This Woman is Teaching Yoga for Truck Drivers


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The idea came to Hope Zvara in 2017 at a professional mixer held in her town in Wisconsin. “There was a guy and we were talking about different applications for yoga,” says Zvara, a yoga teacher. “He asked, ‘Do you have anything truck drivers could do in the cab of the truck?’”

Inspiration for a business—and the cheeky name for it—came to Zvara almost instantly. “I was like, I can create something practical and usable, all from the cab of the truck,” she says.

Within a year, Zvara had launched Mother Trucker Yoga.

“I’m not a trucker,” explains Zvara. “My dad was a sewer pipe layer, the guy 80 feet down in the hole doing the thing no one wants to do, and I watched him break his back for his job with no thanks. That’s where my love for the underdogs—the ones no one really pays attention to but are doing jobs we can’t live without—comes from.”

Zvara, whose husband has a commercial driver’s license but does not drive over the road, knows enough about the trucker lifestyle for it to inform her teaching. She explains that if you’re sitting in an office, you can get up and walk around. You can stretch your legs, maybe even do a squat or a lunge or a standing forward bend to release your lower back. “Drivers can’t do that,” she says. “If their wheels aren’t turning, they’re not making money.”

So Mother Trucker Yoga focuses on simplicity and practicality, explains Zvara. Much of her teaching relies on incorporating everyday elements found on a semi, in restrooms, or at truck stops as props. Some of the poses, she says, “look like you’re tying your shoe. It’s a discrete approach that really empowers many of these drivers.”

The Mother Trucker YouTube platform and app share short- and long-form yoga practices to address general and specific needs, such as pain in the clutch leg or lower back discomfort. She also hosts in-person events, such as at the Mid-America Trucking Show.

Her typical teaching attire is some combo of everyday t-shirt, leggings or jeans, and baseball cap, and she talks in everyday language rather than cues you might hear in a yoga studio. Many videos, such as those that focus on a specific stretch you can do while filling up at a truck stop, last less than 90 seconds.

 

She also offers audio sessions. “A lot of what I teach can be done while driving,” explains Zvara. She teaches a pelvic tilt to reduce lower back pain that truckers can practice while seated at the steering wheel. She also offers neck and shoulder stretches they can easily practice while seated or standing at a truck stop. And there are entire videos dedicated to poses they can do in the sleeper portion of the cab.

Once drivers begin to practice, they quickly realize how easy it is to make small changes, according to Zvara. Then they become motivated to do more.

Benefits of Yoga for Truck Drivers

A survey of truckers conducted by the National Institutes of Health found that the majority report feeling out of shape. Close to half have been diagnosed with high cholesterol, and more than 60 percent are on prescription blood pressure medication. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, long-haul truck drivers are twice as likely as other U.S. workers to suffer from obesity and diabetes.

The population is also in need of tools that help them self-regulate during times of emotional intensity and aloneness. Although much trucking-related research focuses on sleep, a study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reported that “truckers were found to have significant issues affecting their mental health.” Of the drivers surveyed, close to 30 percent reported feelings of loneliness and depression. Another 20 percent expressed that they experience chronic sleep disturbances. They also experience high rates of anxiety and other emotional problems. The statistics are alarming.

“Suicide rates are incredibly high in trucking,” says Zvara. “Isolation is a big part of it. You could be out on the road six days, six weeks, six months at a time, and you’re by yourself 95 percent of the time. You can only call so many people and scroll so much social media before you really start to feel the effects of that.”

Many of the audio sessions Zvara releases emphasize the less physical aspects of yoga. “There’s a big focus on the meditation and the mindfulness part of a yoga practice,” she says. “I’m really trying to get drivers to tune inward a little more, because that’s how you create change.”

Adopting the Yoga for Truckers Mindset

When Cheryl Vickers received her commercial driver’s license almost a decade ago and began to work alongside her husband in the cab, she didn’t realize how much the job would affect her health.

“When we first started, we were driving from Florida to California and back. I drove during the day and he drove at night. We never got to go home,” says Vickers, who is 60. “We were eating in truck stops, being stationary, and not getting exercise because we were always on the go.”

Over the years, both Vickers and her husband gained weight. She was on medication for high blood pressure and he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

When Vickers happened upon Mother Trucker Yoga a little more than three years ago, what began as a week-long online challenge became an entirely different lifestyle for her and her husband. The changes have compounded to include other types of exercise and shifts in eating patterns. “I got rid of my headaches, I’m off all my blood pressure meditation, and I’ve lost about 35 pounds. My husband’s lost 75,” she says.

Vickers says she’s benefitted as much mentally as physically. “It’s so much about the mindset,” she says. “It helps with the anxiety, depression, stress, loneliness, and everything else.” She and her husband practice Mother Trucker Yoga exercises daily. “It’s movement that seems so simple, but uses so many different muscles,” says Vickers. “People think, ‘that’s not yoga.’ Oh, yes it is!”

Their story is not uncommon. Zvara constantly receives comments from truckers explaining the difference in how they approach life. On a recent Instagram post encouraging people to “slow the f down,” someone commented, “I needed that. Just had a tire blow in traffic. Waiting for repairs. Pause was needed.” Another comment ended with, “Thanks for the motivation.”

The Difference That Yoga for Truck Drivers Makes

Zvara’s philosophy is essentially about making yoga approachable. According to her, “one minute here, two minutes there, and four minutes over there” all add up to something much more than a number.

Her goal, she explains, is “to help one million drivers change lanes with their health and wellness.” She’s on her way to attaining it. “Counting subscribers to the Mother Trucker app, YouTube channel, a monthly show on Sirius XM radio, and different podcasts I’ve been on,” Zvara says, “we estimate more than 200,000 drivers have been impacted by Mother Trucker Yoga.”

Part of the change Zvara wants to spark is breaking stigmas around the profession of trucking, mental health, and yoga. “Sometimes people are like, ‘trucking and yoga, it’s kind of an oxymoron,’” she says. Zvara knows trucking has a stigma of being unhealthy, but she feels its professional men and women in a “really cool industry that just doesn’t get the acknowledgement it deserves.”



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