Yoga on the Road
By Joe Hessenius
Being on the road and traveling will throw anyone out of whack. The body and the mind become exhausted and stressed. Oftentimes this occurs before we even reach our destination; however, there are a few things we can do to make our journey slightly easier.
Some of you may know that I recently left Humboldt to go to teach yoga at a retreat in Spain. Before I jumped on a plane, I drove cross country to Chicago to visit my family. I was behind the wheel for over 3,000 miles and while I did not drive straight through, stopping to visit friends along the way, the journey took quite a toll on my body. I did have some company part of the way, but I drove every last mile.
At each rest area and gas station, I did my best to bust into a Warrior 2 or do a Sun Salutation, collecting more and more awkward glances from people around me as I travelled further east. Granted, I found that these yoga breaks were not sufficient enough to counteract the amount of drive-time I had taken on. Even with a full yoga practice each day, which oftentimes I committed at least 30 minutes a day, it still did not suffice for all that sitting.
What I needed was beyond my yoga mat, which I feel is a key part to our yoga practice. It is not always about what yoga poses we do on the mat, but how we integrate our knowledge from our practice off the mat into everyday life. What I needed was to master the “art of the sit”.
To be perfectly clear, when driving, first comes first, drive your vehicle safely. Do not compromise the safety of yourself and others for the sake of a yoga pose or proper alignment. Pretty self explanatory, but I still want to add this disclaimer. With that being said, those of us that have taken extensive road trips, driving cross country leaves hours and hours on the open road outside of cities and traffic.
Let’s begin with one of the most integral parts of our yoga practice, the breath. Yes, if we do not breathe, we do not live; yet, conscious breathing truly brings us to life. Without creating a distraction from the road (I mean we are driving), take one conscious inhale and exhale. Start with one and then continue. One conscious breath may be all we need to keep our cool on the road. Driving is stressful and we need to use any tools possible to make the experience as easy and calm as possible. There are many, many different types of pranayama we can use, so do not limit yourself. Again, just begin with one conscious breath.
Coming to the physical body, I began with my posture. Luckily, I have cruise control, so I was able to keep my body even much more than if I was driving stick or without cruise control. When seated in my van, I was at a 75 degree angle give or take, which is quite the opposite than in my yoga practice. When I practice I sit on a block or bolster to tilt my pelvis forward, like a bowl spilling over. So if I do tilt my pelvis seated in yoga, why not incorporate this into my drive? I used a pillow and tucked it into my seat, seating me at about a 90 to 110 degree angle, tilting my pelvis as needed.
I continued to work my way up the body to my chest and shoulders. I continuously reminded myself to relax my shoulders and roll them back, engaging the deltoids, bringing my shoulder blades together to open my chest. This was huge. The tension that usually will build in one’s neck from driving and/or sitting at a desk basically became nonexistent.
Another big contribution to the relief in my neck came from constantly bringing my head back over my shoulders, slightly tucking my chin. The chin tuck encouraged the top of my head to reach towards the sky, lengthening the spine. The action of bringing my head back over my shoulders is something I have been working on over the past year or 2 while I am sitting, walking, and practicing yoga. As we are growing up, we (tall people) develop habits to keep us at the same height as our peers, one of them being to instinctually jut the head forward without even realizing it.
The last bit I incorporated into the “art of the sit” was my legs and feet. I kept my legs even, with my knees at a 90 degree angle and then I would put anywhere between 30 – 60% engagement into my feet, pressing them into the floor.
A major reason I come onto my yoga mat is to discover what I can take take off the mat into everyday life. From sitting to walking, relaxing to working; yoga extends far beyond the mat and our asana. I believe when we develop the ability to integrate the teachings from our yoga practice into our everyday lives that then we begin to truly master our practice.