I have a long commute.
Even when the traffic is light and I’m able to zip straight to work, it’s long. Like north of one hour long. Like 60 minutes + change long. Like the meme that says “You are the traffic.”
Rather than consider this lost or empty time, or even a stint of giving up my power and allowing traffic to define my mood, I’ve come up with strategies to use my drive to connect and integrate my life. Nope, I’m not one of the crazies on my phone texting or Facebooking. Often, I’ll listen to a good book or do yoga. Yup, yoga.
The yoga I do is simple—from top to bottom (nose to toes). Take as many breaths as you need in each pose, or until the light turns green. Car-ma, take me away:
There’s something about driving that brings out the competitor in me. To go faster, to be first. My adrenaline shoots up and before you know it, I’m getting aggravated with slower cars and looking for the lane that’s traveling along quickly and smoothly which always seems to be anywhere I’m not. Aren’t we all? Rather than get caught up in the faux “fight or flight” response that has taken over, I restore balance and calm with deep yogic breaths (ujjayi pranayama), which can be done anytime, anywhere (yes, even on the toll way), and allow them to settle my jittery nervous system. The deep breathing brings my awareness to how I’m feeling and is immediately relaxing.
Do this: Close your mouth. Inhale through your nose, filling up your belly from the bottom, and then strongly exhale the breath through the nose. Feel how the steady rhythm of these breaths soothe your mind and body. Make deep breathing your go-to tool as traffic ebbs and flows. If you’re really wound up, start to lengthen the exhale; this will induce a relaxation response in your body.
2. Keep Good Posture
How many drivers do you pass who are slumped over their steering wheel, chest concave, or even better, one hand coolly perched on the top of the steering wheel, body leaning to one side? Sitting in a car, some drivers have their car seat tilted way far back, causing the belly to hang, and with one foot on the pedal and the other just hanging there, your body can quickly get out of whack.
Connect with your core: Good posture will keep you engaged and alert. Plus, it conveys inner strength and centeredness. If you’re feeling tight and your mind is fuzzy, sit up straight, breathe deeply, roll your shoulder blades back and down.
From the Nose to the Toes:
3. Lion Pose
After a day of staring at the computer screen, concentrating on the road can set you into a trance. Take a big yawn and then open your mouth widely, circle your eyes clockwise and counter-clockwise, and blink.
4. Neck Stretch
With good posture, sit up tall. Tilt your head side to side slowly, with the left ear going to left shoulder, and then the right ear to the right shoulder. Take several breaths in and out, feeling the stretch on the left side of your neck.
To stretch more deeply, use your hand to press against the side of your face. Reach your right arm over and place it on the left side of your head to gently pull your neck away from your shoulders. While you’re doing this, you can hold the steering wheel with your left hand to draw your left shoulder away from your neck.
Visualize your neck lengthening and the muscles along your vertebrae relaxing. Hold the pose for several breaths. Slowly lift the head and switch sides to repeat the sequence.
5. Shoulder Rolls & Shrugs
Shoulder rolls will feel really good on a tired back, especially if you’ve been sitting in pretty much the same position for long time. Roll your shoulders forward then back. Alternate right then left. Add a few shoulder shrugs for good measure.
6. Eagle arms
When you’re at a standstill or a stoplight, sit with your feet hip-distance apart. Start with your right arm straight out in front of you, palm up and then swing your left arm on top of it, palm up. Clasp your hands and bend your elbows, feeling a nice stretch spread across your upper back. Press your elbows away from your body to increase the stretch. Don’t forget to do the other side.
7. Heart opener
Again, this is one for a traffic jam or stoplight and counteracts the driving slump. With your feet hip distance apart, reach your hands behind the car seat, clasping onto the car seat. Looking straight ahead, walk your clasped hands as high as you can behind you, pulling your shoulder blades together.
8. Unclench the Steering Wheel
If you’re holding the steering wheel tighter than you think, release it. For me, when my thumbs went numb I realized I might be stressed. Just a little… Jazz hands and rolling the wrists will help.
9. Cat Cow stretch while seated
Holding onto the steering wheel, arch the back then press it back completely onto the seat for several breaths. Meow. Moo. Repeat. If a driver looks at you funny just know you’re following your bliss, and send them your positive energy.
10. Check Your Blind Spot
Whenever you’re switching lanes and checking your blind spot is a great opportunity to get a twist in (provided you’re OK to do twists). Rather than taking too much advantage of your rear view mirrors, really look completely into the lane you’re moving into. Yes, I feel like a mime when I do this move, over exaggerating the looking over my shoulder and engaging my center. Twists wring out your internal organs and are good for getting rid of the crabbies.
While at a stop (put the car in park) place both feet on the car floor and activate the legs by pressing through your heels and squeezing up through the legs, activating and feeling energy flow in spirals up the thighs to the glutes. Meanwhile, your back is tall and breaths are deep.
12. Mula Bandha
Do your Kegels! These are great for when you drink coffee on your commute (guilty) and find that you need to use the restroom and you still have many minutes to your destination. The contraction you’re feeling is your Mula Bandha (root lock).
By engaging the root lock, your energy flows up into your body, rather than dissipating out of you. You’ll feel lifted and lighter. Yogis say that this lightness actually causes a sense of floating, or lightness with your body and it can help relieve fatigue. From a Western perspective, the Mula Bandha keeps the pelvic and genitals toned, and is said to help with constipation and depression.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: zouny on Flickr