A deep breath with eyes closed, feeling the intricacies of the sounds and smells floating on the breeze. Taking the time to slow down and develop a sense of place at our launch point can have dramatic impacts on our paddling experience. The excitement that builds during trip planning and gear preparation can create a sense of urgency to get on the water as quickly as possible, but a new fusion of kayaking and yoga is disrupting this mechanical approach and has the potential to enhance the way we paddle.
Pranayama is the foundation of all yoga practice; control of the breath. Taking time at our launch point to sit or stand in a comfortable position, turning our attention inward and focusing on our breath enables us to settle our mind and come into the present moment. This process makes us more aware of our environment, providing a sense of place that contributes to an enriching and safe paddling experience.
Asana, a posture or position of the body, can be used by paddlers to relax and lengthen areas of the body that see significant stress from a long day sitting in a kayak. While the mind remains focused on the breath, asanas direct our attention toward relaxing areas of the body such as the hips, low back, and hamstrings. Taking time for this practice on a regular basis and before we paddle creates space for our mind to focus on our environment while paddling rather than aches and pains.
Below are a series of asanas that can be used before a trip to prepare our minds and bodies for a day on the water.
1. Balasana– Child’s Pose
To begin, kneel on your mat, sitting back on your feet with big toes together and knees spread about hip width apart. Exhaling, lay your chest between your thighs and extend both hands towards the top of the mat. Spread your fingers and press palms into the mat, breathing deeply for 10-15 cycles of breath.
2. Marjaryasana/Bitilasana – Cat/Cow Pose
Come to your hands and knees with palms facing down, hands directly below your shoulders and knees set in line with your hips. To begin find a neutral flat back, feeling length through your spine. As you inhale, lift your sits bones and gaze toward the sky, allowing your belly to sink toward the ground. As you exhale, round your spine toward the sky keeping your shoulders and knees in position, gently pulling your chin into your chest to stretch out your entire back body. Continue this repetition with your breath for 10-12 cycles.
3. Supta Padangusthasana– Reclining Hand-To-Big-Toe Pose
Laying on your back with the left leg flat on the ground, draw your right knee into your chest and loop a strap around the arch of your right foot. Hold each side on the strap with one hand. Slowly extend your right leg toward the sky until it is straight. Lower your heel toward the floor if needed ensuring there is no strain on your back, neck, or face. Hold for 10 breathes, relaxing your hamstring, before repeating on the opposite side.
4. Sucirandhrasana– Eye of the Needle Pose
Lie on your back with knees bent and the soles of your feet on the mat. Cross your right foot over your left leg, resting the ankle on your thigh just below your left knee. Let your right knee relax away from your torso. Thread your right hand through the opening created under your right ankle, interlocking with your left hand behind your thigh. Gently pull your left thigh toward your chest, making sure to keep your back and head flat on the floor. Breathe into this pose, releasing the outside on your left hip for 5 cycles of breath before repeating on the opposite side.