How can mindfulness and compassion help in learning to drive?

What is Mindfulness? 

The origins of Mindfulness teachings lie in Buddhist traditions, although Mindfulness itself is not  about religion. It does, however, have everything to do with becoming aware of how we think and  feel and cultivating harmony within ourselves and the world around us. 

Mindfulness is not about having an empty mind. Minds are supposed to have thoughts and it is  awareness of these patterns of thought which can bring about change.  

We use Mindfulness by paying attention with awareness in a particular way, on purpose, in the  present moment and nonjudgementally. (Jon Kabat-Zinn). Self Compassion and Compassion  techniques can then help us to accept the things we cannot change; the courage to change the things  we can; and the wisdom to know the difference. (Serenity Prayer). 

The Amygdala (lizard brain), the oldest part of the brain, is responsible for our fight, flight or freeze response. It is designed to react to danger (imagined or real). This response raises our heart rate,  blood pressure, and puts us on high alert ready for action.  

Trouble is, we no longer live on the plaines of the Serengeti, where we needed cortisol and  adrenaline to help us escape from sabre toothed tigers.  

Unfortunately, we are still having the same fight, flight, freeze response when we are triggered by  stress in our busy, hectic lives and we often see this happening on our roads. 

This fear response may can be recognised by many of us when teaching people to drive. There are  pupils who literally grip on to the wheel so hard, they seem oblivious to anything else around them  (freeze) and when they can’t fight or flee the situation (because they are behind the wheel of a car,  underneath a seat belt and closed door), they sometimes do something else…completely zone out or  melt down.  

This fear response caused by the Amygdala also affects memory and the rational part of the brain,  the pre-frontal cortex, which is responsible for cognition and conscious thought, so when under  stress, their brains can literally go off-line.  

The fear response is totally normal, albeit not particularly helpful, when what we are facing is  traffic rather than being eaten by a sabre toothed tiger. 

How Mindfulness can help in Driver Training. 

We are not required to be Mindfulness Teachers as well as Driving Instructors, but if we choose to  live and teach Mindfully, we can Integrate Mindfulness and Compassion into our Profession.  

This will have the ripple effect with our pupils becoming better, safer and calmer drivers with better ability to respond rather than simply react when faced with conflict or challenges. Ultimately we  want to make our roads safer which is inherently affected by the mental attitude of drivers.

Mindfulness and Compassion Practice can help all of us with: 

  • Listening skills. 
  • Generally feeling happier. 
  • Increase our ability to stay calm and remain centred. 
  • Develop our ‘felt sense’ and an awareness of our internal and external landscape. Understanding emotions (ourselves and others). 

Feeling less reactive. 

Develop a deeper sense of kindness and compassion for ourselves and others. Manage physical and psychological difficulties in a new way. 

Mindfulness Meditation Practice is rather like going to a gym for the brain. When we meditate, we  are literally growing new neural pathways that strengthen our ability to choose where to rest our  attention and how we respond to challenges. 

Mindfulness and Compassion is an antidote to stress and anxiety. 

I have been a ADI for 17 years and am a Grade A Instructor working in Gloucestershire. After  living with anxiety, and intense back and shoulder pain, I have benefited greatly from the  transformation effects of Mindfulness and Compassion Practices in my own life which have been  profound. 

I decided to train to teach Mindfulness with MindfulnessUK in both the CMR (Compassionate  Mindful Resilience Programme) and the IMCPP (Integrating Mindfulness and Compassion in  Professional Practice) and more recently MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction). This has  enabled me to integrate Mindfulness techniques into my driver training with great effect. For me  Mindfulness and Compassion has become part of my everyday life and I use Mindfulness tools to  assist new and experienced drivers overcome some of the hurdles they face when out on our roads.  Mindfulness can help with anxiety both during lessons and test day nerves, supporting the ability to  remain focused, as well as maintaining concentration and emotional intelligence.

Sandra Harper, Cotswold Mindfulness

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