As spring and summer pick up, so does my travel schedule. For everyone out there with spring breaks, wedding season, and summer vacation, this is a time when you might spend plenty of time on the road or in the sky. And even if you’re not traveling, chances are you spend a good amount of time commuting, whether it’s by foot, by car, by train, or by bicycle. I’m not gonna lie, commuting and traveling are stressful. I hate driving long distances, and I’m not a huge fan of flying (so naturally I have a job where I travel a lot). But I’ve found that I have started to look forward to time spent on a plane or in a car as times of rest and solitude.
I can hear you now: Kim, come on. Resting in a car? Solitude in an airport? You must be crazy.
I mean, we all know that I’m crazy, but aren’t we all? I’ve figured out how tense I get in cars and airplanes and I use that as a time to practice mindfulness. So here’s a little mindfulness exercise you can try the next time you’re on a long drive. You can even try this wherever you may be right now, especially if you’re sitting.
Turn off the radio, hang up that phone call, and focus on the road ahead. Notice the color of the sky. Notice any clouds in the sky. Notice how many other cars are around you, and the colors of those cars. Now bring your awareness into your car. Start with a body scan. Feel your right foot, which is probably on the gas. Can you relax your toes within your shoe as you press on the pedal? Move your awareness over to your left foot, and stretch your leg out into a comfortable position. Wiggle those left toes. Now bring your awareness to your ankles. Are they flexed? Do your feet feel jammed up toward the front of your car, or are you reaching? Relax your ankles and move your thoughts up to your calves. Are they flexed? Can you relax them? Can you relax all the way into your knees and let your knees bend as much or as little feels natural? Move your awareness up to your thighs. Are they tight? Can you release them and let them melt into the seat below you? Feel your sitbones on your seat. Are you clenching your seat? Relax the muscles of your seat and let your body feel supported by your car. Move your awareness to your tailbone and your pelvis. Try tucking your tailbone under, then rolling it back and out behind you. Tuck and roll your tailbone a few times until you can relax it into a position that feels most comfortable to you. Now move your thoughts to your lower back and your core. Engage your core a few times and really sit up straight, then settle back against the back of your seat to feel supported. Think about your ribs. Take a deep breath and feel your breath fill up your lungs, expanding your ribs and pushing down into your belly. Open your mouth and sigh your breath out, sending all the stale air out of your body. Roll your shoulders up, back, and down to open your chest. Are you leaning up to the wheel? Fully extend your arms and press yourself away from the wheel, then relax your elbows to find yourself with your shoulders stacked over your hips. Tilt your head from side to side to loosen up your neck. Relax the muscles in your face, and feel your sunglasses come closer to your eyes as you let go of any tension in your forehead, cheeks, and jaw. Feel your tongue resting in the base of your mouth, and let a smile spread across your lips.
How do you feel now? Do you feel aware of your body? Do you feel more relaxed? Are you breathing deeper? Good, me too!
You want to think through all five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. I find that thinking about what I see, hear, and feel while on the road help me relax, and help a long drive go by faster. I was in the car for eight hours on Friday afternoon but it flew by and actually felt relaxing for me, as I listened to podcasts, sang along with some music, and enjoyed the beautiful scenery of my drive. I hope this helps you become more aware of yourself and your surroundings on your next trip, and brings some relaxation to your day.