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 your launch point can have dramatic impacts on your 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 you paddle.
Pranayama is the foundation of all yoga practice; control of the breath. Taking time at your launch point to sit or stand in a comfortable position, turning your attention inward and focusing on your breath will enable you to settle your mind and come into the present moment. This process will make you more aware of your 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 your 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 you paddle creates space for your mind to focus on your environment while paddling rather than aches and pains.
Below are a series of asanas that can be used before a trip to prepare your mind and body 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 toward the top of the mat. Spread your fingers and press palms into the mat, breathing deeply for 10 to 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 to 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 breaths, 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 five cycles of breath before repeating on the opposite side.
5. Salamba setu bandha sarvangasana – Supported bridge
(1) To begin lay on your back with your knees bent. Use your arms for support, gently lift your hips off the floor and slide a block, blanket, or bolster under your sacrum (triangular bone at the base on the spine). Ensure you are comfortable with no pinching sensations.
With hands on your ribcage, relax into the pose by breathing deeply for three to five minutes.
(2) Once you have settled into your breath, on an inhale lift both feet toward the ceiling bending your knees as much as you need to. Hold your legs in this position for five cycles of breath.
To release the pose, lower the feet back to the ground with knees bent. Pushing into the ground with your feet, gently lift your hips and remove the support from under your sacrum. Using your arms for support, slowly relax your spine to the ground vertebrae by vertebrae until you are lying flat on your back.
6. Uttanasana – Standing forward bend
(1) Come to standing, with feet hip width apart, toes pointing forward. Bring your hands to your hips. With a slight bend in your knees, hinge forward from the hips with a flat back. Bending your knees as much as required, fold forward until your chest comes to rest on your thighs. Hold onto opposite elbows with your hands, breathing deeply into your back body and hamstrings. Relax here, gently rocking side to side and nodding your head to release any tension in your neck. Hold this pose for five to 10 cycles of breath.
(2) On an inhale, find a flat back and bring your hands to your shins. Keep your neck in line with your spine. On your next exhale, return your hands to the floor and chest to thighs. Repeat this on your inhale and exhale two to three times.
7. Utthan pristhasana – Lizard pose
From standing, bring your right leg all the way to the back of your mat coming to a high lunge position. Drop your right knee to the mat, releasing the toes, and bring your hands to the floor on the inside of your left foot. Shuffle your left foot toward the outer edge of your mat.
Let your hips grow heavy; you should feel a stretch on the front of your right thigh. Breathe slowly and deeply into your back body, hips and legs. Extend your heart forward and lengthen your spine and draw the shoulder blades together.
Melt into this pose for five to 10 cycles of breathe, then repeat on the opposite side by stepping the left leg back from standing.
8. Paripurna navasana – Boat pose
Begin sitting on the floor, legs in front of you with feet on the floor. If you have one, hold a block between your knees. Place your hands behind you, fingertips pointing toward your hips, and gently lean back making sure to keep your back straight. You should feel balanced on your sits bone.
Exhale and lift your feet off the floor so they are at 45-degree angle to the floor. Finding your balance on your sits bone, lift your hands, reaching toward your feet. Spread your shoulder blades as you reach forward, keeping your arms parallel to the floor. Try to keep your spine straight, avoiding any rounding in the upper back.
With your belly flat and tight, breathe into the pose for 10 to 20 seconds. Repeat two more times, gradually increase the length of time in the posture each time. Release your legs on an exhalation and lift on your inhale.