My daughter’s school recently started a program called mindful movement,  a type of yoga. The goal is to help kids control their busy bodies and avoid the need for time-outs and the like. Mindful movement is also an excellent analogy for how I approach driving after buying a Prius. The more mindful I am, the better my fuel economy.

Mindfulness and Fuel Economy

The real-time fuel economy display on my Prius provides direct feedback on my driving. I quickly discovered that fuel economy improves when I minimize braking and use the car’s momentum as much as possible. Of course, you can’t always avoid braking. But, I learned to minimize braking by avoiding unnecessary acceleration. I do this by anticipating traffic. By being mindful.

Prius dashboard fuel economy display

You can’t be mindful when in a hurry. My fuel economy declines by at least 5 mpg when I am in a hurry. 

"Pulse and glide" Breathing

As I drove more, I noticed other correlations. My mileage is better when I accelerate slowly for several seconds, and then coast for several seconds, versus driving steadily at the same speed. It strikes me that this is analogous to breathing in and out.  Prius drivers who practice this hypermiling technique, called "pulse and glide", can give you the technical explanation for why it works, but I like to think  that the Prius is benefiting from its own mindful breathing.

Reducing the Stress of Driving

Practicing mindfulness while driving reduces my stress. I am in less of a hurry. Why accelerate upon exiting the freeway when I know, with near certainty, that in 100 yards I must stop at the next intersection? I coast instead and save the gas for later.

I focus on tracking my mileage and practicing mindful movement instead of letting my negative thoughts  run amok. I see the craziness around me, such as the driver tailgating up ahead, or the weaver who slashes five seconds off his commute by switching lanes 10 times in a quarter-mile. I see the behavior, and then let it go. I just breath in and breath out.

I even have become more mindful of my intention to drive. My fuel economy is better when I combine trips. Frequent short trips don’t allow the Prius to warm up. So I began to think ahead. I became mindful of my schedule.

2010 Toyota Prius

Being Aware of your Fuel Economy

Because I am very aware of what affects my fuel economy, I know instantly if something is wrong. I recently used a valet service at a hotel. The next morning when I picked up my car, the gas mileage had declined by 15 mpg, but the trip odometer had not changed. I knew instantly that the valet driver, likely unfamiliar with the workings of a Prius, had never turned off the car! It ran all night. Luckily, my Prius must have entered another mindful state, this one without movement. A hybrid hibernation. It knew to lower fuel usage, and protect the battery, so no harm was done.

Letting Go

I have considered giving the Prius to my daughter when she learns to drive, but I love this car so much that I may change my mind. But then again, if she can learn mindful movement now, maybe she will be ready. Then I would not mind letting go… of my Prius.