Yogis Feel Road Rage, Too
But that doesn't mean the practice won't help you behind the wheel.
I live in a place—Austin, Texas—where not driving is almost completely impossible, unless you are a rich jerk living downtown or have three spare hours to travel four miles by bus to the grocery store. Even the movie Cars was more hospitable to people than Austin is. So, in order to survive the endless Death Racethat is my life, I often turn to one of my favorite things: Yoga.
I’ve been practicing and studying yoga for a dozen years. It’s the guiding principle of my life, outside and inside the car. Without my yoga, I’d completely lack mental stability on the road. I’d honk at every single car that cuts me off on the highway, instead of every other car, like I do now. My back and neck would be in constant total agony instead of only partial, intermittent agony. My writing and conversation wouldn’t have the calm, Zen-like rhythms for which they’re known.
In a world where nearly everyone has to drive, we all could benefit from a little yoga. But don’t take my words for it. Let’s listen to the experts. I’ve convened a panel of some of my favorite yoga teachers who I know drive a lot. They are: Derek Beres, of Los Angeles, who is also a music producer; North Carolina’sSage Hamilton Rountree, author of several books including Everyday Yoga; and Felicia Marie Tomasko,editor of LA Yoga magazine. I prepared a questionnaire for them about yoga and cars, and they all answered, because yoga people are nice.
Driving is hard on the body. What parts of the anatomy does it hurt most? What are some good basic yoga routines and poses to help counteract the effects of long hours behind the wheel?
DB: Your hip flexors are in flexion the entire time you’re driving, which has detrimental effects on your digestive system, your spine, and your nervous system. Lunges, lizard, and other iliopsoas-specific postures help with extension of the flexor muscles. I would also recommend squats; even though that returns the muscles to flexion, it is a deeper and more natural flexion than encountered in driving.
SR: The arms-forward position of holding hands on the wheel can collapse drivers across the chest, which means overstretch for the upper back as well. Add to this mix tension from paying attention to traffic, and an asymmetrical use of the legs, and your mileage can wreak havoc on your body. My favorite antidote to rounding through the spine is a supported backbend.
FT: When I get in the car, I'll take just a moment to set myself up just as I would set myself up on the yoga mat. I make sure my weight is evenly balanced between both hips, I think about sliding my shoulders away from my ears, and I consciously relax my neck and jaw. As I drive, I'll continually check in to make sure I'm remaining relaxed (particularly on high traffic days). While I pay attention to the road more than my posture, I'll choose to check my shoulders rather than my text messages at traffic lights.
DB: One of the great benefits of mindfulness is emotional regulation—the firing between the paralimbic system and your prefrontal cortex is slower, making you more aware of your environment and less reactive. This helps ease the stress of road rage. Perspective is also important. One of my favorite sayings about this is, ‘You’re not stuck in traffic. You are traffic.’ That reminds you that all those other people ‘out there’ are not in your way, but trying to get somewhere, just like you are.
SR: Each time we catch our attention wandering, we learn to come back to what’s happening right now. I remember driving a rented Yukon XL down highway 36 south of Boulder for dozens of miles, stuck against a concrete construction divider, and feeling very, very grateful for the breath awareness yoga and meditation have taught me.
Do you ever feel road rage?
FT: Road rage is real. And even if you practice yoga, it can still be your backseat (or front seat) driver. I've already experienced road rage today.
DB: Often. It’s my biggest challenge. I get frustrated in traffic, but that doesn’t really set me off. Texting and driving, not using your blinkers, and driving slowly in the fast lane do.
DR: Sometimes I feel like yoga has built my lung capacity so I can swear louder. But generally I learn to take a deep breath and relax.
Many people who read this site have never done yoga before. Why should "car guys" (and car gals) consider a yoga practice? Is practicing yoga compatible with enjoying cars?
SR: Practicing yoga isn’t only compatible with enjoying cars, it will enhance your enjoyment of just about anything! Find an intro series at your local yoga studio, where you can learn safe alignment and smart sequencing. (It’s a great thing to do for a date night, too.)
Most importantly, what kind of car do you drive? Year, model, make. What do you like/not like about it? Does it have a nickname or any endearing characteristics?
FT: I've driven fun cars, like a '71 MGB convertible. I still miss that car, although I don't miss the moments when I had to be super fussy about getting it to start or when the engine flooded. Now, I drive the most boring car around, a black, two door, moon roof, 2004 Honda Civic, fully owned and fully dependable. Sometimes easy is fine!
SR: I drive a 2016 BMW X5 40E. It’s a plug-in hybrid with 17 miles of all-electric range, which means almost all of my in-town driving is fully electric.
DB: I drive a 2015 Subaru Forester. I love it. It’s the perfect size for my needs, it handles well, and it’s reliable. Its name is Garuda, the mythical bird in Hindu and Buddhist mythology.
Well, there you have it, from the professionals. You don’t have to name your car after creatures from Hindu myth, but you should really take up yoga. I promise that you’ll love it, or at least tolerate it. Enjoy, and stay mindful on the road.