Urban Mindfulness

Finding peace in the middle of it all.

Subway Meditation: No Cushion Required

Meditate while commuting?!  Give it a try!

Meditating on the subway is probably not ideal, but it sure beats playing Brick Breaker on your Blackberry, messing with your iPhone (or PSP), or skipping a meditation session altogether. It is safer (and easier) to meditate at home or as part of a meditation group, but sometimes we simply don't have the time. So, here is a simple way to meditate "on the go."  

It is very important to maintain some level of awareness for your safety, however. So, please do not attempt this meditation if it's crowded or if you notice someone around you who is drunk, acting erratically, or doing anything else that might seem threatening or unpredictable. You don't want to have your bag or wallet stolen or miss some kind of approaching danger. And, meditation-wise, you can always try again later. So, if it seems unsafe or unwise to meditate for you to meditate on the subway, then don't do it.

If it is safe, then here are the steps in meditating while standing. The meditation essentially is a version of a "body scan" in which you notice the sensations in your body relative to the movement of the train. In my next post, I'll provide guidelines on how to meditate when you're fortunate enough to have a seat.  

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  • Check-in with your environment and people around you to make sure that it's safe to practice now.
  • Turn off your iPod or mp3 player. You might want to continue wearing the earphones however, in order to reduce the likelihood that someone will disturb you, however.
  • Gather your belongings close to you in order to ensure that they will be secure during the meditation.
  • Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart. Try to position your feet to be at a 45° angle to the centerline of the train, if possible. This will help you maintain balance as the train moves and stops. If necessary, hold onto a bar or railing.
  • Roll your shoulders back and raise your chin up so that your head is level. Adopt a posture that embodies confidence and dignity.
  • Lower your gaze to be looking at a window or a nondescript area next to someone seated. You could also look at your hand or arm if you're holding onto part of the train. Do not look directly at another person. This is the city after all-you don't want to be starting something! Also, it is helpful to keep your eyes open in order to be sensitive to any possible approaching danger. 
  • Mentally, rest your attention on the physical feelings in your body in the moving train. Pay particular attention to the sensations in your feet and legs. You might notice the way in which your muscles tense and release in order to help you maintain balance as the subway train accelerates and slows down. Become aware of the shift in your body as the train lurches forward or starts to brake. Maintain your awareness on your physical sensations for the duration of your trip.
  • Whenever the train stops at a station, take a moment to check calmly and see if this is your stop. The stops, while disrupting your mindful awareness of your body, are like the sounds of a meditation bell, which invite you to refocus your attention.
  • Exit when you reach your destination.
  • Once you leave the train and move a safe distance away from the platform, take a moment to reflect on the activity and what you noticed. Proceed with your journey with mindful awareness and deliberate action.

Give this meditation a try and let me (and others) know what you think.  Please post suggestions and share your experience in order to help guide us in this endeavor together.

 

Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D., has been practicing, teaching, and writing about mindfulness for over a decade. He maintains a private practice in New York City.

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