The idea came to me one day when I was sitting in my car for another long stretch driving myself from one gig to the next. I’d need to arrive at my show bright and ready to play songs and make a good impression. And as you probably know, sitting in a car and the stress of driving doesn’t offer the best situation for remaining bright and energized. I began to wonder why, just because I was driving, I wasn’t moving my body. So I found a way to keep at least my spine moving. I called it car yoga. And now that I’m writing books and sitting at my computer hour after hour, I’m finding those tricks to keep myself energized are coming in very handy.
“Sit Still” isn’t the same as sitting in stillness.
Remember being told to sit still? I do, over and over again being told to ‘Sit still.’ A recurring command in school, “Everyone Sit and Stay Still” which meant keep your eyes on the teacher and pay attention. Focus on this bossy person in your life who needs you to stop moving. Sit still and be productive. The two words ‘sit’ and ‘still’ are said together so often it’s as if they actually do go hand in hand, as if they were mutually dependent on one another. The idea of sitting the idea of staying still have become joined at the hip to the detriment of our entire body. We never hear someone say, ‘Sit and Move Around.’ It hardly sounds right, right? But that’s what we ought to be doing.
‘Sit wiggly.’ those are the words we need to think.
Sedentary lifestyle – sitting still all the time – is wrecking our bodies. Sit and wiggle – that’s what we need to remember to do. Sit moving – that’s a better instruction to give ourselves. I love writing but the worst thing about it is all the sitting. I get focused on an idea and lose awareness of my body. Hours later I look up only to find nothing has moved, I’m in the same position leaning over my computer. I, like you, have trained myself to think that in order to concentrate I need to sit still. But I’ve also learned to remember to get up and stretch or walk or dance. (Sometimes I get up and dance even when there’s no music playing.)
Move the spine up down and all around.
Car yoga came to me naturally. I’ve spent many years of my adult life learning about and teaching ways to develop body awareness. For many years I studied and taught a postural technique using the Alexander principle. I practiced yoga for decades and then became a yoga teacher. I’ve utilized many forms of movement and relaxation to improve my singing and performing. How to keep energy flowing while sitting was easy and obvious. The key elements of all the body work I’d learned over the years was based on the spine. When the spine is moving freely the whole body is free.
Yoga while driving? Sounds dangerous.
I didn’t talk about Car Yoga with people because it seemed like a dangerous idea to suggest to just anyone. But what I developed for myself while driving I’m not using while writing. And it’s keeping me healthy. It’s allowing me to pull off many a late night-er and still find the way to function fully engaged the next day. And I do yoga when sitting as a passenger in a car or train, plane, boat, bicycle (that was once in Amsterdam but still, I had to hold my guitar and yoga balance came in handy. Car yoga is barely perceptible unless someone is staring directly at you for a long time. In which case you are probably reminding them that they too need to do it too.
Always do Car Yoga with your eyes open-
-at least when you’re operating your vehicle. Otherwise you can do it with eyes open or shut. Eventually I began to explain to people who’d ask me how an eight hour drive didn’t seem to tire me. I’d say it was because of Car Yoga and get a lot of ‘say what?’ looks and the odd mumble of, “I’ve never heard of that.” And every now and then someone would ask for an explanation and I’d tell them that I’d taken a few poses that move the spine and send energy through my body while sitting. Beyond the commonly known techniques to stay awake while driving, such as wiggle your toes, lift your shoulders to your ears and take deep breaths, car yoga gets the spine moving.
I discovered the power of ‘car yoga’ on one particularly long drive home I remembered to do pranayama breathing and found my energy quickly restored. In my imagination I began to go through a series of yoga poses and noticed that I was moving, ever so slightly, in the direction of the poses I was imagining. Just thinking I was in forward fold, and back bend and side stretches helped me feel more open and alleviate the tension in my body. My spine felt open and fluid, I was breathing even more deeply.
Since that day I remember to do ‘car yoga’ whenever I drive long distance and whenever I snap out of the mesmerizing affect of sitting in front of my computer. I’m sharing the easiest to learn car yoga moves here, the ones that you can do in your car or any other place you’re sitting for a long time. The basic most important thing to remember is to get your spine moving.
PS I recommend practicing these exercises on a chair with a similar design to the seat in your car before you try them while driving.
Seated Cat – Cow
- To do cat – keep looking forward and draw your navel towards your spine. (If you’re driving hold your steering wheel with both hands.)
- Let your tailbone drop towards the ground. Feel your back open, your spine getting longer.
- To do cow – do the reverse. Move your hip bones forward and open the belly, reaching the navel away from the spine.
- Lift your chest and spread your sitting bones away from one another.
- Lift your chin and lengthen up through your head. Relax your face.
- Once you’re comfortable with the cat-cow back and forth movement, move in the rhythm of your breathing. By that I mean….
- Exhale into cat, bring your navel to your spine and drop your pelvis, and curve your back. Inhale into cow, bring your hips forward, open your chest, and lift up through your neck and head. Breathe in and out and move. Repeat several times. Smile.
Seated Side Stretch
- Drop the right ear to your right shoulder. Keep your eyes on the road and drop your chin to chest. Roll your left ear to the left shoulder. Go back and forth several times.
- Drop the left ear to left shoulder and lean slightly into your right hip, Lift the right shoulder and feel a stretch through your ride side. Come back up to centre.
- Drop the right ear to right shoulder. Lean into your left hip and lift the left shoulder. Feel the stretch in your left side. Bring your breath into the movement. Repeat from side to side at your own rhythm.
- You can increase the side by lifting your opposite hip slightly. Breathe. Smile. Relax your face.
Upper body circles
- Practice this one when you’re not driving first. Hold your torso as if it’s one unit. Make wide circles with your torso around your hips, first in one direction and then the other.
- Take your time, breathe, smile.
And here are a few more seated yoga ideas to help restore your energy.
- Stretch the face wide, open, especially the mouth and eyes, and hold.
- Relax your face.
- Stick the chin forward and hold. Pull the chin into the chest and hold. Relax
- Stick your tongue out. Pull your tongue in.
- Lift the tip of the tongue up to the nose,t then to the right and to the left and down. Repeat.
- Lift and drop the upper lip. Pull and let go of lower lip. Smile a big wide fake smile (not using your eyes.)
- Fill cheeks with air, hold,
- Purse your lips and blow “brrrrrrrr”.
Yogic Deep Breathing
- Breathe in and fill below navel, then move up through middle
- Fill up chest area last. Hold.
- Breathe out and empty your chest first,then the middle, then the lower belly.
- Feel how your breathing moves your spine.
Final note – Remember! sit and still do not go hand in hand. Sit and move, sit and wiggle, sit and move, those are much better ways to think of sitting. Also, I highly recommend adding lumbar support, a hard cushion or bolster at the small of your back to encourage your spine to remain upright and keep your natural curve.
Help in the form of demonstration: