Even though yoga has helped me become kinder to others, when I’m in my car and stuck in traffic, any practice of loving-kindness is replaced with a middle finger and a resounding f-you. Yoga asks us to serve the world in an elevated capacity. But it can be difficult when our daily commute is stressful and even dangerous. However, with practice, yoga can help drivers be more mindful when hitting the road.
Core Power Yoga in Phoenix and Allstate teamed up in August 2016 to inform drivers of the importance of mindful driving. According to the spokespeople for the Be Present mindful driving campaign, which aims to end distracted driving, 25% of accidents involve smartphone use. More alarmingly, in 2015, there was a 15% increase in fatal vehicular accidents. With these looming statistics, it is more important than ever to be a mindful driver and do yoga practices for driving. Thankfully, there are multiple ways that yoga can turn a traffic jam into a joy ride.
1. Eliminate Distractions
Similar to pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), eliminating distractions is one of the best ways to be a mindful driver. Focus only on the road. Put your phone in the backseat or glove compartment. If you have to use it, pull over before sending a text message or making a call. Make your playlist in advance so you aren’t distracted shuffling through music. If you are rushed and have to eat in the car, carve out 10 minutes before or after driving to mindfully eat.
Pranayama (conscious breathing) can calm the road rage you might feel when someone cuts you off in traffic. According to research from Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, conscious breathing can reduce anxiety, improve stress resilience, and lower the heart rate.
Not all yogic breath is appropriate while driving. However, there are a few breathing practices that are safe to do behind the wheel. Dirga Pranayama (three part breath) is relaxing and calming. Ujjayi Pranayama (victorious breath) can redirect your focus from frustration to the soothing sound of the breath.
3. Be Compassionate
Yoga teaches us to treat all beings with love and compassion. Still, when you are alone in your car, it is easy to forget that you are interacting with other humans. As such, practice compassion with fellow drivers. For instance, drive the speed limit so that you don’t endanger yourself and/or others. When someone lets you merge, wave to say thank you. Offer other drivers the same courtesy as you would to a friend.
4. Do Yoga Before Driving
Before hopping in the car, take two or three minutes to stand in Tadasana (Mountain pose), close your eyes, and breathe. Or spend a few moments moving through Cat pose and Cow pose. Your pre-travel yoga practice doesn’t need to be intense. Simply give yourself time to get centered.
5. Set an intention
Yogis practice intention or sankalpa as a way to stay focused and to redirect distractions and frustrations toward something more positive. For instance, if drivers in your area tend to be aggressive, drive with the intention of having peaceful interactions with fellow motorists. If driving stresses you out, set the intention to stay calm and let go.
6. Observe Your Body
Current research proves what yogis have known for thousands of years: emotions manifest in the physical body. For example, when traffic is gridlocked and frustrations are high, the body tenses. Use your drive to connect the mind and body. Where can you soften? Are you clenching the steering wheel? Notice your shoulders. Draw them down and away from the ears.
7. Practice Yoga Regularly
All of these methods are important components of a regular yoga practice. So the more yoga you do, the more natural these become. If you aren’t sure where to start, try this Calming Basic Yoga Sequence.