Remember when there was a busy time on the roads? Remember rush hour on the LIE? Were you around when Grumman emptied its gates at 4:30pm, Republic Aviation finished up its day, and it seemed that all the cars on earth were here on Long Island, traffic ready to drive us mad?
Well, now it's like that all the time. We come home from a Saturday evening in the City and at 1:00am it's packed on the LIE and Northern State Parkway. We've got a day off during the week and say, "Great, I'll go out in the middle of the day when there's no traffic and catch up on lots of thing that I've got to do". Then we get going. And the roads are just like they used to be during "rush hour".
How does this affect us? Well, we certainly have all heard of Road Rage. It makes us angry to think of it. We are offended by other drivers who make obscene gestures and threaten us through their windshields with their fists. But what about us? What is happening to us as we sit, looking at those never-ending cones in the Manhasset area of the LIE, the endless roadwork, the sewers being installed, while we are late getting to where we have to go? What's happening INSIDE us?
We don't realize what's happening while it's happening. Sadly, we feel the effects of it later. It could be that evening, when we're too tired to play cards with our kids, or years later, when we've got back problems or ulcers. By then, the problem is OURS and we have to FIX IT.
How about staying healthy and avoiding the problem in the first place? Great! We can do that, and there are tools and techniques to help us. Today, we'll talk about what to do in the car so that we stay relaxed and cool-tempered.
The greatest part of what you'll practice is AWARENESS. You can't fix something if you don't even know that it's broken. You think all is fine and suddenly - you're sick. Suddenly - you're yelling at your Mom when she didn't even do anything in the first place!
Okay, back to the car. Here's what to notice.
1. Notice your spine and back. Notice how you are sitting. If you are in the car for a while, eventually you'll find that your shoulders are getting more and more round, and that your body is beginning to hunch over the steering wheel.
2. Notice your hands on the wheel. If you're on the George Washington Bridge and you haven't moved for 35 minutes, you might notice that you are CLUTCHING the steering wheel.
3. Notice the muscles of your faces, especially your forehead and your jaw. If someone has just screamed through the windshield at you, you might notice that you're CLENCHING YOUR JAW, or that your hands are SQUEEZING the steering wheel.
All this is creating so much tension, strain, anxiety and ill-health in your body. Your organs are not functioning the way that they should, because the chemicals are in "fight-or-flight" mode. You are ready to scream!
Note that it doesn't have to be that way. We can simply make the choice to do something else. It's not what's happening out there - it's how we're responding to it in here.
Here's what to do about it:
1. Notice your breath. One of the first things that we all do when we are tense is to hold our breath. Exhale, letting your tension go out with your breath. Let your shoulders drop down - you don't need them hunched up there around your ears!
2. Create proper alignment of your spine. You want to let each vertebra breathe, have enough room, and allow the spinal cord to function optimally. The cartilage should expand and contract, allowing smooth flexible movement in the spine. The longer the spine, the more sound and secure it, and the rest of your body, will be.
3. Take some breaths and let your torso, especially the back, relax a bit.
4. Exhale and pull your abdominal muscles inward. Now your lower back is well supported, resting against the seat of the car. Good.
5. Bring the bottom of your ribs and pull them inward, as if you are using your ribs to help press your spine into the seat. Keep on breathing - don't forget!
6. Let your sternum, the breastbone pull back now.
7. Exhale, letting your shoulders and torso relax, and press your shoulders apart and just slightly backward to the seat.
8. Keep breathing! Long exhales, each one releasing some of the tension in your body.
9. Relax your fingers on the steering wheel. Your hands are optimally positioned at 10:00 and 2:00 on the wheel. Where on earth are your elbows? Are they jutting out to the sides, creating strain in both your upper and lower arms? Lower them! Wow! Nobody can put stress in our bodies the way that we can do it to ourselves. Better? Good. Keep breathing.
10. Last but not least. Your face. Are you frowning? Even if you're not, UN-FROWN. Let your forehead be really smooth, your eyebrows relaxed above your eyes, not pressing toward the center. Let your lower jaw relax slightly.
11. Keep breathing.
12. Notice what you are thinking through all of this. Notice if you are judging and condemning the other drivers. The slightest attitude change will make a tremendous difference in your ride. Perhaps some understanding? Perhaps forgiveness? Maybe even a laugh or two? You're stuck there anyway, what not have fun with it?
13. Oh, yes, fun. I almost forgot because I'm really busy today. You can sing out loud in your car and smile while you're doing it. Fact - it's very very hard to stay mad when your face is physically smiling. So smile whether you feel like it or not.
Quick story: Last year I took my 13-year-old son to Washington DC. I thought, "As soon as I'm out of New York, we'll sail along the Interstate and have a blast". We'll, the trip down took 9 hours. Home? - 11. We were stuck on a bridge in, of all places, Delaware, for an hour and a half. The trip should have been horrible. But we decided, no, we'll have fun regardless. We opened the windows, put Meat Loaf and Queen on the CD, and sang all the way home!
You never know when you'll be stuck, whether it's on the road, or in a conference room with someone who is giving you a tremendously hard time. What we do know is that we have tools to deal with whatever is thrown at us. Remember an ancient Chinese saying - "He who angers you, defeats, you".
See you on the road. I'll be the one with Meat Loaf on the CD!
I'll be back soon.