If life is about the journey, not the destination—as the practice of mindfulness reminds us—then the long hours you spend in the car are no exception.
Sure, it may seem like some kind of purgatory for the millions of office workers who will be reluctantly returning to their commutes in 2022. But even when you’re behind the wheel, that time can be reclaimed as yours. At an agonizingly long red light, any driver can practice mindful breathing or focus on the present moment.
An electric commute is even better. In an EV, it’s a smooth ride thanks to near-silent electric motors and batteries, and charging from public outlets or at home is time to recalibrate and recharge in more ways than one.
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While driving, mindfulness experts seem to primarily encourage meditation on the go, especially to combat road noise and tense moments in traffic. The Calm app has a driver and passenger commute playlist, while Insight Timer has a 15-minute driver session that begins with breathing exercises while your hands are on the wheel. Headspace doesn’t recommend running a full session through the app, but does offer a car-based twist that begins before you switch to the ride.
Psychologist Seth J. Gillihan wrote psychology today about using his drive time as a place to practice acceptance, a form of gratitude and mindfulness.
“I’ve found acceptance to be extremely helpful when driving… We often add so much stress to our drive by fighting things we can’t change. For example, countless times I’ve silently (or loudly) cursed a traffic light for turning red, or another car for getting in my way. When we consciously let go of the need for everything to work exactly the way we want it to, much of the stress and anger we experience can dissolve.”
Mindfulness expert Jim Posner is a big proponent of meditating in the car, and not just when it’s parked. In a post by Thrive Global Medium he writes: “There is a misconception about meditation. You don’t have to sit on a cushion on the floor with your eyes closed in a full lotus position to practice mindfulness. You can do it while you are: drive, walk, eat, shower, wait for the elevator, be intimate.”
Perhaps more of your passengers are practicing mindfulness than you think.
My Mashable colleague Chris Taylor uses the Mindfulness app on his Apple Watch while behind the wheel. With haptic feedback, the watch guides him to breathe for up to five minutes. He said that while he’s concentrating on breathing, he’s neither in the zone nor in a trance — instead, he’s mindful of the task at hand (breathing and driving) and can’t get as distracted as he can when listening to music or a podcast.
Automakers step in with mindfulness
Similar to Apple’s haptic feedback, Mercedes-Benz recently partnered with personalized audio company Endel to create a relaxed driving experience through sound. Endel CEO Oleg Stavitsky said in an email: “A car is one of the few environments where you need to be both focused and relaxed, and often switch between the two states.” to keep drivers calm, alert and responsive while also taking into account their driving behaviors such as speeding or heavy braking.
While many cars add features to induce calm and relaxation with soothing sounds, glowing lights, massage seats and even pleasant scents, any electric vehicle is almost always an ideal meditation vehicle: while parked and plugged in, you have time to meditate and practice gratitude and Mindfulness, while the quiet hum of a car without an engine, also makes driving time an opportunity to focus on your breathing.
Almost any electric vehicle can become a meditation pod when charged at public stations or even parked in your driveway and plugged into a charger. Unlike the gas station stress that comes with internal combustion engine vehicles, “fueling up” your electric car can be a time to relax.
Tesla has garnered attention for its games, fart mode, and in-car “caraoke,” but Tesla’s infotainment center also serves as a portal for calm, focus, and attention. Connect to your music account and plug in any playlist or app like Headspace and Calm or play Spotify’s Daily Wellness collection. It’s easy to do without distractions, especially in the spartan front seats of the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y.
Dustin Krause, director of electric mobility at Volkswagen, said in a phone call that electric vehicles are a “peaceful place”. He described each EV as quiet and smooth, citing VW’s first electric SUV, the ID.4, for its front massage seats, panoramic glass roof, and driver assistance and voice control. To set a mood, the ID.4 also lets you adjust the ambient lighting to create a custom, soothing space. The lighting takes advantage of the car’s open, spacious floor plan because the battery lies flat on the floor of the car.
Krause said loading time was “time for yourself or to connect with others.” Although he has a plug at home, he often goes to a nearby Electrify America station, where he takes time out for face-to-face phone conversations while charging. “I’m meeting my mother,” he said.
Other EVs lean on the built-in “me time” that comes with charging. Ford F-150 Lightning has seats that recline almost 180 degrees. The new Hyundai Ioniq 5 has an option for reclining rear seats, while Lucid Air offers luxurious executive rear seats that practically feel like a bed.
The future of (safe) mindfulness on the road
Soon we will be looking at the next level of driving: autonomous vehicles. When self-driving cars take drivers off the road and refocus their attention, the car compartment becomes a place to play, work, relax, or even sleep. Those full-blown headspace sessions, which the app’s founder Andy Puddicombe discouraged from driving, would be fair game in a self-driving vehicle.
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But we’re not there yet. Until then, there is always public transport. In the right conditions, you can steal a few minutes for yourself and not have to worry about the driving, traffic, cyclists in your blind spot, or anything other than being in that bus seat and being present in the moment.