Tip of the Week: How Yoga Can Improve Your Paddling

Jackson Kayak's Anna Bruno explains how yoga does more than just limber us up

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Jackson Kayak Tip of the Week
By Anna Bruno

I’ve been doing yoga for almost as long as I can remember, but in 2010, I took my practice to the next level by enrolling in a month-long yoga teacher training course at the Kripalu Institute. Those four weeks I spent living and breathing yoga have continued to influence how I approach almost every part of my life, but none more so than my paddling. Here are a few ways I bring yoga’s lessons off the mat and to the river.

Remember to Breathe
In yoga, breath is referred to as prana, or life force. Pranayama, or breath control exercises, are used to connect your mind and soul to your body, to cultivate consciousness and awareness, and to focus and settle your mind into a meditative state. This makes your breath a powerful tool on the water as well. I use it most often to calm or settle myself before an intimidating rapid. I also focus on my breath before a competition run while I visualize my ride.

Try it for yourself. Settle your mind and focus on one thing — the tip of your nose, the bow of your boat. Inhale. Feel your stomach expanding against your skirt, your ribcage widening against your PFD, and your collarbones lifting. Exhale slowly, letting your chest fall, ribs draw together, and stomach contract. Try to inhale for a count of four, and exhale for a count of six. Visualize the line you want to have. (More on Pranayama exercises.)

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Respect and love your body. Stretch it out!
Kayaking is hard on your body, and we all get sore sometimes, especially when spending long or consecutive days in our boats. Using Asanas, or yoga poses, has made kayaking more comfortable and enjoyable for me.

Personally, this often comes through stretches that open my hips and lengthen my hamstrings to counteract the paddler’s sitting position. I try to do a few stretches most mornings on the river bank or while lying in bed. Try some of my short and sweet favorites:

* Shoulder Rolls: Inhale, and scrunch your shoulders up to your ears. Exhale, roll them back behind you and down, as if you were placing your shoulder blades in your back pockets. Repeat.

* Lying twist: Lie flat on your back. Inhale, draw your knees into your chest, and exhale, drop them down to the left. Left hand can rest on your knees. Open your right arm out the side, and let your eyes look towards your fingertips. Repeat on the opposite side.

* Figure Four: This stretch can be done sitting, standing, or lying down. However you are positioned, inhale as you draw your right knee into your chest. Exhale and rotate your knee to the right, bringing your right ankle onto your left thigh, making a four with your legs. If you are standing, slowly bend down into the stretch. If you are seated or standing, draw your legs in towards your chest.

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Torso Rotation and Core strength
Both of these are key pieces in paddling, whether it be flatwater, extreme racing, or freestyle. Strength, stability, and power can all be developed off the water, and yoga can help do it.

“Finding your edge”
This is something I play with constantly in my yoga practice and in my paddling. It is about riding the edge of your comfort zone, and pushing past the point where you want to quit. It is both a physical and a mental battle of being in the moment where things are hard, and learning how to cultivate your response to them.

In yoga, this can come from the challenge of holding a posture longer than is comfortable. It means working through not only the physical challenge but also the mental challenge — the wave of emotions that comes from being pushed.

There may be a voice inside your head telling you to quit, asking what you are doing, making you angry. I’ve had many moments like this paddling when I am in over my head on a river or a rapid, battling through the decision of whether or not to run something.

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Learning to moderate your emotions on the river is a challenge for kayakers as our sport is a constant pushing of boundaries and comfort zones; this is how we improve, how we find new ways of making our sport interesting and exciting. Having our boundaries pushed to their limits is often what attracts us and keeps us coming back to our boats again and again. Play with your limits off the water, so you can become mentally stronger on the water, and push yourself even further whether it is running a hard rapid, or setting up for one more roll before pulling your skirt.

Be present: Take time to find joy and appreciate your surroundings.
Yoga is about being present; it helps you become fully focused and engaged in the moment. Whether it is the feeling of a perfectly timed boof, trying to make it into an eddy, or carving on a wave, kayaking provides endless opportunities for meditation in motion, where your whole world hangs on the balance of one stroke. More importantly, kayaking brings us to some of the most beautiful places in the world! Always make sure to stop, pause, and take a minute to be present in the moment, and appreciate the beauty around you.

Namaste,
Anna // Jackson Kayak Regional Team

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