The art of mindful driving

Recently, Jo did a one-hour yoga class followed by a long drive. And realised, behind the wheel, that her yoga had really helped her driving: she was calm, in control, and felt like she 'owned the road'. Soon after, on one of our favourite meditation websites - the wonderful Headspace - we came across this question about 'mindful' driving, and it really resonated. As their reader wrote, 'My question is: are there any quick tips on how to apply mindfulness while driving with extreme panic without getting into a car accident?' And here's how Headspace's founder, meditation and mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe, responded. (NB See their comment about not actually meditating while driving!)

'This is a really interesting question and one which I am quite sure many people will have thought about. It is also one we need to be really careful about, for obvious reasons. So, before I go any further, just to be clear: “Neither myself or Headspace recommend using any Headspace content or exercises whilst driving your car”. 

It sounds so obvious I know and, in many ways, may well feel like a boring legal disclaimer, but it’s not, it’s much more than that.

When we drive a car we need to be 100% present with what we are doing and not thinking about anything else, not even a mindfulness exercise. I’m pretty sure most people can think of times when they have gone several miles or more in the car and then suddenly realised they’ve been lost in thought. It almost feels as though we have just woken up. Funnily enough, that’s how we spend a lot of our life, we just tend to notice it a bit more when we are confronted with the potential dangers of driving a car under the influence of a wandering mind.

So this advice is more general, a few mindfulness tips which you can quite easily and naturally incorporate or integrate into your everyday driving:

1) Before you even start the engine, just take a minute or two to sit. Become aware of the breath, take a few deeper breaths if you like, and simply use the time to come to a place of rest where you are, aware of how you are feeling. This in itself can transform a daily commute.

2) As you are driving, simply do what you have always done (and which is consistent with your mindfulness training), as soon as you realise the mind has wandered off, bring it back to what you are doing - whether that’s seeing, hearing, feeling etc.

3) On quieter bits of road, you might like to notice how hard you are gripping the steering wheel. Sometimes this can give us some useful feedback as to what’s going on in the mind. As always, you don’t need to ‘do’ anything as such, but as soon as you notice, you may well find that the pressure changes in some way - either increasing or decreasing.

4) Always remember that as much as we may find others irritating on the roads, they may well feel similarly towards us - even if we believe our own driving and road etiquette exemplary. As long as we can remember that we are all sharing the same space and, hopefully, doing our best, that can make a big difference.

5) Finally, the car is what it is, the road conditions are as they are, and no amount of agitation or anxiety is going to slow the momentum of your clock on the dashboard. Once you have set off on your way, committed to driving with awareness and kindness to others, there is nothing more you can do. No amount of thinking will change that.'

PS If you are interested in mindfulness, do see Sarah's report here