Recently, I had the opportunity to complete a safe driver program. In the program were several points that connect chair yoga with safe driving techniques. Here are some ways to position yourself while in transit to feel comfortable, alert, and ready to respond. Some of these tips work for passengers, too. Start with a bath towel plus a small seat cushion, pillow or second bath towel. Sit on your car seat and consider these processes.
- Check if your knees are higher than your thighs. The seats are often designed this way. This can lead to compression of the discs and muscles in your lower back. Fold the towel or position the cushion under you to create a slight slope down from your thighs to your knees. This position relieves back pressure and is found on ergonomic diagrams for proper sitting.
- Fold the other towel in half or thirds, on the shorter side, and roll it up like a thin log. Place this behind your back in the lumbar area (at and above the waist). Adjust the thickness of the towel for your comfort. You may move the car seat back a bit as a result of this extra support to make room for your legs to lengthen in front of you.
- Place your elbows by your ribs. Your upper arms are now hanging straight down (plumb). This facilitates holding the steering wheel at the 4 & 8 o’clock position. This is the recommended hand position for easier turning of the steering wheel.
- Turn your feet so that your toes point up (versus away from each other). This internal rotation also reduces pressure in your lower back (sacroiliac or S-I joint). The feet can rest in a muscularly balanced position, whether flat on the floor, footrest, gas pedal or brake.
You have now set up Sitting Mountain Pose, ready to ride in a classic yoga pose. Engage one or both feet to the floor, breathe in through your nose, and draw your elbows down and tail bone under the lumbar roll/towel. Then exhale, let your shoulder blades drop toward your spine and the roll/towel, and gently press your head straight back against the head rest. This “Lumbar Limbo” effect of curling the tail under and shoulder blades over the “bar” results in an extension of your spine. Your chin is level with the road instead of angled down from a steeply sloped head rest. This positioning allows your head to more easily turn side to side. If you have to turn your body, press the left foot down, extend the spine with your Lumbar Limbo, keep the elbows tucked in to keep the wheel straight, and turn from your trunk.
Practice these positions before driving the car. You may feel less physical and mental fatigue when your body is in its natural alignment and are able to breathe easier due to your body being less constricted. Combined with a higher vantage point for vision and a better range of motion in your trunk and neck, you may experience a quicker, clearer response to road side events. And avoid formal driver safety instruction.