I live in Austin, Texas, and at once upon a time it was a city where freeways were unencumbered by long lines of traffic. According to Politifact Texas, today Austin actually ranks 4th in congested traffic in the U.S., worse than New York and even worse than Los Angeles — a city a left a year ago because driving on the 405 Freeway made my head explode.
Freeways in sprawling urban cities can be ugly at best and nightmarish at its worse. Going and coming home from work cause stress, anger, wasted time, missed deadlines and meetings and family engagements. The toll on our emotions is cumulative and sometimes causes psychological.
Stop and go traffic, busy intersections, and arduous commutes are destructive. Even for the strongest of minds, sitting in traffic surrounded by blaring horns, clouds of smog and angry drivers can turn an ordinary trip to the grocery store into a Jean-Luc Godard-esque state of mental nausea. Sadly, if you live in a major city like I do, the aforementioned is quite unavoidable.
Despite my work with UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center as a yoga and meditation instructor, and presenting numerous keynotes on mindfulness techniques, the physicality of gridlock can still throw me off balance.
Those who accept spiritual and mental inertia as status quo, anesthetized by the din of noise, often find comfort in queuing to and from work. Now, if your daily routine of sitting in the ubiquitous parking lots that we call freeways twice a day is more of a psychic nuisance than a Zen experience,
William Butler Yeats once said, “We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us to see their own images and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even a fiercer life because of our silence.”
So, instead of debating whether or not to illegally zoom down the shoulder lane at full-speed for the next few miles, practice these 5 mental hacks to extract clarity from the stillness of morning traffic.
1. Slow your breathing. Chronic pain sufferers, specifically fibromyalgia (FM) patients, reported less pain while breathing slowly, according to research performed by the Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Josephs Hospital and Medical Center.
2. Count sheep. At each stop, try counting how many seconds you have been still. Focusing on being physically still helps train your mind to focus on one thought at a time.
3. Stay present. Take note of how often your thoughts shift toward the future. Living in the present exercises the orbitofrontal and hippocampal regions of your brain, which helps regulate emotion and response control.
4. Find your mantra. Sometimes meditation involves chanting; that is, singing soothing phrases in English or Sanskrit over and over again to quiet the mind: Om Namah Shivaya (I honor the divine within myself) is popular, but personal mantras are also encouraged. It’s the repetition puts the mind in a quiet and peaceful state.
5. Practice daily. 5 minutes of meditation a day, whether in the car, in the shower, or while in bed is all it takes. The regular practice of meditation has been linked with neuroprotective effects that can reduce the cognitive decline associated with normal aging.
Remaining vibrant and active in life takes focused awareness, especially in stressful situations. Gather your wits, stay conscious, and cultivate situational awareness.
Joan Moran is a keynote speaker, commanding the stage with her delightful humor, raw energy, and wealth of life experiences. She is an expert on wellness and is passionate about addressing the problems of mental inertia. A yoga instructor and an Argentine tango dancer, Joan is the author of 60, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer. Her new book, I’m The Boss of Me! Stay Sexy, Strong & Smart at Any Age, is now on Amazon.
Visit her website: www.joanfrancesmoran.com
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