Pilates behind the wheel inspires perfect posture and a more comfortable drive
These days vehicles sport everything from 12-way power seats with lumbar support and massage; power head rests that tilt, lift and blow warm air onto your neck; cooled and warmed ventilated seats; and even supple leathers that mold to your body just so.
Nissan worked with NASA-inspired technology to create zero-gravity car seats that provide continuous support from the hips to the back to reduce fatigue and increase comfort. The seats are meant to create “neutral posture” – a relaxed position that the human body takes in a weightless environment.
All good; however, without proper posture, even the most advanced seats won’t cover all the bases.
I approached my Pilates teacher, Stephanie Willing, a senior instructor at Yogaworks in NYC, for the real scoop on posture and maintaining a neutral spine.
Following, her advice: Don’t think you have to sit there like a perfectly postured mummy! As you drive you will constantly be shifting your posture in all directions as you prepare for turns, approach intersections, merge onto the highway and more. After getting the drivers seat adjusted, your steering wheel in place and mirrors just right, use these tips as a baseline for you to return to as you drive, checking back in with yourself over the course of your ride.
5 Postural Tips for Drivers
1. Neutral Spine (but not all the time)
It is time to embrace our curves! Our spine is curvy, and we need to respect that. When you’re sitting in a car or any kind of chair, don’t slouch. Slouching exaggerates your thoracic (mid and upper back) curve. Similarly, over arching your back will create a lot of lumbar (low back) stress. Try to find a balance where your shoulders are on top of your hips, not in front or behind of them.
2. Use the headrest
We all have a tendency to hunch our heads forward as we drive, but we need to maintain our head-on-neck alignment. Imagine you can pull your nose back an inch into your head and you’ll be right where you need to be. Make sure the headrest is adjusted to support that upright neck posture so you can rest against it.
3. Shoulders back and down
Where the head goes, the shoulders follow. Now that your head is nicely balanced on top of your spine, activate the muscles between your shoulder blades gently to help draw the scapula (muscles between them) onto the back of the rib cage. This action will help you avoid extra shoulder tension and that unattractive and uncomfortable hunched position.
4. Deep back breaths
I know this doesn’t sound postural, but it is! When you take deep breaths, focusing on filling up the lungs towards the back of your rib cage, it helps stimulate a very important postural muscle: the psoas (at the base of the spine). Your diaphragm (breathing muscle) and your psoas go hand in glove, and when you take incomplete, shallow breaths your psoas begins to tense, pulling you out of alignment. Not to mention shallow breaths send a “fight or flight” message to your brain, potentially flooding your body with adrenaline and unnecessary tension.
Sit up tall. Pull your abs all the way in (suck in your tummy) and release them. Now take six slow counts to pull the abs into a tight contraction. At the count of six your abs should be fully active. However, since it’s hard to breathe in this position, take it down three notches and keep your abs tightened at three counts. That’s enough to support your spine without limiting your inhales and exhales.
One last thought…STRETCH IT OUT
No matter how perfectly you maintain your posture, the action of shifting from gas to brake is going to tighten up your hip flexors and the muscles around your knee. Stretching after driving is your best bet for reduced pain and tension. Try this: Lie on your back and bend both knees so that the feet are on the floor. Then place your right ankle across the bent left knee. Reach behind the left thigh, and pull it in towards your chest. You should feel a stretch in the right hip. Repeat on the other side.