Studies show that prayer/meditation have many health benefits, including reduction of stress and more focused performance in various tasks (By the way, I am lumping meditation and prayer together for the purposes of discussion here, defining both generically as “gathering one’s thoughts and calming the mind”). As a teacher, dealing with possibly hundreds of equally stressed students, grounding yourself is very very important.
I find that prayer and meditation on the way to work have a profound effect on my day. I have forty minute drive at the moment, as I look for a new house closer to work. One benefit of a long drive is that I have a chance to collect my thoughts for the day. There are a variety of ways to do this. Obviously, your faith will shape how you approach this, but I will share my approach.
I tend to use prayers from my faith tradition, Catholicism. I say the Our Father and Hail Mary, as well as focusing my personal spontaneous prayers from the Church Year. From a psychological vantage point, this has a calming and centering effect on my mind.
I also know the scientific benefits of mindfulness, a concept practiced primarily in the East, although Christians such as St. Teresa of Avila have discovered mindfulness without really mentioning it by name. Because of this I try to practice some on the way to work. Whether you are Buddhist or not is irrelevant; mindfulness is a practice backed up by modern science, and many of us use it not for religious reasons, but psychological ones.
Mindfulness is simply paying attention to the present moment non-judgmentally. This means simply taking in the moment by stopping any thoughts or judgement about the moment. Mindfulness is a type of meditation and is really simple to accomplish. The easiest way is to take some deep breaths and just be aware of the sensations of breathing. If another thought enters your head, let it pass and focus again on your breath. The point is to firmly plant yourself in the beauty of the present moment, as opposed to being worried about the future or paralyzed by the past.
Being mindful while driving is easy. I just take some deep breaths and enter a mindful state, and the drive suddenly comes alive. The worry of what “needs done” disappears, because I am in the moment, not in the future. This is why mindfulness meditation is so relaxing. Even after a few seconds, you will find your body relaxing.
Whatever you do, I suggest getting some sort of prayer or meditation routine on your way to work. As I mentioned above, even if you are not religious, you can easily practice a few moments of mindfulness to ground your mind and body for the day.