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A road trip can recharge your soul, but all those sedentary hours in a car can wear on your body, especially if you’re the driver. More often than not, you arrive at your destination feeling exhausted, even when all you did was sit there and push the gas pedal with your foot. Not to mention, road trips can be particularly hard on the low back and hips, which makes sense since you’re spending long periods of time in a seated position.

Fortunately, there’s a way to treat your body and be more mindful to help reduce the feelings of stagnation that come with being on the road — car yoga.

Next time you’re on a long road trip or simply stuck in commuter traffic, refer back to these simple car yoga moves to get you through the drive and arrive at your destination more relaxed.

1. Seated Crescent Moon Pose (Anjaneyasana)

seated crescent moon yoga pose

How to:

  1. Sit up straight and inhale to bring your hands above your head
  2. Grab your elbows with each hand
  3. Exhale while leaning from one side to the other
  4. Hold for a few breaths
  5. Inhale to return to center and repeat on the opposite side

Helps to: Release pressure from low back and shoulders, stretch obliques.
How long: 3-4 sets each side.
When: While you’re seated in the car.
Pro tip: Make sure your hips stay level while you sit.

2. Seated Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)

seated cobra yoga pose

How to:

  1. Lean forward slightly and stick your chest out
  2. Place your hands on your knees
  3. Inhale and lift your heart
  4. Raise your chin and look up at the roof of the car
  5. Keep your shoulders away from your ears

Helps to: Stretch your neck and upper chest.
How long: Hold for 4-5 breaths, repeat 3X.
When: While you’re seated in the car.
Pro tip: Think of raising your heart to the roof of the car.

3. Seated Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)

seated pigeon yoga pose

How to:

  1. Lift your right leg and place your right ankle on your left knee
  2. Flex your right foot to protect your knee
  3. Exhale as you hinge forward with a straight back
  4. Reverse sides

Helps to: Stretch your hips, outer thighs and lower back.
How long: Hold for 1-2 min, 3x on each side.
When: While you’re seated in the car.
Pro tip: Your shin should be parallel with the dashboard or backseat.

4. Twisted Chair Pose (Parivrtta Utkatasana)

twisted chair yoga pose

How to:

  1. Inhale hands into prayer position
  2. Hinge forward with a straight back as you exhale
  3. Hook your right elbow on the outside of your left thigh
  4. Look down at your toes and sink deeper as you exhale
  5. Switch sides

Helps to: Stretch a stiff spine/back by creating synovial fluid.
How long: Hold for 30 seconds to 1 min, 3x each side.
When: While you’re seated in the car.
Pro tip: Be sure to twist from the spine, not the neck. Look at your knees to make sure they are even — if one is farther forward than the other, straighten it up.

5. Seated Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)

seated twist yoga pose

How to:

  1. Sit up tall and bring your right hand to your left knee or thigh
  2. Reach your left elbow or arm around the headrest behind you
  3. Hold and twist deeper as you exhale
  4. Unwind and repeat on the opposite side

Helps to: Decompress lower spine and shoulders.
How long: Hold for 3-5 breaths, 3x each side.
When: While you’re seated in the car.
Pro tip: Grab the steering wheel with your hand if you can’t reach your thigh.

6. Seated Head-to-Knee Forward Bend (Janu Sirsasana)

forward bend yoga pose

How to:

  1. Extend your legs up on the dashboard and hold
  2. Pull your left leg in, resting your foot on your right knee
  3. Keep your spine straight and fold your torso over your right leg
  4. Switch legs

Helps to: Restore blood blow to your pelvic cavity, low back and hips.
How long: Hold for 8-10 breaths, 3x each side.
When: While you’re seated in the car.
Pro tip: For less intensity, simply put your legs on the dashboard.

7. Dancer’s Pose (Natarajasana)

dancers pose for yoga

How to:

  1. Stand on your left foot
  2. Reach back and grab your right foot with your right arm
  3. Kick back to create an arch in your back
  4. Repeat on your other side

Helps to: Re-charge and stretch the spine, shoulders and quads.
How long: 2-3 times each side.
When: While you’re fueling up.
Pro-tip: Place your left hand on the car for extra stability.

