Free Your Mind

I live in Austin, Texas, and once upon a time, it was a city where freeways were unencumbered by long traffic lines. Today, Austin ranks 4th in congested traffic in the U.S., worse than New York and Los Angeles — a city I left years ago because driving on the 405 Freeway made my head explode.

Freeways in sprawling urban cities can be ugly at best and nightmarish at 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 impacts us negatively and causes psychological damage. Even for the strongest minds, sitting in traffic surrounded by blaring horns, clouds of smog, and angry drivers can turn an ordinary trip to the grocery store into mental nausea.

Those who accept spiritual and mental inertia as status quo, anesthetized by the din of noise, often find comfort in queuing up in traffic to and from work.
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, take comfort in what 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.”
Instead of debating whether or not to illegally zoom down the shoulder lane at full speed, practice these five mental hacks to extract clarity from the stillness of morning traffic:

1. Slow Your Breathing. According to research performed by the Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, chronic pain sufferers, specifically fibromyalgia (FM) patients, reported less pain while breathing slowly.

2. Count Sheep. At each stop, try counting how many seconds you have been still. Focus on keeping your body still helps train your mind to select one thought at a time and eliminate mental clutter.

3. Stay Present. Take note of how often your thoughts shift toward the future. Living in the moment exercises your brain’s orbitofrontal and hippocampal regions, which helps regulate emotion and response control.

4. Find Your Mantra. Sometimes meditation involves chanting and repeatedly singing soothing phrases in English or Sanskrit to quiet the mind: Om Namah Shivaya (I honor the divine within myself) is popular, but personal mantras are also encouraged. The repetition puts the mind in a calm and peaceful state.

5. Practice Daily. Five minutes of meditation daily, whether in the car, shower, or in bed, is sufficient. The regular practice of meditation is also effective in reducing mental decline.

Remaining vibrant and active in life takes focused awareness, especially in stressful situations. Gather your wits, stay conscious, and cultivate situational awareness.

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