I have just wrapped up my 7th Move Your DNA workshop, having taught over 80 people exercises in the book by author (and my teacher) Katy Bowman. Many of those people came to Alignment REScue from far afield, from New York State, Ottawa and area, Kitchener, Niagara. Unfortunately, that involves a lot of sitting to take a workshop on…moving. Ironic right?
Whether you fly or drive to your workshop (or work), you might benefit from some tips on how to make your driving time more movement friendly. I did a previous post on being a passenger in a car (read that here), but what if you are the driver, and have a somewhat limited range of positions to safely cycle through? Or you are in an airplane and the seatbelt sign is almost always on?
First, most cars these days have electric seats that can be moved in many ways, the seat can lift and lower, tilt up and back, the seat back can also tilt forward and back, and the whole thing can move towards the wheel or away. I suggest you tilt the seat bottom down at the front, as far as it will go, bring the seat back up towards vertical and then adjust how far away you are from the wheel and pedals. You should be able to place your wrist on the top of the wheel with a straight arm. If you drive an automatic, place the left foot on the area to the left of the well so it is in a similar position to the right foot when it’s on the gas pedal. Don’t forget to adjust your mirrors if you’ve moved your seat a lot.
Most cars come with a bucket type seat. If there is a lumbar button, fill that out so your pelvis will tilt forward out of the posterior tilt most car seats position you in. Our environment (including the car) casts us into positions. It’s no accident that car designers create seats that are the shape of most humans now; many people sit in this position most of their sitting time, so a more upright, bench type seat would probably not sell very well in our society. If you don’t have the lumbar option, use a lumbar cushion or fashion one with a rolled hand towel, a ball of socks, or your sweater.
If your seat is not level even with the tilt option, you might have to fill the back with another wedge shaped towel or folded blanket to get your pelvis to come out of the collapsed-into-the-seat position and be more upright.
Okay, now that we have the seat optimal, you can have a look at your headrest. Is it pushing your head forward? Those car designers know a thing or two about hyperkyphosis methinks. Many of my clients tell me that they have turned the headrest around! If you try this, make sure you can still get your head to the rest without lifting the chest (rib thrusting) or without using a lot of strain and effort. The headrest is supposed to prevent the head from being thrown backwards during a collision and it’s important that your head is still able to connect.
If your car comes with cruise control and it’s safe to use it, you can give your pressing foot a break, and change the knee position by bringing the foot towards you. Changing the position of the knee can be a real knee saver on long trips. If you can’t take your foot off the pedal, there are other ways you can cycle through a few knee positions safely. I use Yoga Tune Up® balls (which can be replaced by two tennis balls in a sock) and place them under the thigh (may require seat adjustment) to lift it. After a while, this will start to feel annoying, so you can move the balls up the leg or towards the inside or outside, to give your knee and hip joint a slightly different position.
Just because your whole body is not moving, doesn’t mean you can’t move small bits of you. That counts!
Similarly, I place the balls in their tote or individually between my back and the seat to move my spine slightly and provide a nice massage kind of feedback. I start at the bottom lumbar area, move them up gradually, and then back down. Or place them behind one shoulder or the other, rolling them across the back. Driving an automatic especially makes you tilt your spine in habitual ways, collapsing one side or rotating slightly, so I like to place one ball on one side to move the ribcage relative to the pelvis in small ways. I never travel without my YTU balls! (Flyer tip: if you have the balls in your carry-on, remove them for inspection – they show up on X-ray as something sinister!) If you are in a plane, of course you can actually roll and move the balls and use them on your legs and feet, but in a car, they will remain stationary for a few minutes until you need to adjust them, which you can do safely by just leaning forward a bit and letting them roll down to another position or using one hand to move them while the other stays on the wheel.
If you drive with your chin lifted and your eyes looking down your nose, try dropping your chin (nodding just a bit), and then moving the head gently towards the headrest, and your neck will be more elongated. As well, your eyeballs will be in a slightly different position in their sockets.
Hand stretches – on a plane you can do your hand and finger stretches, neck rotations and side bends, spinal twists using the seat. In a car, you can try pressing one hand up on the roof to stretch the fingers and wrist into extension. I like to think of having heavy elbows so there’s not a lot of tension in my shoulders and fingers (holding the wheel, not gripping it).
Moving even a small amount helps you stay alert (think constant adjusting rather than sinking into your couch to watch tv). Practice your spinal twists during your exercising times so that you can retain the ability to turn and see behind you when backing up. (Which of course is rendered unnecessary by rearview screens – you’d think those car designers are making cars for people who never move…Oh wait, they are!).
The environment of the car can be changed by something as simple as an open window for a few moments to change the air, or hear sounds outside your car (particularly if you’re travelling somewhere rural), changing the temperature as well. We do like to get comfortable in our climate controlled environments don’t we? Staying fresh helps with staying alert and reaction times.
Remember, there is nothing inherently wrong with any position the joints can take, it’s the amount of time in one position that becomes problematic. If possible take frequent breaks and walk a bit or stretch beside your car. If you can’t pull over, moving small parts of you (knees, hips, shoulders, spine and even eyeballs!) is the best we can do and it might make the difference between getting to your destination with a cranky lower back and tired shoulders or feeling fresh and ready to move again.