Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D.

Jonathan S. Kaplan Ph.D.

Urban Mindfulness

Got Seat? 8 Easy Steps to Meditate on the Subway

How to find some peace during your morning commute.

Posted Feb 20, 2009

Last week, I provided guidelines on how to meditate while standing on the subway (or bus, train, cable car, monorail, etc.). Click here for the post: Standing Subway Meditation. Sometimes though, we're fortunate enough to actually get a seat! In these situations, we can still meditate, and we have even greater flexibility in the practice. Because we're not preoccupied with maintaining our balance, we have a few more options in deciding where to rest our attention.

Let me reiterate some initial caveats. Meditating on the subway is probably not ideal, but it sure beats skipping a meditation session altogether. However, it is important to maintain some level of awareness for your safety. 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. Similarly, it might be risky or dangerous if you have any physical limitations or health issues.  So, if it seems unsafe or unwise to meditate while commuting, then please don't do it. 

If it seems safe, then here are the 8 steps to meditate while seated on the subway:

  1. Check-in with your environment and people around you to make sure that it's safe to practice now.
  2. Turn off your iPod or mp3 player. You might want to keep wearing the earphones in order to reduce the likelihood that someone will disturb you, however. Also, some players and phones have a timer function, which you can use to time your meditation in order to ensure that you do not miss your stop. I regularly use my iPhone for such a purpose.
  3. Sit with your feet flat on the floor and legs uncrossed.
  4. Have an erect, relaxed posture. You might want to sit on the edge of the seat to ensure that you remain alert, while keeping your spine long and naturally curved. Some seats will provide this kind of support naturally. Often, I advise people to "sit with dignity," and that simple instruction can prompt you to adjust your posture in the right way. 
  5. Keep your head level and parallel to the floor. With your eyes open, rest your gaze on the floor of the train, about 2 to 3 feet in front of you. Be careful to keep your head up and not drift downwards with your gaze. Keep your eyes open in order to be aware of any approaching danger (and your subway stop!). 
  6. Breathe naturally through your nose. If the subway is particularly malodorous, you can breathe through your mouth by slightly lowering your jaw. 
  7. Mentally, you have three options of where to rest your attention in order to make sure that you do not miss your subway stop. Choose one to try.  In my experience, the concentration-based option is the easiest place for beginners to start.
    1. Body scan: Turn your attention to the sensations in your body. Start from your feet and systematically, gradually draw your awareness up your body to your head. Notice the tension and sway in your body as you react to the movement of the train. Spend a several moments noticing your physical experience in each area before you move on. Once you reach your head, you can reverse direction and slowly scan your body back down.
    2. Breath focus: Turn your attention to your breathing. Simply notice the sensations in your chest and abdomen with each breath in and out. Do not change your breathing in any way. Simply notice it. Maintain your awareness of your breathing until the announcement of your subway stop.
    3. Concentration-based option: Determine the number of subway stops until your destination. After each station, repeat silently the number of subway stops remaining until you reach where you want to go. So, for example, if you're traveling four stops, then you'll count "4, 4, 4, 4..." from your originating station to the next one, then switch to "3, 3, 3, 3..." and so on. You arrive at your station when the trains stops after you have been repeating "1, 1,1, 1..." For meditations like this one, it is often helpful to time your repetition in sync with your breathing (i.e., repeat the number with each breathe in and out). You can also use words like "Relax" or "Peace" instead of counting, if you've set a countdown timer or trust that you won't miss your stop.
  8. Stop the meditation and leave the train once your reach your stop. After you exit the car and walk a safe distance away from the edge of the platform, take a moment to pause and notice your mindset in moving forward. Congratulate yourself on participating in the meditation, and purposefully determine your next course of action before switching back to automatic pilot. If you're going to run for your connecting train, do so with awareness!


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