Once upon a time, yoga was an esoteric, sedentary activity for earth lovers, world travelers and followers of the Grateful Dead. My, how things have changed…these days, yoga is mainstream, and I am willing to bet you know at least one person who practices regularly.
In the U.S., there are many varieties of yoga being taught, so it is safe to say there is a class for everyone out there. One of the wonderful things I’ve seen as a teacher and over the last decade or so is the wide variety in the ages of yoga newcomers. I’ve had classes where the ages of the students range between 22 and 80. I’ve taught people who have never practiced before, and folks who have been practicing for twice the amount of time I have. All newcomers are a little nervous, but if they stick to it for a bit, each and every one of them gets stronger.
Modern yoga has evolved, not just to become more westernized and dynamic, but also to become the discipline which athletes in all walks of life rely on to round off their physical training. Olympic snowboarder Jamie Anderson’s Instagram feed alternates between photos and video of the athlete sitting in lotus pose, shredding powder, and holding adho mukha vrksasana (handstand). Racing whiz kid Jordan Taylor’s own irreverent feed, normally filled with race cars, mullet photos and “JT facials”, recently featured him holding astavakrasana (eight-angle pose), a fairly advanced yoga arm balance. And then there are the rest of us. We may not be athletes, but as amateur lovers of fitness, sports and motorsport, we have found the many benefits of integrating a yoga practice into our fitness and mental health routines.
My husband, an athlete who participates in motorsport as much as family life allows, started practicing yoga regularly about one year ago. He has grown to love the practice not just for the physical benefits (and there are many – stronger abdominal muscles, a healthier back, increased flexibility) but also for the breathing techniques he has learned on the mat. He has used yogic breathing helps keep his heart rate and breathing steady while racing, snowboarding, and performing various other physically demanding activities.
So, is yoga for you? You won’t know unless you try. I recommend if you are completely new to yoga, you try a beginner’s class or one of the many excellent YouTube videos (Kino McGregor is a favorite), DVDs or downloadable classes available. While yoga is not dangerous, it is always best to try a new discipline under the guidance of a teacher. If you choose to try a sequence alone at home, listen to your body; a bit of muscle burn is good; pain is not. You know your body best!
Below is a Vinyasa flow class, Yoga for (Race Car) Drivers, which I put together for my husband. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a race car driver. If you spend time in the car, you’ll benefit from strengthening your back, abs, and arms, improving your balance, and gaining flexibility in your hamstrings, hips and shoulders. Bonus: all that deep breathing is sure to come in handy when you’re faced with frustrating driving scenarios, whether you’re working on a pass for position or trying to get around traffic in town.
The class is about an hour long, and I include a suggested playlist, but you should feel free to play any music you enjoy. We have practiced to sitar music and electronica, and have found that as long as the music motivates you, it’s all good.
This sequence is meant to be breath-driven, which means that your breath should guide your movements. The breath is key in the practice of yoga. When you follow your breath, it provides several benefits: you relax more, you become more flexible, you are less prone to injury, and you get stronger. Don’t hold your breath or force it into a certain rhythm while you practice. Work on breathing deeply, even if you find a pose uncomfortable.
Yoga for (Race Car) Drivers
1. Begin seated in hero’s pose. (10 breaths)
Close your eyes and focus on your breath, bringing your attention to what you are about to do. Try to leave the job, your worries, the car parts you are waiting for, what you’ll have for dinner, etc. behind while you practice yoga. It’s normal for your mind to wonder, but when it does, bring it back so you focus on the postures you’re working on.
2. Move to all fours, alternating between cat and cow. (10 breaths)
When you arch, tighten your belly and bring your bellybutton to your spine. When you drop you belly down, lengthen the tailbone. Keeping your abdomen engaged and tucking the tailbone in are two actions you will work to maintain throughout this practice.
3. Push back into downward dog. Move through 4 Sun Salutations (surya namaskar A)
For the sun salutations, each pose should last one breath. As you move through the sun salutations, keep the belly engaged and the tailbone tucked. This will strengthen your core and protect your lower back. This video can provide beginners guidance.
4 Dolphin planks: rock forward, extending the legs energetically behind you. Lift the right leg for 2 breaths. Return to neutral, then lift your left leg for 2 breaths. Repeat on each side. Return to dolphin
4 One-legged dolphin planks: from dolphin plank, bring the right leg up to your right elbow. Hold for 2 breaths. Return to neutral, then bring the left leg to the left elbow and hold for 2 breaths. Repeat on each side.
Dolphin is a wonderful shoulder and chest opener. When you drive, it is easy to collapse the shoulders forward and arch the back. Dolphin will help you maintain better posture while gaining strength. While in dolphin, make sure your elbows are shoulder-distance apart. As you move through the dolphin planks, engage your belly so you don’t collapse.
5. From downward dog, go through a vinyasa* and work your way to the front of the mat. Repeat the sequence below 4 times on each side.
return to standing > begin other side
When you first perform this sequence, do so more slowly, pausing in each pose to allow your body to settle in the pose. A slower flow is the perfect opportunity to adjust alignment and ensure you’re where you need to be to get stronger. As you repeat the sequences, you can move through the poses faster, but try to always have your breath initiate every pose. Don’t be discouraged if you lose your balance when you squat or stand on one leg – we’ve all been there! Just give the pose another try.
6. After a vinyasa, come to seated on your mat, and lift up to boat pose.
Exhale, lower the legs and torso. Inhale, lift the legs back up to full boat. Repeat 6-8 times.
There are many variations of boat. The important thing is to maintain integrity in the pose by keeping your abs engaged and your lower back from bearing the brunt of weight. Begin by supporting your boat and bending the legs; as you get stronger, you can release the arms and extend the legs.
7. Come up to seated. Extend your legs in front of you and fold forward. Hold for 4-8 breaths. Repeat 2 times.
8. Bring your heels together in cobbler pose. Fold forward. Hold for 4-8 breaths. Repeat 2 times.
10. Bring your knees to your chest and drop your knees to your right, opening your arms to a “T” and looking to the left. Hold for 4 breaths. Repeat on the other side
11. Extend your legs mat-width apart. Flatten your shoulder blades against your mat, extend your arms on either side to savasana (corpse pose). Close your eyes and relax for a few minutes. You can set a timer for 5 minutes if you wish.
12. When you are ready, stretch your arms above your head, wiggle your toes, and work your way to seated. Take a deep cleansing breath, and you’re done!
With regular practice, you will feel the benefits of yoga not just in the car, but in various aspects of life.
Are you a driver who is new to yoga? An experienced yogi? Let me know what you think of this sequence for drivers!
*a “vinyasa” is the following sequence: (exhale) jump or walk back > pushup down > (inhale) upward dog > (exhale) downward dog > (inhale) jump forward > (exhale) fold forward > (inhale) come up to standing.
Yoga For (Race Car) Drivers Playlist
- Enigma / Return to Innocence
- Blackmill / Let it Be
- Telepopmusik / Breathe
- William Fitzsimmons / So this is Goodbye (Pink Ganter Remix)
- Depeche Mode / Enjoy the Silence
- Elie Goulding / Burn
- Djuma Soundsystem / Les Djinns
- TYA / Akwaba
- Sade / No Ordinary Love
- EarthRise SoundSystem / Makyen Ghrir