The yoga of driving…

This summer I have a new found hour-long commute to “work” a.k.a. my student teaching internship. I am not worried about the actual internship, I know it will be amazing; however, I am worried about sitting in the car for that long, road rage, traffic, and yes, teenage/college student drivers. Yesterday, leaving my intern meeting I witnessed a college student (most likely) get extremely mad at someone on the road. She honked repeatedly, gave him the bird, all the while screaming at him and talking on the phone. All of this was to move up one car link and sit at a red light. I laughed at her. But if she had done it to me, would I have reacted the same way?

The Yoga of Driving…

How often do we hop into our cars and absentmindedly drive, numb to our bodies and lost in thought? Once we strap our seat belts, many of us automatically set ourselves on autopilot and figuratively “fall asleep at the wheel.” What if, instead, we take advantage of this time to practice mindfulness – to turn off the radio and concentrate on the present moment, while keeping ourselves and others safe?

Step 1 – Take a moment before starting your car to scan your body and mind. Why? Otherwise, whatever you’re feeling will be there for the remainder of the trip. Prior to pressing the gas pedal, adjust your posture, relax your muscles, and take several deep abdominal breaths to calm your mind. Lowering the breath into the belly relaxes the nervous system and helps us be more grounded.

Step 2 – On the road the key to “waking up” is to maintain an open, spacious awareness of your surroundings while employing all your senses. Touch, sight, and sound in particular can help steer you back to the present moment. Concentrate on your hands to anchor your mind, noting sensations such as the steering wheel’s temperature, vibrations, and texture.

Step 3 – When your mind wanders… To reestablish mindful awareness when it wanes, choose a recurring landmark on the road, such as traffic lights, stop signs, or every second telephone pole. Each time you approach a landmark, check in with your awareness. If your attention has veered off into daydreaming, to-do lists, or rehashing of an argument you had with a co-worker (you know we all do it), simply bring your mind back to the sensation of your hands.

Step 4 – Explore your body’s experience and refine your posture… Am I clenching my hip flexors? Am I gripping the steering wheel too tightly, or sticking my chin forward in anticipation of my arrival? Once you become conscious of where your body feels stressed on the road, you can give tense areas added attention on your yoga mat, then apply this new awareness to your driving.

When you’ve become more skilled at general mindfulness at the wheel, you can practice full awareness, embracing all of your senses, thoughts, and emotions. If someone cuts you off, or if you’re stuck in traffic, notice the sensations and feelings that surface. Become curious about how these experiences affect your body and mind. Then, dissolve any agitation by repeating an affirmation of compassion such as, “May I feel at ease,” or “May we all have safe travels.”

Gradually, as you learn to use the time in your car as mindfully as you do in your yoga practice, you will set in motion a more relaxed, awake driving state, which will not only promote safety but allow you to arrive at your destination with a greater sense of peace and ease.

As for the stiffness that an hour-long commute will bring, I am really excited to head straight to Birmingham Yoga’s new studio and practice the same mindfulness on my mat. (New B’ham Yoga website coming soon!)

Happy summer!

p.s. Here is where I will be spending all of my time this summer! … The Children’s Program at UA

Reference: Yoga International, Winter 2011-12