7 mindful ways to stay calm when you’re commuting to work

Whether you travel by train, bus or on foot, commuting can often leave you feeling stressed before you even get to work. Read our expert tips and exercises to make your journey to work more mindful.

Woman commuting

For many people, commuting to work is a particularly stressful part of the day and it can really make our lives a misery.

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A 2014 study by the Office of National Statistics in the UK found that commuters were less satisfied with their lives than non-commuters. Those who had journeys ranging from 61 to 90 minutes were worst affected.

There’s also evidence that longer commutes can make you anxious, stressed and less productive. (No surprise there!)

While there are always going to be aspects of our journeys that we can’t control – delays, inconsiderate travellers, traffic or overcrowding – there are lots of things you can do to reduce your fear of commuting.

You might even find that your journey to work provides new opportunities for mindful relaxation and meditation.

Woman on a train

Buddhify meditation app founder Rohan Gunatillake says, “Commuting is arguably one of the single most stressful things that we do on a day-to-day basis.

“Whether you walk, drive, tube or bus to work, there are always so many things that happen on your journey which cause extra stress. Whether its traffic jams, tube strikes or even an overpacked bus…”

“And what’s more; have you ever noticed that when you’re travelling or commuting and you’re amongst many other people or elements. you’re actually, just stuck in your own thoughts?

“At the start of the day, this could be making a mental list of the things you need to do. At the end of day, it could be obsessing over the events of the previous few hours. No wonder we’re tired, our brains are constantly ticking away.”

Meditation teacher Fenella Powell thinks it’s important to focus on our own journey as we can’t control the behaviour of others. “We do get to decide how we – the conscious, mindful person – responds.” And, of course, that makes all the difference.

Rohan and meditation teacher Fenella share their tips and explain how make your commute a calmer experience.

Rohan Gunatillake, founder of Buddhify (photo by Ashley Baxter)
Rohan Gunatillake, founder of Buddhify (photo by Ashley Baxter)

How to have a mindful commute

1

Discover your patience

When you’ve got somewhere to be, it’s easy to get annoyed with people getting in your way or dithering over their tickets. Fenella advises taking a deep, mindful breath and exhale out your frustration.

She says: “Once you feel that hot frustration building within you, take a few really slow deep breaths holding the air in your lungs for three counts and release, while you do this repeat in your head ‘I am calm, I am patient’.

“Repeat to your heart’s content and keep your attention on your breath. This is your chance to give strength to what you can control: your experience.”

2

Focus on ‘just this’

Rohan says that one of the easiest ways to calm your body and mind during travelling is a small focus exercise.

It’s not a breath-control exercise but it’s a way of making your mind stable and focusing it on one place.

To start, simply take three deep breaths and find your centre, then with every inhale, think the word ‘just’ and with exhale, think the word ‘this’.

Continue this exercise for as much time as you need, but really focus on the speed at which you’re processing the words ‘just this’. You may start fast but as you become more relaxed, the flow should start to slow.

If you get distracted by something, don’t worry – but find your ‘just this’ breath again, when you can.

Woman staring out of the window on the bus

3

Stop delay distress

When you’re running late, it’s easy to start feeling panicky – even when the delay is something you can’t control.

Fenella explains that you can reduce your stress levels by learning to accept the situation and acknowledging your feelings: “When the delay hits. Firstly acknowledge how you’re feeling, don’t push it away.

“Breathe into this discomfort, observe the thoughts that are unkind and note them: ‘This is an attacking thought’.

“By detaching from the need to agree with negative inner thoughts (like blame) in this way, we can see them as just thoughts and feelings.

“Make the call to rearrange that meeting once you are in acceptance of the moment and your own response to it.”

Meringue pie with blood orange

4

Direct some kindness

Share some positive energy with your fellow travellers with Rohan’s kindness exercise. He says: “This is one of the most fulfilling mindfulness exercises we like to do. With this practise, you’re going out of your own thoughts and feelings and directing them to someone else in a positive way.”

“Take couple of deep breaths to settle down, then choose an individual from the crowd or even someone you can see nearby and notice what it is that you find interesting about them.

“They could have a great haircut, or be wearing some jazzy trousers, or they could be driving the vehicle you’re in. Either way, focus on this person (but don’t make it creepy!) and notice who they are.

“Now for the interesting part, think of something kind you would wish upon this person. Focusing your intentions away from what you are and what you’re doing and to them. Then, mentally say the words; ‘May you be well’ or ‘I hope you stay happy’. Ask for nothing in return.”

This exercise distracts your thoughts from inner turmoil and allows you to focus positive energy onto those around. This isn’t a verbal exchange, it’s purely inside your head.

Meditation teacher Fenella Powell
Meditation teacher Fenella Powell
5

Ditch the morning blues

“We can all begin our commute in a grumpy or critical state and its normal to have these mornings (again no judgment!) but you do need to let them go,” says Fenella.

“Get your attention to your feet, yes, your feet. They are far away from that intelligent, sometimes overpowering brain yet you hold so much of your grumpiness down at your feet.

“Take three to five deep slow breaths and draw your attention to this extremity. Let your mind settle on this focus, letting go of whatever is trying to grab you and just breathe.”

Dark-haired woman waiting on a train station platform

6

Be aware of your surroundings

When you’re travelling, Rohan recommends tuning in to how the journey affects your senses: “Movement: feel how your body is affected by the vehicle’s movement. Sound: listen to what is around you, how the sounds mix together.

“Sight: look thoroughly at all the adverts and surrounding people. Thought: this is all the chatter in your head. Now pick two out of these four and see what you can learn from them.  Notice the way these things change around you.

“Notice how every element speeds up or slows down and how you feel in its setting. Put as much of your attention into each experience and separate that experience from everything else.”

7

Focus on your body

Bring your attention inward and become more aware of what’s going on inside your body.

Fenella says: “Roll your shoulders straighten your spine up to what feels comfortable and raise your gaze.

“Our body language not only informs our subconscious mind about how we are feeling but also those around us.

“Bringing awareness to how you are slouching, hunching or letting that bag pull your shoulders forward is a great opportunity to tap back into your body and change that crappy morning feeling by returning to a posture that allows you to feel at home and presently comfortable in your body.”

Buddhify is available to download from the app store and Google Play for a single upfront-fee of £4.99 / £2.99 respectively. 

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Photography by Ashley Baxter, Edward Bristow, and Church of the King, Dan Bøțan, Eutah Mizushima and Andy Kirby on Unsplash.