Get the kinks out, stay alert and make your body feel better.
Have you ever gotten out of a car after a very long day on the road and felt like you just went eight rounds with a pro boxer? You’re not alone. Sitting in one position for long periods, while trying to maintain constant situational awareness, keep your loved ones safe, and maybe even keep the kids from fighting in the backseat is a recipe for tension and stress, both mentally and physically.
Note: Join Abigail Bassett of Yoga For Normal People for three virtual live stream yoga sessions as part of The New Now: Live Your Best Life conference on September 8th, 15th and 22nd at 7AM Pacific/10 AM Eastern. Yoga sessions and the conference are free to attend and open to all!
In fact, driving, sitting, and paying attention for long periods can be downright physically exhausting, causing a higher incidence of accidents all over the nation. It’s become such an issue that many manufacturers like Toyota, Honda, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and others, offer attention reminders and “coffee break” alerts after driving for a specific period of time. That’s because there’s real science that shows that long periods of driving can have significant and long term negative impacts on both your physical and mental health. A study done in 2013 in Australia showed that longer driving periods were associated with smoking, obesity, and other psychological and physical stress factors like lack of sleep and lack of physical activity. It’s also been repeatedly proven that sitting for long periods of time in one position can lead to an increased chance of death. According to a study done by the American Cancer Society and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2018, extended periods of sitting can increase the chances of death from all causes.
The good news is that there are plenty of small things (that take less than five minutes!) that you can do to counteract the impact of sitting for long stretches, whether you’re behind the wheel or sitting at a desk. Here are four quick yoga moves you can do to unwind, take a break, and keep your body and brain alert when you stop for gas on a long drive.
Standing Cow Pose with Hand & Wrist Stretch To Relieve Tension in Your Chest, Neck, and Shoulders
When we drive, we tend to hold tension in our bodies in places we don’t necessarily pay attention to–like our hands, wrists, fingers, chest, and lumbar. If you’ve ever been in Los Angeles traffic, you know what it’s like to have to white knuckle your way through terrible traffic, and this stretch can help alleviate some of that tension.
To do this pose, stand with your feet hips-width distance and take your hands to your hips. Slowly walk your hands around to your low back/lumbar region with your fingertips pointing up towards the sky. Draw your shoulder blades together and down your back, and your heart will lift slightly, taking your upper back into a slight backbend. See if you can get the palms of your hands to touch your low back and draw your elbows towards one another. Take a couple of inhales and exhales here, and then release and come back to standing.
You can play a bit with this pose, especially if the tops of your shoulders and your neck are feeling tight. While holding the pose, try dropping one ear towards one shoulder and then the other. This will help stretch into the sides of your neck and shoulders. You can even try pointing your nose towards the sky or the earth while tilting your ear to one side, to find more sensation.
Standing Side Bend To Open Up Your Lungs
When you first get out of the car after a long drive, your body wants to expand and take up space. You see plenty of people hopping out of their vehicles after being compressed in a seat for hours on end, and their first instinct is to take a deep breath and open chests and shoulders and take a giant stretch. Once you’ve taken that first breath of fresh air, and that stretch, try a standing side bend.
This move helps open up the side body (the space between your armpit and the base of your outer hipbone), which tends to get compressed during long periods of sitting. When we drive, we tend to relax to one side or the other, and this helps balance and wake up the muscles along the outer edges of our bodies.
To do this move, stand with your feet, hip-width distance. On an inhale, lift your arms up and overhead and grasp your right wrist with your left hand. Gently pull up and over towards the left, grounding down into the outer edge of your right foot. Do your best not to lock out your knees and try to keep the weight evenly distributed between your right and left foot. Take a single inhale, and a single exhale here. On your next inhale, come back to center and switch sides, gripping your left wrist with your right hand and angling your upper body to the right with an exhale. Keep your outer left foot grounded, and avoid locking your knees to keep the weight evenly distributed between your left and right foot. Take one complete inhale and exhale here and then return to the center and let your arms drop back down to your sides.
