Getting to School
Being located in the heart of the city has allowed the Singapore Management University (SMU) community to reach its compound easily. This ease, however, has also resulted in a larger volume of people, translating into a greater buzz when travelling in and out of university. Despite this reality, commute time to and fro university is a non-negotiable for many of us students (Olsson, 2013) and it has been found that long commutes, combined with congestion, increases stress levels (Singer et al., 1978; Wener et al., 2003).
Moreover, as millennials, our commute time is often spent switching to an autopilot mode — plugging in headphones, scrolling through Instagram, or taking a quick nap. This is why mindfulness meditation during commute presents itself as a unique opportunity and platform for us to practice informal mindfulness.
Modes of Transport
In this post, we intend to discuss plausible mindful meditation practices one can do during the three main modes of transport university students use to get to school: walking, public transport/ride-hailing, and cycling/personal mobility devices (PMDs). As many of us still do not own cars, we have omitted the practices for those that drive. That said, recommended practices for drivers can easily be adapted from those of cyclists/PMDs.
Additionally, we also recognise that most of us would use a combination of two or more modes of transport to get to university. In these instances, we recommend that students treat the following recommendations only as guidelines, and adapt them based on individual needs.
Singaporeans are among the fastest walkers in the world (Singapore: World’s Fastest Walkers, 2007). Walking increases productivity, improves health and boosts creativity (APA, 2014; Audrey et al., 2015).
Comparably, walking meditation also offers many benefits; it connects us more deeply to the environment in the present moment, strengthens our concentration and helps slow us down so that we are more aware of our surroundings (Brady, 2015). Practicing mindful walking allows us to remember the Earth we live in, how it sustains us and why we should be thankful for it (Mindworks, 2019). Additionally, mindfulness master Thich Nhat Hanh said that “Walking meditation is like eating. With each step, we nourish our body and our spirit” (Hanh, 2005).
Keeping this in mind, our suggestion for informal walking meditation practice begins at Dhoby Ghaut, Bras Basah or City Hall MRT station, whereby students can practice 5-10 minutes of walking meditation whilst walking to SMU or going home. When practicing walking meditation, it is important to keep in mind these steps:
- Leave home early enough to leave ample time for walking meditation
- Walk at a natural pace
- Pay attention to the sights and smells in your surrounding
o Focus on colours, objects, buildings and sceneries
- Pay attention to physical sensations
o Foot touching the ground
o Body movements
- Smile while walking
When walking, be fully aware of the number of steps taken with each breath. We tried taking 2 steps when breathing in, and 2 steps when breathing out, gradually creating a cycle. Eventually, the in-breath and out-breath convened in length.
Initially, it was extremely tough to focus while walking mindfully because our minds kept wandering to our destination. Oftentimes, we would also get distracted by our surroundings and fail to bring our awareness back to the breath. As a naturally fast walker, Yao Guang felt very restricted walking calmly and slowly. However, on days where walking meditation was practiced before class, we were able to focus better during sessions. Walking meditation also directed us toward being more appreciative of our surrounding environment, nudging us to not take people or things for granted.
Public Transportation / Taxis
Most Singaporeans use public transport or private-hires as their main mode of transport. In Singapore, the reported average travelling time is 84 minutes, with more than 85% spending more than 2 hours on public transportation every day (Chan & Amarnani, 2018). Irritability and hostility are some of the negative moods that commuters experience due to long travelling periods and congestion during peak hours (Javadian, 2014). Though the commute process for those who choose to travel by private hire would be less intimidating compared to those on public transport, the time spent can still be used more productively so that the user is able to arrive at their destination alert and aware.
Besides regular breathing exercises, more specific to public transportation is the practice of mindful interaction. This can be as simple as recognising fellow commuters or bus conductors who would most likely be familiar faces should one have a regular commute schedule. The idea of mindful interaction is simply to acknowledge those commuting with you and recognising that everyone is on a unique journey.
Next, practicing present moment consciousness – a way of looking at the world with a sense of interest, curiosity and awareness. This can take the form of noticing the flowers, trees and buildings that one passes by.
It was initially difficult for us to block out the various sounds and not get distracted. However, we realised that we needed to learn how to accept, rather than ignore, the sounds. This allowed us to bring our focus back to the present moment more easily by consciously choosing to concentrate on our breathing instead of focusing our energies on ignoring the distractions.
Bicycles / Personalised Mobility Devices (PMDs)
Cyclists/PMD-users have a special type of commute. Practicing mindfulness is therefore very different (and abundantly important) for them, considering the individual himself is taking the wheel, because it allows room for little mistake. One truly has to be more mindful when they are responsible for their own transport, as any form of distraction could result in fatal injury.
