Yoga for the Road
BY DEBBY SIEGEL, MSA, RYT
PHOTOS OF YOGOGIRLS BY STEVEN DANNER at MINI of St. Louis
If you’re the average commuter, Harvard Health Watch tells us you spend just over 100 minutes sitting in a car every day. Add in time spent sitting for a job, and it becomes clear why issues arising from hunching and inactivity are plaguing us all. Lengthy commuters are more likely to have high blood pressure, an oversized waistline, and other health problems that increase their risk for chronic diseases.
Despite all this, we have some good news. When practiced regularly, yoga can lower blood pressure and improve your circulation naturally! So, while your life may require you to sit for long periods each day, you may want to spend a few more minutes in your car, not driving, but stretching out your spine, neck, shoulders and hips, and your breath.
The yoga poses YoGoGirls outline below should be performed in your car, but not while driving. Practice them while parked. Skip that last snooze and spend those extra 10 minutes breathing deeply while stretching out instead.
Focus on Your Breath
Just 10 minutes spent practicing the simple act of watching your breath move in and out of your body, will naturally slow your system down and aid your body in relaxing and healing. Begin seated upright, facing forward in your car’s seat, with it moved back as far as it will go. Plant with your feet on the floorboard, hip width apart. Sit up tall. Begin to slow your inhales and exhales and observe the sound of drawing air into your body deeply through your nose, and exhaling it out through your mouth. Elongate the breath. As your draw air in, feel your abdomen, chest, then throat expand and rise. As your expel air out, empty out your throat, collapse you ribs together, and finally draw your abdomen in (naval toward your spine). Continue this 3-part breathing, known as dirga pranayama, moving oxygen into your body, filling up bottom to top, and expressing out carbon dioxide, collapsing from top to bottom. Do this for 8-10 breaths and then begin adding in these stretching yoga poses:
People often hold tension in their necks and shoulders. For some, even thinking about driving can increase this tension response. To loosen up let’s practice some simple neck rolls, moving your head from side to side. Begin by sitting tall in your seat and lowering your chin toward your chest as you roll your shoulders back and down away from your ears. Now roll your head to your right, moving your right ear toward your right shoulder. To intensify the stretch, place your right fingertips above your left ear, and let the weight of your right hand gently hold your head here for a neck stretch. Hold this for 5-7 breaths. Repeat on both sides coming through the center stretch first.
Anterior Shoulder Stretch
Sitting for long periods, whether at your desk or in traffic – leads us to hunching posture and tight shoulders. If this just described you, try this anterior shoulder stretch. Begin sitting up straight with both your feet flat on the floorboard. Lean forward slightly and grab the seat behind you, extending your arms as you continue to lean forward. It is not important that your arms be high up on the seat, just that you are able to lean enough forward to extend them fully. In addition to your shoulders, you should feel a stretch in your chest. For more chest and upper arm opening reach your arms overhead, bend at your elbows and grab onto the seat’s headrest while pressing your chest forward. Hold both stretches for 5-7 breaths.
Modified Cow Face Arms (Gomukhasana)
For a deeper shoulder opener, try this stretch that also targets your upper arms and triceps. You may find more room for this one by removing your seat headrest, but be sure to replace it before driving. Sit up straight in your seat with your feet flat on the floor. Raise your right arm and bending at the elbow, drop your right hand behind you. Next reach your left hand overhead and bending your left arm 90 degrees grab onto your right elbow with your left hand. Pull your right elbow toward your midline, pressing down gently with your left hand. Be sure to remain with your spine straight and tall. Hold this opener for 5-7 breaths. Switch sides and repeat.
Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
Low back issues arise from long periods of sitting. Properly performed twists have the potential to help your low back feel great. According to Yoga Journal, twisting can activate the muscles around the lumbar spine and abdominal core, increasing stability as well as blood flow and oxygenation to the area. To twist in your car seat, start facing forward in your seat with your feet flat on the floor and hip distance apart. Twist your upper body so that you are looking out the back window, gripping your seat with both hands to assist in holding the pose and deepening the stretch. If this is not available in your body, do not do it. Begin with a smaller twist and maybe use the inside of your car door to help you stay twisted. Again, hold this stretch for 5-7 breaths, and repeat on both sides.
Seated Figure Four Pose (Supta Kapotasana)
This pose is especially good for opening the inner groin, thighs, and hips. It also works wonders for the sciatica. Start by facing forward in your seat with your feet flat on the floor hip distance apart. Keeping your left foot flexed, pick it up and rest your left ankle on your right thigh dropping your left knee out wide. You can stay here if you feel a deep enough stretch, or you can thread your left hand between your legs and grab onto the back of your right thigh and lift your right foot up onto your seat cushion to go a bit deeper. Hold onto your left hand with your right hand to pull both legs toward your chest. Hold for 5-7 breaths. Switch sides and repeat.
Seated Eagle Pose (Garudasana)
Eagle pose requires you to bring your body into a centerline and requires concentration to focus the mind on a single point – an excellent stress management tool. It can also help to free up tightness in the shoulders and hips, common spots where emotional tension tends to accumulate. From your’s car seat, feet hip-width apart on the floorboard. Bring your right arm over your left in front of you stacking your upper arms. With 90 degree bent elbows, wrap the lower arms around one another bringing the palms together. If that’s too strong, bring the back of the hands touch. If that is still too much, grab opposite shoulders and stack your elbows in front of you. Lift your left thigh up and over the right thigh. If your knees are okay, and you have the space, you can hook the toes behind the right calf. Engage the core and start to sink the hips down while maintaining length in the spine. Keep your arms at shoulder height. Look up at your hands or close your eyes. Breathe deeply and slowly. Stay in this pose for 5-7 breaths. Come out by slowly unwinding and repeat it on the other side.
For more stretches for your low back, hips and quads, these next few poses require you to be on the outside of your car.
Puppy Dog Pose
A cross between Child’s Pose and Downward-Facing Dog, Puppy Pose lengthens the spine and calms the mind. While holding onto your bumper or rear of the car, place your feet together, bend at your hips and press your puppy dog tail back as you bend your knees and drop your chest toward your thighs. Keep breathing and hold this for 5-7 breaths.
Modified Crescent Lunge
Counteract the effects of modern day Sitting Syndrome by lengthening your hip flexors in a crescent or high lunge. Holding onto the side of your car for balance, be sure to keep your chest upright and hips tucked forward and facing the car, while bending into your front leg until it’s at a 90 degree bend. Lift your back heel or keep it grounded, press the knee pit of the back leg up toward the sky and find this yummy opener for the extended leg’s hip flexor. Hold for a few breaths and switch sides.
Standing Thigh Stretch
Standing Thigh Stretch improves flexibility in your quadriceps and hip flexors. It also helps release tension in the lower back and hips. Soothe stiffness in your spine and legs, while improving your posture by standing on one foot and lifting the other into the same side hand. Holding onto the top of your foot, gently press your hips forward to stretch out cramped quads.
You already do things in your secret oasis known as your automobile that know one knows about, right? No witnesses. Just you, belting out your best “Like a Prayer”…Well, how about adding in this 10-20 minutes of stretching and breath control to add years to your life as well as life to those years?
Let us know how it changes your day, your health and your perspective by emailing us: firstname.lastname@example.org. We love knowing our work helps others live their best lives.
If you’d like to take a 60 minute vinyasa yoga class specifically designed with the effects of driving and sitting in mind, join YoGoGirls at MINI of St. Louis October 15. More details / register here.
This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider.
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