? Trying hard to reassert control in a situation that you can’t change (i.e. the traffic jam) when you could gently let go a little?
Continue to breathe through it as you gain more insight into what is going on for you and send yourself kindness and support as you ask yourself — what do I need here?
You can also practice beforehand. This is a great investment in making this traffic jam meditation a mindful habit, particularly if you know that road rage is a risk factor for you. The more you do it, the greater the health benefits. So experiment with this fully portable mini-meditation and may you have a joyful holiday season, traffic or no traffic.
Driving photo available from Shutterstock