In his beautiful words Khalil Gibran tells us, "A traveler I am, and a navigator, and every day I discover a new region of my soul."
But driving in any urban environment today has the potential to put your soul and nervous system into fight or flight mode instantaneously. The sheer explosion in volume of cars, bikes, pedestrians, and other distractions like GPS, is mind boggling and breeds anxiety exponentially.
While I've had a far less than stellar driving record, since taking up yoga I'm grateful to be enjoying the benefits of my practice in the drivers seat. That has shown up as having more awareness of the flow of traffic, as being able to integrate elegantly into a congested rush hour and most importantly, enjoy the journey!
Over the course of my career, I've spent thousands of hours commuting and before I started being more proactive about taking care of myself, there was a lot of suffering going on. Some of my symptoms included:
• painful and tight shoulders and neck from craning forward,
• cramped wrists and arms from the steering wheel,
• low-back discomfort as a result of the way seats are designed,
• groin pain, and chronic tightness in the hip flexors and diaphragm,
• numbness and lymph edema in my lower legs and feet,
• irritability and aggressive driving.
How Yoga Helps
Yoga is the perfect antidote to release tension that builds over the course of the journey, and it helps us come into the present moment, so we can be very aware of traffic patterns around us. We integrate with the flow of our fellow travelers more easily, and we get to our destination calmly, on time, and in a good mood.
A short physical asana practice that is informal and easy to do anywhere can help keep you refreshed on a long journey.
• Before you leave and after you arrive, and even when you stop for a break at a rest station, shake out the wrists and do a few standing helicopter twists for 5 breath cycles
• Rub your hands together and then palm the bones around the eyes. Slowly move the eyes in all directions using slow breaths as the catalyst for movement. Do this for 5 breath cycles
• Put your hands on a wall or on the roof of the car and move into a modified downward dog to stretch the hamstrings and the spine. If you can take 10 breath cycles here it can really help the low back.
• Squat using the wall or the car as a support to help you keep your balance. When you bend the knees keep them moving in the same direction as the toes. Do this 5 times and take 1 breath cycle with each repetition.
• Come to standing lunge and stretch the front of the hips by engaging the glutes and the whole pelvic girdle. Let your legs be a comfortable distance apart as you take 5 breath cycles on each side.
Listen To YOU
Choose silence as a companion while driving and see what happens. Notice the quality of your thoughts. Can you let go of the ones that lead you away from peace? When at a stop sign or red light, check in with the quality of the breath, and notice what you are thinking about.
Try working with the breath while driving and bring awareness to quality of sounds and sights surrounding you. During these quiet times, we seem to be more to be "in the flow". That is what Yoga is all about. It's about the union of all the moving parts as one, in harmony. It's a great place where we have a bubble of space around us, and it just seems to be clear sailing. Sometimes in the middle of a major snarl up, and our lane just seems to inexplicably open up, and we can move way forward! We also see trouble brewing in other lanes that may not have come into our consciousness if we had been listening to he radio. Adopting quiet while driving truly helps us be more defensive drivers.
Do I Need To Go That Fast?
After years of caffeinated, competitive driving, I found a real pleasure in applying the first rule of Yoga, Ahimsa, or non-violence, loving-kindness. Over time, as I was detoxing my old bad habits, I began experimenting with the idea of softening, of allowing people to get ahead of me and of letting them in and doing this with a spirit of generosity.
To my surprise, I found that my trips were so much more pleasant! Even though I wasn't really going over 100, it seemed like I always ended up passing the vehicles that were traveling at breakneck speed earlier in the journey. That was when I decided to create a personal policy of "Go Ahead and Go In Peace". I was seeing them not as cars and trucks, but as fellow travelers, as real people on their way to see their loved ones, or to a celebration. It just feels good to take it easy and send people good energy! These ideas have served me well and my driving record is now almost impeccable!
What Was I Thinking?
I say almost impeccable because I recently got pulled over for doing 60 in a 40 km per hour school zone. This is an area about 2 km from my place and I'm very familiar with the traffic rules here. When I sat looking at my ticket I asked myself, "What was I thinking?" Of course I wasn't in the present moment driving at all. I was thinking about a situation that was really upsetting me. Looking at the ticket, I realized that this was a good reminder to take it easy and cool off.
So I went home and challenged myself on the mat, wrote a few things in my journal in order to put some perspective around what was on my mind about the situation. This is where our yoga practice helps so much! We use the awareness cultivated on our mat, and through our breath to help us control our reactions and allow the energy of our emotions to be put to positive endeavors. Choosing to transform that experience into wisdom through the pen, and on the mat with a challenging yoga practice can be so healing.
Use Commute Time To Chant OM
If you are stuck in a traffic jam, chanting OM is a very powerful practice that can help move a lot of energy, even though you are completely sedentary. It's a simple form of meditating on the act of voicing the seed sound of the universe, and it helps diminish the normal tensions we accumulate during tough traffic times!
When you chant OM, several times, you notice a complete shift in your consciousness and a feeling of sharpness and clarity. This is an outstanding practice if you are going to attend a meeting,
A massive clearing of the fifth chakra takes place, enabling a movement of fresh prana and life force in the area of the throat. This activates the energies of the throat chakra, which govern listening and communicating. Notice what kind of difference this makes in the outcome of your meetings!
Not everyone feels completely at ease with opening up his or her mouth to make this sound, but give it a try and see how it goes! Use these tips to stay in the present and keep the judgments of the mind quiet.
• Exhale completely, then inhale completely and draw out OM so that you use the entire exhalation to complete it.
• Try a few ways experiment with the different registers and octaves
• Try to focus on the extending the length of the inhalations and exhalations and see if you can extend the exhalations so that the belly really empties and you let your voice peter out.
• Try to allow the sound to come from the bottom of the belly
When we use our Yoga practice to help us deal with the stresses of commuting, and we choose the right attitudes, we can experience the promise Rumi makes in his verse, "Travel brings power and love back into your life."
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