Ever thought about practicing some yoga during your commute? (No, I'm not talking about popping into a handstand on the subway.) I mean have you ever made your commute a consciously relaxing and comfortable experience? (Without involving large muffins or iced coffee...mmm). It might not be as difficult as you think to work on your yoga, even if your commute is public. :)
Breath: Start with your breath. If you regularly practice yoga, you will know to cultivate your ujjayi breath. If you've never taken any yoga before, that's okay! You can start by simply breathing in and out through the nose, slowly. Begin to lengthen each inhale and exhale, making them nice and full...pulling the air up from the pit of the belly, filling up the diaphragm, and then with each exhale, tuck the navel up and back in toward the spine. This complete breath helps to expel out all the stale air that tends to settle in our lower lungs, all while strengthening the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles.
Since ujjayi breathing is practiced throughout an entire yoga session, it's perfectly acceptable to work on this technique all the way to and from wherever you're going. Imagine how much stronger your diaphragm could be after working on this consciously for a few weeks!
Bandhas: The term bandha is Sanskrit for "energy lock" and there are 3 basic locks. The Mula Bandha (pelvic floor lock), Uddiyana Bandha (abdomen lock) and Jalandhara Bandha (chin lock). We'll focus on the Mula and Uddiyana Bandhas. (Jalandhara bandha involves "locking" the chin down toward the chest, which is not a desirable posture for driving.)
While practicing your deep ujjayi breathing, retain a deep inhale and contract the pelvic floor muscle, Mula Bandha. This lock can be challenging for some, but the benefits are great as you learn to strengthen these delicate muscles and use this technique during your asana (physical yoga pose) practice.
Try the same with the Uddiyana Bandha, only after an exhale. Contract the abdomen, tucking it deeply in and up under the rib cage. This encourages proper breathing and is also beneficial throughout yoga practice.
Spinal Alignment: Our spine is something that we should all be thinking about every day. It's so easy to fall into poor posture habits, especially in a car or at a desk. Be sure to adjust your seat, making sure that the base of your spine makes contact with the back of the seat and the knees are slightly lower than the hips. Also, many people make the mistake of tilting the back of the seat the whole way to 90º, thinking that sitting up pin straight is good. In reality, you should allow your spine to relax backward just slightly, taking pressure off of your lower spine. Shoulders (down and away from the ears) should relax back against the seat, and your whole body should be about arms length away from the steering wheel. This distance from the steering wheel can feel much too far if you're not used to it, but not only is it better for your posture, it is also much safer. (Heaven forbid your air bags should ever go off if you're 6" from your steering column.)
Throughout your day, wherever you go, take your yoga with you. Think about what your spine is doing and understand that years worth of spinal imbalances and muscle memory will enable much of your poor posture to be subconscious. Whether you're walking or sitting, imagine that someone is gently lifting the crown of your head upward. Leave notes or set phone reminders to: Uncross legs, Lift the spine, Sit up tall, Relax shoulders...etc.
Most of all, have patience with your posture progress. All of these changes can feel very awkward at first, but after a few weeks of dedication, your body with thank you!