Kayaking in my used kayak called "Perception"...how appropriate
Now that the weather is finally cooperating, knock on wood, I’ve been able to do a lot more of one of my favorite summer activities…kayaking.
Heading down to kayak in the Putnamville Reservoir...my dog Magic loves to kayak too and follows me out to the water every time I go
Kayaking can be an intensely athletic and competitive endeavor for some, which is wonderful, but for me, I kayak simply for the pleasure of getting my blood flowing and putting my mind at ease while escaping from land for an hour or two (or an entire day when allotted the time).
The original Kayakers
Kayaking, which was originally developed by the arctic Inuit people, and brought to mainstream recreational trends in the 1850’s, is a wonderful avenue to utilize mindfulness, pranayama, meditation and yoga to maximize one’s kayaking experience and performance.
Connecting with water physically, mentally and spiritually has been emphasized in every culture and religion. It is widely known that water has an extreme calming effect on the mind and humbles the spirit. Religions such as Islam use water in rituals to purify the soul, while water is regarded as holy areas of the natural world in Shinto. The fact that our bodies are also made mostly of water means that being close to the water would have wonderful therapeutic effects on us.
A Shinto shrine marks the gateway to a holy place...water... (photo courtesy of touchnote.com)
Here are some tips on how to incorporate yoga and your kayaking experience, physically and mentally.
I. Yoga, the physical body, and kayaking:
“Nothing is softer or more flexible than water…yet nothing can resist it” -Lao Tzu
Even if you are not “into yoga”…taking ten minutes to stretch certain muscle groups will increase your maneuverability of the paddle, kayak and yourself, while decreasing the likelihood of injury and post-kayaking soreness.
A. Lower back pain and tension in the shoulders and neck are common problems associated with kayaking. Some poses to help included…
Cobra pose before a morning kayak out back
1. Cobra, Bhujangasana (click here for details or view the photo above)
An early Monday morning Chakrasana (or Urdhva Dhurasana) Wheel pose out in the backyard...mid-modification with the heels off of the ground
2. Wheel, Chakrasana, is a great shoulder opener and supine pose (above)…click here for my previous post on this pose, and here for the post on a more advanced version… Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana
Twists and binds, especially in the Warrior II sequence, are great shoulder openers, which is necessary when getting ready to paddle for a few hours...
3. Warrior II modification with a bind, Virabhadrasana.
3. Cat/Cow pose: Marjaryasana (click here)
B. Your hip flexors and groin also have a tendency to get tight while kayaking, as well as your glutes. Some of my favorite stretches for these areas are
1. Adho Mukha Svanasana, Downward-facing Dog, with the hip open to the sky (click here for some instructions)
2. Warrior II, Virabhadrasana (click here)
3. Pigeon, Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (click here).
C. And the most important part to tie these all together is strengthening your core.
Plank is great for your core...Dolphin pose is a similar pose where the elbows are lowered to the ground
1. Plank pose (click here)
2. Full Boat pose, Paripurna Navasana (click here)
Sirsasana on the back porch- great for core work and calming the mind before heading down to the water
3. Headstand pose, sirsasana…click here for my previous post on this
Eagle pose....a favorite of mine for shoulders, lower back, core, leg strength and balance (great before sailing too)
—> Eagle Pose, Garudasana, is one of my favorite poses that addresses all three of these areas (the upper body, core and hips) plus increases concentration and balance, which is much needed when kayaking (especially in the ocean). (Stay tuned for a more thorough Yoga Pose of the Week feature on this pose!)
—-> Upward-facing Dog, Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, is fantastic for the lower back, core and hip flexors....click here for my previous post on this.
Cultivate mindfulness in a meditation practice before heading out to kayak, even if only for a few minutes, i promise you'll notice a difference!
II. Meditation, breathing and kayaking:
“Give up your selfishness and you shall find peace, like water mingling with water, you shall merge in absorption…”– Sri Guru Granth Sahib
One of the wonderful things about Kayaking is that it allows you to escape from the noise of land for a little while to calm your mind. We can all find answers to our questions and concerns in nature, we just need to open our hearts and free our minds to find the answers.