8. Yogi Squat (Mālāsana)

yogi squat yoga pose

How to:

  1. Stand with your feet a little wider than hip’s width
  2. Bend your knees and squat all the way down
  3. Let your hips get heavy and lift your chest
  4. Rock gently from foot to foot
  5. Bring your hands together or rest them on the car/tire for support

Helps to: Stretch your hips after sitting for long periods of time.
How long: Hold for three to five breaths.
When: While you’re fueling up.
Pro tip: You can kill two birds with one stone by checking the tire pressure while you’re at it.

9. Modified Lunge (Anjaneyasana)

modified lunge yoga pose

How to:

  1. Keep your left foot on the ground and step your right foot up onto the running board or trunk of the car
  2. Bend your right knee and keep the left leg straight
  3. Lunge forward
  4. Reach arms overhead
  5. Repeat on the opposite side

Helps to: Stretch quads and hamstrings.
How long: Hold for 3-5 breaths, 3x each side.
When: While you’re fueling up.
Pro tip: For more intensity, place your foot on the tailgate or pop the trunk and place your foot up on the ledge.

10. Modified Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

modified downward dog yoga pose

How to:

  1. Bring your hands (shoulder-distance apart) to car window or door
  2. Keep your arms straight as you step back and hinge forward slightly
  3. Allow your head to hang heavy and bend your knees as needed
  4. Pedal your feet for extra calf muscle stretches

Helps to: Stretch your back and shoulders.
How long: 3 sets of 30 seconds.
When: While you’re fueling up.
Pro tip: Take a look in the windows as you stretch to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything!

11. Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)

standing forward bend yoga pose

How to:

  1. Stand with your feet together and your knees slightly bent
  2. Exhale as you hinge at your hips to fold your torso over your legs
  3. Place your hands on the ground next to your feet or hold opposite elbows
  4. Take 5 breaths and, on an inhale, slowly stand up

Helps to: Lengthen your back and wake up your hamstrings.
How long: 5+ breaths, 4x.
When: While you’re fueling up.
Pro tip: Keep length in your spine, and avoid rounding your back.

Benefits of Practicing Car Yoga Exercises

There are numerous reasons why you should take breaks during a long road trip, especially when it comes to your physical health and staying alert as a driver.

Physical Health

You may have heard the saying, “sitting is the new smoking,” which is credited to Dr. James Levine. While the health impacts of marathon sitting sessions are highly debated among researchers, there’s an abundance of evidence that suggests it’s not exactly the best thing for your body.

Study 1: Toni Yancey, a professor of health services at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, describes the impacts of long-term sitting: “Sitting shuts down electrical activity in the legs. It makes the body less sensitive to insulin, causes calorie-burning to plummet, and slows the breakdown of dangerous blood fats, lowering ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.”

Study 2: Researchers found that bent posture positions like sitting can increase disc pressure in your spine by 300 percent when compared to standing. Of course, getting from point A to point B on your road trip requires that you sit, but you can alleviate some of the pressure with seated yoga exercises during your drive and standing exercises when you stop to fuel up or grab a bite to eat.

Study 3: Dr. Joan Vernikos, former director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division and author of the “Sitting Kills, Moving Heals,” explains why sitting for long periods of time is problematic. “We weren’t designed to sit. The body is a perpetual motion machine.” When you’re sedentary, your muscles get less oxygen and nutrients from your blood.

Even if you’re not concerned about the health impacts of sitting for long periods of time, the real question you should ask yourself is this: how do you want to feel when you arrive at your destination?

Alertness

Driving for a long time? Take a break. Be alert because your life depends on it. Drowsy drivers — next exit 5 miles.

We’ve all seen these kinds of messages on highway signs, so it’s no secret that long bouts of time spent on the road wear on your ability to stay alert as a driver.

In fact, an estimated 1 in 25 adult drivers (aged 18 or older) report having fallen asleep while driving in the previous 30 days. Additionally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that nearly 100,000 traffic crashes can be attributed to drowsy driving, including more than 795 deaths and over 70,000 injuries each year.

Of course, staying active on the road isn’t a cure-all for drowsy driving. Sometimes you just need to pull over and rest, but car yoga can help wake up your muscles and keep you alert, especially if you’re driving alone.

Next time you’re ready to rent a car and hit the road in search of some natural hot springs or charming winter destinations, make sure to keep these yoga exercises handy so you and your passengers can enjoy a more mindful trip and arrive feeling ready hit the ground and explore.