Illustrations: Aya Padrón
A recent road trip with my truck driver dad took me from Ontario, Canada, to Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, Indiana, and back over six days. I got to see a lot of small-town USA, but sitting through long stretches of highway left me feeling quite stiff. I started to think how I could accomplish some physical activity without distracting my dad or sacrificing safety — i.e., working out while wearing my seatbelt.
I started doing yoga regularly just over a year ago and have grown to prefer the Hatha style: emphasis on the breath and meditation, and a focus on creating balance between strength and flexibility through maintaining asanas (postures). I adapted some of the postures I learned in my classes to help me release tension from my spine, stretch my legs, and let go of tightness in the upper and lower back while in the truck — but they can be used in any confined space: cars, airplane seats, buses, office cubicles…
Here are some postures to help you stay limber on your next road trip:
Close your eyes, and focus on your breath. Sit up straight. With palms facing up, rest your hands at your sides or on your legs. Push the shoulders down and feel yourself lengthening from the crown of your head.
If you wish, exhale, and tilt your head to the left to feel a stretch in your neck and trapezoid. Inhale, bring your head back to center and exhale to tilt your head to the right.
Seated Sun Salutations
Inhale to bring your arms up as high as you can get them. Exhale and bring hands to prayer position. Let your arms come to your side.
Inhale, and with a straight back lean forward at the waist into a Forward Fold. Exhale to let the head and arms relax. Inhale while returning to a sitting up position and sliding your arms along your sides and into the air. Exhale to prayer position.
That is one Seated Sun Salutation. Perform as many as you feel comfortable doing.
Crescent Moon Pose
Sitting straight up, inhale to bring your hands above your head and grab your right wrist. If you don’t have enough space, hold on to your right elbow and fold your arms. Exhale while leaning to the left from your rib cage.
Make sure your hips stay level and only lean as far as is comfortable for you. You should feel the stretch along your obliques. Hold here for a few breaths and then on your inhale return to center. Exhale, and lean to the other side.
Seated Cobra Pose
Lean forward slightly from the back of your seat and stick your chest out. Place your hands on your knees. Inhale and lift the heart while raising your chin and looking at the ceiling. Keep your shoulders away from your ears.
You should feel a stretch in your chest and spine. Hold here for a few breaths. Release with an inhalation.
Sitting up straight, place your arms in front of your face, bent at a 90-degree angle at the elbows. Place your right elbow under your left elbow and interlock your arms so that you can press your palms together. If this is too much for you, give yourself a hug, hands to shoulders. Keep your shoulders away from your ears and try to push your elbows away from you. Keep your upper arms as parallel to the floor as is comfortable.
For your legs, cross the right over left and hook your right foot behind your calf, squeezing the thighs together. This pose helps blood circulation and sends oxygenated blood from the center of the body to the extremities. It also strengthens triceps, shoulders, and back muscles, while stretching the upper back. Inhale as you release and take a few deep breaths before switching arms and legs.
Prayer Twist, or Twisted Chair Pose
Inhale hands into prayer position. As you exhale, hinge forward with a straight back (keeping your arms in place) and hook your right elbow outside your left thigh. Look down at your toes. Continue to breathe, every time you exhale trying to sink a little bit deeper.
Be sure to twist from the spine, not the neck. Look at your knees; make sure that they are even. If one knee is farther forward than the other, straighten it up. Twists are great for lubricating the spine with synovial fluid and stretching a stiff back.
Inhale back to center and exhale, twisting to the other side.
Lift your right leg and place your right ankle onto your left knee. Your shin should be parallel with the dashboard. Flex the foot of your right leg to protect your knee.
Exhale as you hinge forward with a straight back. You should feel a stretch in your hips, outer thighs, and in your lower back. Breathe and try to relax in this position. Be sure to reverse sides.
Seated Half Lord of the Fishes Pose
Inhale and sit up straight, shoulders away from ears. Cross your right leg over left, if you can.
Place your right arm behind you (on the headrest or outside the seat) and exhale while turning just your chest and abdomen to the right, moving your left shoulder forward and your right shoulder back. Place your left elbow on the outside of your right knee, at a 90-degree angle and palm facing out. If your legs aren’t crossed, then place your hand, palm facing out, on the outside of your knee.
Look gently over your right shoulder and breathe. Twists are great for the abdominals and obliques, as well as the spine. Hold this position for a few breaths; expand your chest fully. Exhale to twist to the other side.