Therefore, the practices recommended for mindful commuting for cyclists/PMD-users are for the following purposes:
1) To assist individuals in being more focused and concentrate better,
2) To experience more clarity in thinking and decision-making, and
3) To have a level-head and be in a state of balance whereby one is capable of “going with the flow” when a specific situation cannot be changed in the moment (Gonzalez, 2014).
For bicycle/PMD users, we recommend that:
- Upon mounting your vehicle, breathe deeply for one minute. The complete exchange of oxygen for carbon dioxide will improve brain function, and is additionally an effective way to reduce stress and relax (Cunningham, 2018).
- Be entirely present for at least 10 minutes. Focus on your breathing as you make your way to your destination. Notice any tensions you might be feeling in your body (Berger, 2011; Gonzalez, 2014).
- Become aware of the traffic around you. Notice your attitudes. When people speed by you, wish them well. Repeat to yourself, “May you be well. May you be happy” (Walton, 2019).
- Utilize red lights as a gentle reminder to bring your attention back to the present. Reconnect your possibly wandering mind to your breathing (Bodhipaksa, 2007).
*Switch off the radio and silent your phone - no notification or call is worth risking your life for (Anaheim Lighthouse, 2018).
Being mindful while cycling is something we acknowledge does not come second-nature to us. But having that headspace of being present, of wishing others well, and being able to stop and focus on what is going on around us allowed us the ability to really clear our minds, while at the same time not being ignorant. It increased productivity in class because our energy had not been completely spent thinking about other non-conducive things.
Overall, through these mindfulness practices, we were able to individually train ourselves to live in the present moment and avoid mental overload stemming from subconscious thinking. Furthermore, the beauty of practicing informal mindfulness on our commute was that we were finally able to stop treating commute-time as an in-between moment, but rather fully embrace it as an important part in our daily living, so we would definitely recommend it to others.
By Alefiyah Joeb, Chen Yaoguang, Ellysya Lee Wei Zhen, Manfred Lim, Soh Hui Ru Phedra, and Teo Yu En Jocelyn
Anaheim Lighthouse. (2018, March 23). Why Silence Is So Important For Meditation. Retrieved October 17, 2019, from Anaheim Lighthouse: https://anaheimlighthouse.com/blog/why-silence-is-so-important-for-meditation/
APA. (2014, April 24). Taking a walk may lead to more creativity than sitting, study finds. Retrieved October 16, 2019, from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-04/apa-taw042414.php.
Audrey, S., Cooper, A. R., Hollingworth, W., Metcalfe, C., Procter, S., Davis, A., ... & Rodgers, S. E. (2015). Study protocol: the effectiveness and cost effectiveness of an employer-led intervention to increase walking during the daily commute: the Travel to Work randomised controlled trial. BMC public health, 15(1), 154.
Berger, K. (2011). Zen Driving: Be a Buddha Behind the Wheel of Your Automobile . Random House Publishing Group.
Bodhipaksa. (2007, February 17). 10 tips for mindful driving. Retrieved October 17, 2019, from Wildmind Meditation: 10 tips for mindful driving
Brady, A. (2015). 9 Reasons to Try Mindful Walking. Retrieved from https://chopra.com/articles/9-reasons-to-try-mindful-walking
Chan, C., & Amarnani, R. (2018, September 23). Commentary: Of course commuting shouldn't count as work hours. Retrieved from https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/commentary/working-while-commuting-on-the-way-to-work-life-balance-10732568.
Cunningham, S. (2018, September 19). Understanding Breathing and The Importance of Taking A Deep Breath. Retrieved October 17, 2019, from UCHealth: https://www.uchealth.org/today/understanding-breathing-and-the-importance-of-taking-a-deep-breath/
Gonzalez, M. (2014, November 13). Your Car Commute Is a Chance to Practice Mindfulness. Retrieved October 17 2019, from Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2014/11/your-car-commute-is-a-chance-to-practice-mindfulness
Hanh, T. N. (2005). Happiness : Essential mindfulness practices. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.libproxy.smu.edu
Javadian, R. (2014). The journey to work: exploring commuter mood and stress among cyclists, drivers, and public transport users. Retrived from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/9af9/221ab29119f168707ece58d5af064f0fcb2b.pdf
Walton, A. G. (2019, March 29). Like Loving-Kindness Meditation, Wishing Others Well Boosts Happiness. Retrieved October 17, 2019, from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2019/03/29/like-lovingkindness-meditation-wishing-others-well-boosts-happiness/#6c7c12ca7a6f