Breathing instead of beeping

Aim of yoga CD is to relax drivers in traffic

November 29, 2007|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,Sun reporter

The title of the CD -- Yoga in the Car -- made my editors laugh hysterically. And as I'm The Sun's resident yoga "expert," they asked me to check it out.

The goal of the recording, by Los Angeles yoga instructor and cancer survivor Jen Swain, is laudable: to get people to chill out behind the wheel.

But as I bopped around Baltimore attempting to do the exercises, I had to ask which was more dangerous: road rage or the risk of driving off the road? And if it's not safe to drive while gabbing on a cell phone, how can it be safe while doing neck rolls?

Now, I'm not the world's best driver, but I have been driving almost every day for the past 13 years. I also completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training program not long ago. Trying to combine driving and yoga, I felt like a novice at both.

Yes, I managed to make it through Swain's routine, which assumes you can survive with only one hand on the steering wheel at any given time. Then I noticed the safety warning printed in a bottom corner inside the CD jacket: "This CD is for bumper to bumper traffic."

If you really are in bumper-to-bumper traffic, the kind where you can put your car in park, go for it. Yoga in the Car will help you release tension, especially in the shoulders and neck. And if you haven't practiced yoga before, it will teach you a few breathing techniques.

I picked up a few good ideas about stretches while sitting at a red light. My favorite involves putting the palm of the hand on the car ceiling and walking the fingers back toward the rear window. Swain also has a lovely voice and a playful demeanor: not a bad companion to have in gridlock.

But is it really possible to do yoga in the car?

Yes and no.

In yoga, we're looking to find within ourselves the inner peace that's always present. Always includes in the car, at the office and in the kitchen making dinner. Wherever you are, you can breathe deeply, and you can stand, sit or lie down with good posture.

At the same time, the key to creating that peace is to practice fully in the present moment, training the mind to tune out all distractions.

You can't fully focus on yoga if you're merging, yielding or careering around the ramps in a parking garage (as I was doing while attempting to follow Swain's instructions for pelvic tilts). A few times, I was jolted back to reality when Swain reminded me -- rightfully so -- to keep my eyes on the road.

Swain talks about automotive yoga as a matter of "getting your commute time back," but I wouldn't go that far. No one should think that listening to a CD in traffic takes the place of a yoga class with a qualified instructor. With regular attendance in a good class, you will learn techniques that carry you through life, leading to a calmer and less stressful existence.

sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

"Yoga in the Car" is available at omtheroadyoga.com for $15.95, plus the cost of shipping.

YOGA ON AUTO

Here are a few of my recommendations to bring a bit of safe tranquillity to your drive time:

Take a good seat. When you get in the car, bring your shoulders over your hips and your ears over your shoulders. Roll your shoulders up and back. Let your head lean back into or toward the headrest.

If your head is anything like mine, it will try to jut forward ahead of your shoulders. Don't let it. If your shoulders are anything like mine, they'll want to tense up by your ears. Relax them.

The shoulders are also less apt to hunch if you can train yourself to drive with your hands closer to the 8 o'clock and 4 o'clock positions on the steering wheel, rather than the trusty 10 and 2 o'clock they teach in driver's ed. I also like to use a backrest in the car (and at my desk at work) to make sure I don't slouch.

Breathe. Try breathing in and out through the nose, making the inhalation and exhalation about equal in length. Start by breathing in to the count of four, then out to the count of four. Then, when you're ready, increase the count to five, six, etc. Send your breath into your belly, feeling it rise on the inhale and fall on the exhale. The breath should be slow and steady.

Be present. If you find yourself frustrated by traffic, or flipping incessantly through radio stations, or compelled to flip the bird at the guy who just cut you off, bring your attention back to the breath ... and the road. [SARA NEUFELD]

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