I don't remember ever really having a problem after long car rides in the past. Yeah, my body was stiff and I needed a couple of stretches and a bathroom break, but then I could sit right back down. It wasn't until I started practicing yoga regularly that car rides became more of an "issue". The past two years, my body has experienced growth, strength, flexibility and constant fluidity. This is a new body. I consider myself very body-conscious, able to notice any changes in movement or feeling. But as a practicing yogi now, I've become much more sensitive to this. I can feel micro-changes. Not moving for long periods of time has become more and more difficult. My desk job has brought to light numerous areas in my body that crave attention. Long car rides are in this same category. There are parts of my body that scream from the basement as if they've been abducted and chained to the wall.
We are all different, but I think we can all relate to sitting for long periods of time and then feeling like our legs are 100 years old after standing up.
I drove from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Lincoln, Nebraska and back...a little over six hours each way. My body felt like one of those oddly-shaped metal art structures often found on college campuses. Needless to say, I needed a yoga-session to put me back in place!
Lunging Back Bends
Forward fold is always the first pose I do after sitting for long periods of time. It seems pretty easy, right? Just bend over! Sorry but no, haha. We don't want to just plop over like a rag-doll. It is important to bend forward properly, so the stretch can be as beneficial to your body as possible. Before we move on, get the "straight-leg" and "hands-to-toes" goal out of our mind. It would be awesome to touch our toes, but that's really not the point. The purpose of this stretch is to lengthen the hamstrings AND the spine at the same time. I like to start off folding forward from the hips with my knees bent and my chest touching my upper thighs. From here, push the hips back and up, while keeping the spine elongated (look between the knees). Engage the lower abdomen to activate the core and keep the quadriceps (muscle above the knee) engaged. Now you can begin to straighten the legs, but stop when your hamstrings tell you to or if you feel your back rounding. Where ever you end up is your forward fold pose. Stay there as long as you need.
I usually come into this pose by first starting in downward-facing dog, but you can get to a high lunge any way you like. Begin in a high lunge with a strong and steady base. The placement of your arms and hands can vary in this position, either up along the ears, bent in a temple form or clasped behind the low back. When beginning your back bend, go slow and focus on engaging the low belly and lifting the torso as you bend backward. It is important to keep the low belly engaged to prevent added pressure on the lumbar spine. You may not bend back very far, but that's okay, you are still getting the benefits of spinal movement and chest-opening. Repeat this on the other side.
Low Lunge to Half Splits
Here's another one for the hamstrings and legs. I start this pose in a high lunge (keeping the spine straight, chin and belly lifted), then drop one knee down into low lunge. From low lunge, use your hands to help shift your weight by pushing backward using your forward leg. Bend the back leg (staying on the toes) and feel the stretch of the hamstring in the forward leg.
The important part of this pose is keeping your hips square and facing forward. Try not to sink back into the hip of the bent leg. For example, gently pull the forward-leg hip back, and scoot the back-leg hip forward. Repeat this stretch on the other side.
I learned of this pose from the book Anatomy of Hatha Yoga, by H. David Coulter. I had never done it before in a yoga class, but tried it at home and am loving it! This will get your core nice heated, and you may even feel this one lingering for the next day or so. Lay down on your mat (or grass, or where ever you are!) with your legs out long in front of you and prop yourself up with the back of your forearms. While keeping your back as straight as possible (especially the lower back), lift your straightened legs off the ground using your core muscles. If this is too difficult, try lifting with bent legs. Do this a few times to bring energy and activation to your core, which can often get "lazy" when sitting for too long.
Cow Face Pose
This pose is a nice stretch for the hips, shoulders and arms. Keep your seat-bones rooted into the ground as much as possible, while crossing one leg over the other. Bend your knees as much as needed here. Sit up straight, again with attention to keeping the core engaged and low back from becoming a "banana-back" or overly-flexed. Raise one arm up alongside your ear, and the other arm behind your back. Keeping your elbows and arms close to your body, try to touch your fingers behind your back or grab your hands if you can. As you work toward this, be conscious of keeping the low back straight and not sticking the below outward. Repeat with the other leg and switch arms.
Back Bend Pose of Your Choice
One more back bend before we have to get back in the car...! This one is yogi's choice. Right now I'm working on wheel pose, so I chose to put it in my routine. Another option can simply be the high lunge with a small back bend we did earlier in the sequence. Other choices include bridge, bow, camel, wild thing, fish, locust, upward dog or cobra.
* Remember, in any back bend pose to keep the focus on expansion in the chest and shoulders, and engage the lower abdomen to keep pressure off the low back and lumbar spine.
And there you have it....a well-rounded yoga sequence for long car rides and body-immobility!
Enjoy, have fun and remember....
...practice is imperfect!
Hello, I'm Julie.
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