Emma Wilson (MSc LLB) is a freelance trainer, consultant and writer in the field of mental health. She delivers workshops on mental health and is a Youth and Adult Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Instructor. Emma has a broad range of personal and professional experience of working within the mental health sector and has sat on several advisory groups over the past 4.5 years.
When you think about the daily commute, what images come to mind? A jam-packed Underground train where personal space is a rare commodity, and if you’re under 5”5 – like me – then you may become good friends with someone’s rucksack, stretching without hope for a rail to hold onto.
From the outset, it seems that mindfulness and commuting are at opposite ends of the spectrum. For many, mindfulness conjures up ideas of stillness, calm, and an absence of thoughts. It doesn’t seem to share many similarities with the chaotic nature of navigating the many trains, buses and pavements of a busy city like London.
However, the beauty of mindfulness is that it’s not about the absence of thoughts, nor a requirement of absolute stillness within an environment of calm tranquillity. Mindfulness is about taking notice; of your surroundings, of your physical sensations, of your overall sense of being. No-one is going to become a Buddhist monk overnight and meditation is a lifelong practice. But in reality, we don’t have the time – or the remote mountain village – to spends hours practising yoga and meditative exercises.
Much like going to the gym or taking care of our physical selves, wellbeing and self-care techniques have to be incorporated into our daily schedule. Little and often can help to foster new positive habits. The early morning commute is the perfect opportunity to create a greater sense of calm; the knock-on effects really can help direct the rest of your day.
So how can you be mindful during the morning commute?
Switch off the gadgets.
This includes your music, checking emails and reading your e-reader. Put away your book. For 30 minutes, we are going to try and be in the moment, taking in our surroundings. In a world of 24/7 connectivity, we need to take some time out. A digital detox first thing in the morning might seem uncomfortable but just try it. Listen and observe the people and places you meet or pass.
As you walk towards the train station, bus stop or office, notice the buildings around you.
Look at the tiny ornate details at the top of windows, or the way shadows dance across walls made in the Victorian era. So often we fail to notice these little trinkets of beauty – from a wrought iron balcony to a trio of chimneys reminiscent of the scenes in Mary Poppins. There is so much history which surrounds us, but so often we remain in autopilot towards our destination.
Notice its effect on your body and where you feel it rise and fall. There is a simple practice I call the 4-7-8 exercise, which is great to try if you have at least a few minutes sitting down on the train or bus. Inhale for 4 seconds, hold it for 7 minutes and breathe out for 8 seconds. Repeating this exercise is great to calm your nervous system. And the best thing of all? It’s a self-care tool that you can carry everywhere you go, and it’s free! The breath is always there, and can act as the rock which grounds you.