The Passenger Seat

What’s the rule? A car length for every 10 mph? I don’t always follow that rule, but my friend drives way closer to the car ahead than I like. We’re in freeway traffic that is crowded but moving. Several times the brakes are necessary when our lane unexpectedly slows. I sense myself applying brakes of my own, griping my calf and digging my heel into the floorboard. I’m gripping a phantom steering wheel as well--my traps (upper shoulder muscles) clenched in an effort to gain control. My tongue presses back into my throat in a half-swallow. My mother was a nervous passenger, too. I’d hated it when she’d wail and press her hand against the roof whenever my dad took a sharp turn. Well, the first “new rule of posture” is to pay attention, and at least I’m doing that. But now I need to apply Rule #2: replace a destructive habit with a better one.

For the past year I’ve been taking Pilates classes in order to correct the persistent lack of tone in my deep abdominal muscles--what I described as the “inner corset” in The New Rules of Posture. Those muscles are stronger now, but under stress they still don’t fire as they should. So this is an opportunity to get them turned on in the thick of things.

I notice that I’m expressing the freeway stress by loading tension in the periphery of my body--hands and feet--while my abs are puffed out by downward pressure from my diaphragm. I’ve been holding my breath!

So right now, speeding down the highway I practice exchanging the tension in my arms, legs, throat and diaphragm with a “bikini squeeze”--that lift of the pelvic floor muscles that sets off a chain reaction through the transversus abdominus muscle and corsets my pelvis. Not too much, though--I don’t want the outer ab muscles to get so involved that they block the steady breathing that helps me manage the stress.

Looking through the windshield now I’m not so alarmed at our speed. And I notice that I’m seeing the scenery instead of only the bumper of the car ahead. The anxiety has receded and it doesn’t come back. When the next “close call” occurs I barely notice. Is that my imagination, or does containing my core really contain my feelings too?

© 2011 Mary Bond