You can always stay longer in this shape if it feels good. Feel free to experiment with it a bit, too, and see what feels good and what your body might need from this pose after a long day of driving. Perhaps you will find you want to angle your chest more towards the ground, or towards the sky. Maybe you’ll want to take your hands behind your head instead of reaching up and grasping your wrist.
No matter how you do this pose, it will help you breathe a little deeper and open up the front and sides of your body after hours of sitting. Getting more oxygen into your system will help you feel more alert and attentive when you get back into the car, and you’ll be able to focus and remain alert.
High Lunge To Ease Tight Hip Flexors
When we sit for long periods, our hip flexors get tight. Hip flexors are a network of muscles that work together to create flexion at the hip joint. After long periods of sitting, many of those muscles, especially at the front of our hip and thigh can feel tight.
To relieve this tightness and tension, try a high lunge. To do this pose, find a stable place to stand, like a parking lot or firm ground. Don’t do this pose on wet grass or loose sand or gravel as you can slip when you step back. Stand with your feet hip-width distance. Take an inhale, and on your exhale, take one large step back with your right foot, placing your right toes on the ground in line with your right hip. Bend your left knee to or towards 90-degrees and let your hips sink towards the ground. You can place your hands on your left thigh and push down to find space in your ribcage. You’ll feel a stretch in the front of your right hip. To add sensation, draw the upper back of your right thigh towards the sky. Take a couple of inhales and exhales here, and then step forward to standing. Repeat the same move on the left side.
This stretch helps decompress the front body and can open up the chest and the front of your hips. If it feels good in your body, you can add on different arm variations and do things like interlace your fingers behind your back or take your arms up over head to change the way the pose feels in your body. If keeping your back leg straight poses too much of a challenge, step your back foot in slightly and keep your back knee slightly bent. Experiment with bending or straightening your back leg to find the sensation that works for you.
Dancers Pose To Release Tension in Hips, Chest, and Shoulders
Dancer’s pose is one of my personal favorites after a long drive. I like it because it targets a variety of muscles in the body, but it can be moderated to change the sensation. You can turn it into more of a backbend or a hamstring stretch depending on your position. Here’s how to do it.
Position yourself near your vehicle or a wall, in case you need a little help with balance. Stand perpendicular to the car or wall, close enough to reach out to the side to stabilize your balance. Take your feet to hips-width distance and ground down into your right foot. Bend your left knee so that your left heel moves toward your hip. Reach down with your left hand to catch the top of your foot or front of your ankle. If you can’t reach your foot or ankle, you can always use a towel or belt to hook your foot and give you little extra room. Once you have a firm hold of your foot, you can do one of two things: Either press the top of your left foot down into your hand and draw up with your left hand, or press your left foot into your hand and draw your left knee down towards the ground. Each version gives a different sensation in different parts of the body, so; it pays to play with this pose to see what works best for what your body needs after a long drive.
See if you can keep your shoulders and hips square while pressing your foot into your hand. This will add sensation and stretch to your shoulders and chest. If you’d like to continue to add sensation, you can continue to push your foot into your hand and draw your left thigh to or towards parallel with the earth to get into more of a backbend. If your balance feels good, try taking your right arm up and overhead. Take a few breaths here, let your body stretch, and then exhale, release and switch sides.
These four stretches can be done anytime and anywhere and can help you undo the hours of sitting after a long drive. Plus, they’ll help get the blood and oxygen flowing so you can maintain your focus and stay safe and healthy on the road.
If you’d like to learn more about yoga, especially Yoga For Normal People, join me at for three live virtual live stream yoga sessions as part of The New Now: Live Your Best Life conference. I’ll be teaching these on September 8th, 15th and 22nd at 7AM Pacific/10 AM Eastern. The conference and yoga sessions are free and we’ll help get you focused and flowing before the rest of the sessions!