5 Ways to Meditate on the Subway (Or During Your Commute)

Written by Angelica Olstad

I’ve spent a lot of time on New York City's subway system both in a 9 to 5 job and as a freelancer. To put it simply: I’ve seen a lot.

I've sat next to a rat, had coffee spilled all over me in a packed car, and learned to ignore the man in the corner singing Beastie Boys songs at the top of his lungs.

Over the years, I've learned that one great way to get through the stress of a commute is by meditating on the subway.

Here are a some techniques that help me deal with my subway life: 

1. Play nice. 

Concentration and meditation are about maintaining focus despite your surroundings. We’ve all witnessed some argument or fight erupt in a packed car over something small and insignificant. Being rude and yelling only adds negative energy to an already-tense situation. Instead, focus on something positive and imagine your energy emanating to the other people on the train. When the subways are packed and someone has just elbowed you in the face for the 10th time, err on the side of kindness and grace. Politely ask the person to stop elbowing you.

2. Be a bookworm. 

I’ve done a lot of great reading about yoga, meditation, and poetry on the subway. This helps my emotional wellbeing, it expands my knowledge, and improves my overall happiness. Personally, I like to read the Yoga Sutras when I ride the subway. I like to read one sutra and contemplate its meaning until I reach my next stop.

3. Listen to happy sounds. 

I listen to ambient noise or peaceful music when I am on the subway. (I like an iPhone app called White Noise, which plays nature sounds.) For music, I’ll listen to Bach’s "Well Tempered Clavier," Beethoven’s string quartets, William Fitzsimmons, or Brian Eno. When I listen to ambient sounds, I meditate on being in nature. When I listen to music, I try to listen to the complexities and different ideas being played.

4. Take a seat. 

For longer commutes, MTA seats are an excellent way to focus on good posture. They are ergonomically designed for an optimal seating position. I like to plant my feet firmly into the floor and think of supporting my back with the contour of the seat. I find that this helps alleviate back pain and improves posture when I get off the train.

5. Just Be. 

Subways are a great opportunity to observe a wide variety of people. From Wall Street bankers, families, musicians, to homeless people, NYC’s subways are used by the full spectrum of the population. I like to just chill and practice appreciating the diversity of the human experience. People-watching is a great reminder that regardless of social class, race, or different backgrounds we are all in this world together going from one place to another.

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