Before, and even during a kayaking trip, I suggest trying a little meditation to calm the mind and open the heart to receive all the benefits of being alone, on the water, with just you and a small vessel.
A good meditation I like to try is as follows:
1. Take a comfortable seated position on a mat/pillow overlooking the natura destination you about to kayak across/down. Align your shoulders, neck, back and hips over one another, close your eyes, inhale and exhale deeply…
2. While breathing deeply, scan through the body, relaxing hips first, than consciously relaxing body part by body part up through the abdomen, spine, chest, shoulders, jaw, space between the eyebrows, top of the head, the head as a whole, the body as a whole…
3. Chant the mantra “Om” three times. The first “Om” will connect you and your physical body, the second, to connect you and the outside world, and the third will connect you and your inner spirit and mind. Notice and perceive the vibrations of mantra “Om” filling up our whole body, harmonizing it.
4. Focus on a light in your third eye, let this become a ball of light, becoming bigger and bigger in you sight until it encompasses you and you are a part of it. Let the light soak through your entire body, rinsing your body of negative thoughts, feelings and emotions.
5. Next, set an intention for your day, repeat a personal mantra (always a positive one) for your journey…such as “I will be aware of the natural world around me”, or something even more specific…repeat this as a command to yourself three times.
6. Take a few more deep breathes and let the mind settle. Thoughts will come and go, but do not judge yourself for having random thoughts because “you aren’t supposed to in meditation”. Let the thoughts come in and pas through as they came, not dwelling, just noticing them being there. Let them pass over like clouds in a windy sky.
7. Take a few more deep inhales and exhales, slowly open your eyes, and begin your yoga practice and/or kayak adventure!
–> It is also important, after Kayaking to do a few spinal twist poses, some stretches like the one’s above and then finish with a savasana pose and more meditation to fully receive the benefits of your adventure!
Meditative thinking before and during Kayaking can increase your ability to flow your paddle strokes more freely, consistently, and with more ease than normal. You become less focused on your destination, time limit, or external worries and focus simply at the task at hand and the vista surrounding you.
Becoming conscious of each stroke and the present moment… the feel pressure of the water against your paddle, the sound of the droplets of water falling of the paddle as you raise it out of the water, the smell of the ocean salt beginning to speckle your skin, and the panorama of the natural world around you…all of these sensory gifts can be utilized to enhance your mood and your kayaking flow.
“Kayoga” or “Yogak” has been catching on along with other yoga-sport cross-training methods because the benefits are undeniable.
If you simply google the terms “yoga” and “kayaking” together, a slew of programs will show up and one is bound to match your skill level, desired amount of either yoga or kayaking involved, and ideal location.
Even my dog loves to kayak!
Kripalu does a “Yoga for Kayakers” workshop, as well as any other yoga retreats, while adventure and outdoors expeditions are now incorporating yoga into their kayaking trips. There is actually one coming up on July 17th at Kripalu I believe…and more are available through the summer and early fall led by Greg DiLisio and Johnny Snyder…click here for details.
You can also customize a ocean kayaking-yoga trip in Mexico with a company called “Sea to Sky Yoga” (based in Canada)…click here.
To go it alone, and locally…check out this Kayak Route website (here) which lists kayak routes in your area and beyond!
My kayak is also not the most innovative and fancy kayak in the world, but it does the job and was bought used from a friend…no need to buy new. So I feel satisfied that this big hunk of plastic at least wasn’t a brand new purchase. However, there are actually ways to “green” your kayaking trips…
The Walden Vista Expedition Kayak at earthfriendlykayaks.com is made with recycled plastic
Aside from buying used kayaks instead of new ones like I did, it is pretty difficult to find eco-friendly kayaks. However, I did find some and there are also eco-friendly kayaks for sale through companies like Walden Kayaks.
The Walden Kayaks are made from recycled HDPE (plasctic code no. 2) and sold via Earth Friendly Kayaks…click here
Now, go get your paddle on!
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