If you look at how a car seat is designed, you can see that the seat slopes upwards, so your hips tilt backwards and it literally forces your back to sag. The upright portion is seldom able to be adjusted to upright, and often the headrest forces your head forward and down. If you spine doesn’t make you immediately aware that something is wrong, it certainly will later on!
In addition to the physical challenges of sitting in the driver’s seat, there is the actual stress of driving – the roads, the traffic, other drivers, obstacles on the road, glare of sun and headlights, and so forth.
But, by using the Alexander Technique, you can avoid the potentially negative consequences. Driving is an activity generally under habitual control, so this is a good opportunity to apply the Technique. And not only can it improve your experience of driving, but it can also potentially make you a better driver!
Firstly, set your car seat up correctly – get the backrest as upright as possible, so you are not lying backwards. And if your car allows you to, adjust (‘untilt’) the seat squab (the part you sit on) to as flat as possible.
As you get into the driving seat, notice how you do so – it is better to sit sideways and then swivel into the seat than to twist knees or crumple yourself to get in. Once you are in the driving seat, stop briefly and check your position. Lift your bottom off the seat and tuck it right back into the corner where the backrest meets the seat, then relax onto your sitting bones in order to free up your hip joint and make sure your legs are mobile. Check that you are balanced evenly left to right, and sitting in the centre of the seat, not off to one side or still holding a slight twist from how you got into the car. If you are unsure or are feeling skew, lean forward over the steering wheel and briefly lift your bottom and reposition it more evenly
Once settled on your sitting bones, allow your back to feel the support of the backrest, especially across the width of your shoulders at the level of your shoulder blades. Allow your neck to free and your back to lengthen, and breathe out gently. And then check and adjust your mirror – almost always, you will be taller!
Remember also to check the headrest – often these force your head too far forward. I have found that, in many cars, there is no way to prevent this without removing the headrest and reversing it so it is facing backwards – doing this still protects your head from whiplash in the case of an accident, but does not encourage you to fold or crumple forward while you are driving.
As you drive off, check how you are holding the steering wheel. Are you clutching it tightly, are your shoulders, neck and arms starting to tighten? All of these are probably much more tense than is necessary, so consciously let them relax and try to drive with less effort and interference. Also be aware of freeing up the shoulder joint so you are steering from your arms (hands and elbows) rather than from your shoulders. Equally, once you are relaxed on your sitting bones and your back is lengthened, you can move your legs on the pedals by leading from the feet and knees, rather than from the hips.
Another common habit people adopt is the tendency to splay the right foot around to the right, so the toes are somewhere around 2 or 3 o’clock in relation to the heel. This, especially combined with a tendency to ‘pull up in the hip’ in order to move the foot/leg from accelerator to brake and back, can create a chronic twist in the body and consequent ‘shortening’ of the right leg. Ideally, you should lift the foot from the knee, leaving the hip joint alone, and the foot should be resting in the 12 o’clock position, whether on the brake or accelerator.
As you notice your driving habits, remember that you can apply the Technique and ‘reset’ yourself at any time during the time you are driving, whenever you become aware you are tensing, hunching or otherwise misusing yourself.
Lastly, when you arrive at your destination, remember to apply the Technique again when you step out of the car – stop, relax onto your feet, allow your neck to free and you back to lengthen and widen, and breathe out any residual tension before setting off on foot.