Station to Station Meditation

BY  |  Thursday, Sep 09, 2010 8:56am  |  COMMENTS (0)

Commuting from New Jersey to New York City is stressful, no matter how you make the trip from station to station. And when you add in factors like the DeCamp bus strike or habitually late trains, your stress levels can go off the charts on a daily basis. It’s not good for your head, and it’s not good for your body.

Luckily, there’s a way to beat stress even when you’re stuck in your seat on a train that’s stuck in the Hudson River tunnel: meditation. I first learned to meditate more than a decade ago, practicing with a Buddhist monk who offered weekly lessons. This summer those lessons came in handy, as I often used the focused breathing techniques to slow my mind and pulse rate while I sat on delayed trains.

It’s something more of us might want to consider. “Commuting on public transportation is a fantastic opportunity to have a regular meditation time five days a week,” says Susan Morton, founder of the Yoga and Meditation Center of Montclair. In the meditation courses she teachers, Morton tells people to aim for 2 sessions per day of about 25 minutes each…which makes a daily commute an opportunity to fit meditation practice into a busy NJ life.

“Getting stuck on the train is one of these challenges when, as a meditator, you want to be present to what is arising,” says Morton, who says that meditating is not a way to ignore or avoid what’s going on in a stressful commute, but to really pay attention to it. She explains that one of the central acts of meditation is engaging in mindfulness. “When your train or bus get stuck, the first thing that arises is that the mind makes judgments and you have frustrations,” she says. “You can take the opportunity to observe how stressed out you become through the stories your mind tells you about what’s happening.”

She recommends a combination of mental and physical mindfulness: In addition to observing how the commute is affecting your mind, you can begin to breathe more deeply and slowly. “One of the things that happens when you’re stressed out is that the breath becomes shallow, and that makes us feel more anxious,” says Morton. “By deepening the breath, the nervous system calms down and you become more centered. Each exhalation becomes a kind of deeper relief, and the muscles become more and more relaxed each time you exhale. You don’t need to be in control of the breath, and you become more the observer of the breath, just as you become an observer of the stories the mind tells about the circumstances. Once you’re in the seat of the observer, the circumstances have far less power to disturb you.”

Slow, deep breathing and mindful attention to stress reactions are just some basic steps that daily commuters can use to make the trip to and from work less stressful; there is a wide array of meditation techniques that can help calm the mind, relax the body, and help you de-stress on the way to your destination.

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