Do you spend the majority of your commute glued to your phone? Not actually talking on it, of course, but scrolling through social media or playing games or reading emails or accessing any of the other thousands of services your mobile device can provide?
Straight away we tend to grab our phone scroll away. But thinking about it, there is so much information and stimulation coming at us constantly throughout the day, any moment we can use for ourselves and activate our parasympathetic nervous system, we should take advantage of.
Your daily commute is actually the perfect time to engage in some mindfulness practice. Here are our top four mindfulness exercises perfect to practice any place, any time.
1. Abdominal or ‘belly’ breathing
This is a really easy one to do, and is a great way to re-balance our oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. It also improves our circulation, strengthens the heart and lungs and quickly activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is essentially the opposite to our fight or flight mode.
It’s a very easy technique. It helps to put your hand on your belly, and one on your chest if you like as well. Then deeply, slowly breathe in, feeling your belly rise as you do so. Then feel it gently recede as you breathe out. There might be a little bit of movement in your chest, but for the most part it should stay still throughout the process.
This kind of breathing, where our belly is rising and falling, means we are using our diaphragm, which is our main breathing muscle. It’s pretty much the opposite of how we find ourselves breathing throughout the day, which is usually quite shallow and through our chest. This is such a quick and easy one to do on your commute, and all you have to do are these slow, deep, steady breaths and feeling those breaths rise and fall. Three to five minutes of doing that would be enough to sink your body into that relaxation response.
2. Body scan
This involves literally closing your eyes — though you don’t have to if you don’t want to — and going through each of your body parts and just bringing attention to that particular body part as you go. Start with your head or your face and see if you can feel any sensations that might exist in that area. If no sensations exist, that’s fine, just notice there are none.
You want to experience that feeling of any tension or tightness, and on the inhale, gather up that tension, and on the exhale, release that tension. Then you move onto the next body part. Go through your neck, your chest, your arms, your belly, your back, your thighs, your legs, your feet and your toes — basically you’re just making your way through your body — and notice any sensations as you go, gather up any tension, and release it on the exhale.
3. Sense scan
This is basically making your way through each of your senses and just noticing what is reaching that sense organ. You might start with your ears and literally listen to all the different layers of noise or sounds you can hear, and gently rest your attention on them. Then move onto your next sense organ, for example, your eyes. They can be open or closed. If open, just have a look at all the different things you can see and take note. If your eyes are closed, just notice if there’s darkness, spots, colours or shapes.
In terms of touch, you want to be feeling your body on the chair, your feet on the ground. Notice if there is any wind on your body or if you are hot or cold. Check for any residual taste might that be in your mouth what you can smell as well.
What is particularly great about this exercise is it can only be done in the present. What you are sensing at a particular point can only exist in the present moment. It’s a really great way to draw you quickly in the present moment and out of the chaos of our monkey minds.
4. Effortless awareness
This is a simple breath meditation which is using your breath as an anchor. It’s about gently bringing your attention to your breath without controlling it in any way, acting as an observer or witness to your breathing. Just feeling it enter or leave your body, and when your mind wanders off — which it will — don’t get frustrated. Just acknowledge you are normal, you are human, and you are thinking, and then bring it back to the breath, with is the anchor. It really is a very simple process of resting your attention with your breath, and when your mind wanders off, realising it has wandered off and gently bringing your awareness back.