Mindfulness behind the wheel: Buckle up & stay cool

It is a serene morning and you are buckled up for the daily commute to work.  May be you are on your way home on a Friday evening.

What if you encounter traffic congestion? Those who travel on Interstate 5 in California on a Friday evening know how it feels.

Bad weather conditions, road accidents, road work, and saturation are some of the reasons for traffic congestion. Whatever the cause may be, getting caught in traffic is not a pleasant experience for many of us. It induces stress and depression among drivers results in road rage.

Instead of becoming a slave of your defiled mind and take part in road rage, you can handle behind the wheel scenario with a different approach. This article might give you some tips on how to stay cool behind the wheel. It is one of the best times to practise mindfulness despite heavy traffic!

How can I relax in my car?

Accept the present moment

Acceptance makes you relaxed. Tell yourself that you are stuck in the traffic jam and may be late at your destination. If someone is expecting your arrival reach them out and let them know you are hit by the traffic.

Once you accept the reality and do your best to inform any party who might be affected by your delay, you have done your part.

Now it is time to relax. Traffic is something beyond your control and you have to wait patiently until it gets cleared.

Feel the touch of the wheel

Sit comfortably with an upright posture. Be aware of your body.

For example, feel the touch of your hands on the steering wheel. All you can feel is nothing but hardness. Hardness denotes the earth element.

Otherwise, pay attention on the sensation of your back. Regardless of how much comfortable your seat may be; the ultimate sensation you feel is hardness.

If you feel this, you are in the present moment, because you are actually aware of sensations right at the moment as it is.

Spread loving kindness to others on the road

We easily find fault with others. You assume some other driver is moving slowly and find fault with him to blame. At that moment, your thinking pattern creates stress and make the situation excruciating for you.

Instead of getting stressed and taking part in road rage, you can take a different approach in such instances. If you look around, you will realize everyone is trying to arrive in their destination as early as possible. Therefore, be patient and co-operative.

Regardless of any hooning around you, contemplate “may all drivers and passengers not get angry…may they reach their destination safely.”

This helps you cooling down and creating a feel of compassion toward others.

Pay attention on breath

Noticing your inhale and exhale works all the time. It eases the mind immediately and allows you to stay focused. Take a few deep breaths initially and then come to natural soft breath.

Sometimes, it is difficult to pay attention on the breath as it is a subtle meditation object. In such situations, pay attention on the rising and falling of your abdomen. Notice how your abdomen rises when you inhale and how it falls as you exhale. Follow any of the above techniques right for you.

Where do you look when driving a car?

If you are brand new to the mindfulness practice, you may find it difficult to focus on your breath or spread loving kindness to others in a critical situation like this. On such occasions, you can draw your attention on an outside object to avoid your mind from getting negative emotions.

Pay close attention on the vehicles around you. Do not let your mind to label the vehicle by taking notice on the color, or the model of it. Just knowing it is a vehicle is enough to stay focused.

The idea of this technique is to avoid the mind from going into any negativity such as ill-will, anger, animosity, hatred, restlessness etc. As a result of keeping a close attention on the vehicles around you, you will be on alert regarding any risky maneuverers of other drivers as well.

How can I calm my nerves while driving?

Play a meditation music track

If you are stuck in the traffic, try playing a meditation music track. This will calm you down and help suppressing any negative thoughts.

Use a free GPS navigation app:

Nowadays, everyone uses navigation apps not only to find direction, but also to know about traffic ahead, road closure, arrival time etc. Basic versions of most apps are free.

Check on free apps such as; Waze, Google maps, MapQuest. Pick the right one for you. This way, you can avoid traffic areas and set a departure time before you start driving.

What are the negative impacts of traffic congestion?

Opportunity Cost

Waiting in the traffic jam can create a sense of waste of time for many drivers because they might feel they are not doing anything productive during driving time.

Also long vehicle ques cause waste of fuel and it is not economically sound for a daily commuter. Therefore, driving time can cause a lot of frustration among commuters in terms of time and money.

Negative emotions

When one feels his time and money is wasted due to the traffic congestion, it can create negative emotions in the mind.

Frustration, anger, Stress, fatigue, and irritability are some of the negative thoughts triggered by road block. In the long run, negative feelings affect mental health of a daily commuter.

Road Rage

Road rage as defined by the AAA foundation for traffic safety as “any unsafe driving manoeuvre performed deliberately and with ill intention or disregard for safety.”  

According to Professor Leon James, PhD, a professor of psychology at university of Hawaii and co-author of Road Rage and Aggressive Driving, “with road rage, you’re basically driving under the influence of impaired emotions.” Therefore, you lose the ability to drive with a clear mind. Moreover, it can make the lives of other drivers at risk.

How to avoid reckless driving?

If you come across any angry behavior of another driver such as speeding, playing loud music etc., do not try to retaliate. Retaliation indicates response.

Instead, maintain a distance between two vehicles and follow road rules.

What if I am late to work?

No one would like to show up late at the work place and be placed under the microscope of supervisors. However, unpredictable things come up in life such as your child gets sick or your car does not start in the morning.

If anything happens like that, do not panic. Inform your supervisor or a colleague that you will be late at work. The most important thing is to drive safe to your work place.

Sit comfortably on your seat with an upright posture. Take a deep breath and relax. Let go of all calamities you confronted so far. Follow any of the above mentioned meditation techniques and ride safe.

What if I am late to doctor’s appointment?

A doctor’s appointment is very important and no one wants to miss it.

One time, I was a little late to my appointment because although I reached the hospital early, the parking lot was full. I had to wait patiently until someone leaves.

In case this happens to you, call the doctor’s office and kindly explain the situation. Most probably they will be kind enough to adjust your scheduled time.

What to do when an ambulance is approaching?

First, give right of way by pulling off to the curb. Then fulfil your heart with compassionate thoughts like “may the patient be healthy and recover soon.”

What are the benefits of driving with a meditative mode?

  • You will be more aware of the surroundings
  • You will have an uplifted mind throughout the driving
  • You will cultivate the mind to face unpleasant situations with ease
  • You have a fresh and relaxed mind when you arrive in the destination
  • Your vision becomes broad

Practice makes perfect

Practising mindfulness on the road needs some practice. Although it is easy to stay calm in your favorite meditation spot, it will not be easy when you are behind the wheel.

However, you can take one step at a time. Once a meditator mentioned with us that he considers everyone travels on the road as his loved ones. If your loved one is travelling on the road, you always attempt to prevent any unfortunate incidents and drive him home safely.

Likewise, we can spread love and kindness to everyone on the road. Similarly, the spiritual leader Dalai Lama has mentioned “be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” Regardless of your location, you can practise meditation and feel happy even behind the wheel.

Photo by Joey Kyber on Unsplash, Photo by why kei on Unsplash


Rathsara (Sara) is an attorney-at-law who holds a Diploma in Buddhist Studies in ITBMU. She has engaged in community service in Sri Lanka and the United States helping many individuals. She is interested in reading, writing, and researching areas related to mindfulness. Inspired by spiritually developed individuals around the globe, Rathsara is keen to learn and practice mind-developing techniques. In the meantime, she would like to share her experience and knowledge for the well-being of others.

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