Lowering Stress-Level By Meditating During A Long Commute

Commuting is a necessary evil in many post-industrial societies. However, each additional minute of a commute can mean an increase in eventual health problems for long-distance commuters.
Chief Editor Insight Timer Blog
meditation during long commute
Chief Editor Insight Timer Blog

Five years ago I lived the epitome of a stressful and long commute: Spending over an hour to commute less than two miles from my apartment through a stampede of thousands of besuited office workers. The intensity of the commute was exacerbated by the dog-eat-dog nature of the job… Arriving in top shape wasn’t an option, it was a necessity.

One day during a particularly brutal bus gridlock, I plugged in my headphones and turned on a metta meditation. The centering compassion transformed my mind-body experience to one of peace and acceptance.

Meditating during your commute can be a powerful tool to bring you home to yourself in the moment — with aftereffects that last throughout the day. It can help to alleviate physical, mental, and internal stressors, helping you arrive fully at work or home at the end of the day.

Thankfully, there are simple and safe practices to explore whether you’re walking, driving, or riding public transportation. Discover guided commute meditation audios at the end of this article.

A Regular Long Commute Is Inherently Stressful

Commuting is a necessary evil in many post-industrial societies. Urbanization has brought people into cities in pursuit of work, increasing population density in urban centers and forcing folks to move further away from their jobs to obtain a higher quality of life.

The Scandinavian Journal of Economics found that individuals will often accept a job with a longer commute in pursuit of more economic opportunity, resulting in higher pay but lower overall well-being. 

For many people commuting often means spending more than an hour each way on the train to the distant suburbs then fighting through swarms of commuters to walk to the office downtown. The train ride typically turns into a mobile office — people arrive at their desks at 8 AM already having worked since 7 AM or earlier.

Each additional minute of a commute can mean an increase in eventual health problems for long-distance commuters, Scientific American found in a 2005 article summarizing finds from several studies.

A longer commute means less sleep, more stress, and less time spent with loved ones and on self-care.

Improving Your Long Commute Through Meditation

A better experience in your commute goes a long way to alleviating stress in the body and mind. This helps you work smarter while bringing you home fresher to your family.

The obvious solution is to move closer to work. Unfortunately, this isn’t always reality when the job we want is highly competitive or the best neighborhood for our family isn’t nearby work. 

Meditation can be a powerful antidote to the stressors of a long commute. Its centering effects can help us to arrive at home or the office calm and aware of our surroundings. 

If practiced regularly, you can learn to focus your attention, choose how you respond to stressful situations, and engage with your mind, body, the environment, and people with equanimity.

Read more: During a long commute, many people seek digital distraction. Explore seven principles for conscious digital device usage and how to bring them to daily life. 

The ability to disengage peacefully when someone shoves you with their briefcase on the train carries over when your boss snaps at you for missing the deadline on the TPS reports, too!

Read more: People start meditating for many reasons. Discover the various benefits of meditation!

Meditating On A Commute: Is It Safe?

It bears mentioning that safety is paramount. We always recommend ensuring that you feel safe in your surroundings before attempting to meditate during your commute, especially if you are meditating with the eyes closed. 

This holds true whether you’re driving, walking, or riding public transport. 

Experiment with different practices to see which ones feel accessible given your unique situation. For example, my commute involves a 50-minute bus ride and a 5-minute walk. I practice with the eyes closed on the bus then transition to a mindful walking meditation. Combining the two practices allows me to maintain a meditative space while keeping me safe on the busy streets.

Read more: Get grounded before you even leave your home. Discover the benefits of a healthy morning routine for your wellbeing.

Simple Practices For Long Commutes

Here are three ways to incorporate meditation into your long commute. 

While Driving

While many people text, take calls, eat, or chat with coworkers, family or friends during their drive commute, this is inherently unsafe. 

The safest way to drive is what they taught you in driving school: pay attention to what’s going on.

Mindfulness meditation takes it a step further and expands the awareness to all aspects of the present moment, including your body, your senses, and the movement of your thoughts.

Harvard Business Review experts say that a mindfulness-based driving commute can help free up energy and brainpower for the rest of the day. This allows us to be more creative and effective once we resume conscious thinking. 

Mindful driving starts with centering yourself upon sitting in the car.

  • Take a few moments to feel your breath, then notice the physical sensations of your body on the seat, the AC or heat, and the feeling of your hands on the steering wheel.
  • Expand your awareness to what you see and hear around you. Notice any emotions you are experiencing.
  • As you drive, maintain your mind on the present moment with expanded awareness. Allow your thoughts to come and go without attachment.

On Public Transportation

A deliberate way to change a stressful public transportation commute is by practicing feeling more connected to others, not less.

You can explore connective meditations standing or sitting and with eyes opened or closed. Remember to evaluate your surroundings for safety before closing your eyes. 

As with a pure mindfulness practice, connect with your breath and the other sensations in your awareness, like sounds, movement, and physical sensations. These will help you ground to your surroundings. 

After grounding to your own experience, take time to notice the other people around you, understanding that they too have a depth of experience beyond the external.

Approaching the long commute in this way helps to humanize an isolating experience, resulting in a sense of connection to those around us.

In Traffic

The practice of metta, or loving-kindness meditation, is an ancient Buddhist practice to cultivate the heart. It grows qualities like kindness, compassion, and love for ourselves and other people.

Incorporating a practice of metta in your daily commute can be a powerful antidote to negative emotions. Scientists have shown that it enhances the activation of emotional centers of the brain, reducing symptoms of disease and immune responses to stress. 

A regular practice of metta is often prescribed by Buddhist meditation teachers as a way to increase empathy in practitioners. A higher capacity for empathy improves our ability to relate at home and at work. Start with it during your commute and see the effects it has on your day-to-day life, too.

Read more about why empathy is important.

Listen to and practice with these popular commute meditations from our app:

  1. Present Moment Awareness Commuter Meditation Singhashri 10:00
  2. Mindfulness for Driving Lucy Draper-Clarke PhD 14:18
  3. Mindful Commute: The Deloitte Meditation Series Emily Toner 6:56
  4. 15 Minute Commuter Practice Tom MacIntosh 15:59
  5. Mindful Walking Lyndi Smith 14:07

There’s No Better Time to Begin than Now

A meditation practice during your long commute can help you arrive calm, centered, and relaxed to a stressful workday. Imbuing meditation during these two important times will have a positive ripple effect across your experience of life.

Read on: Mindfulness teacher Kate James reflects on how to find inner peace in our everyday lives.

Meditation. Free.