Posts belonging to Category yoga

Relaxing your head

After reaching my recent rolling impasse, and thereby dropping into a vast chasm of existential angst and disillusionment getting a bit messed up in the head, it was evident that a return visit to the pool was called for. This time, we journeyed down to Garnock pool for the first time in ages. We’d already been down to Kilbirnie Loch a couple of weeks ago to reacquaint ourselves with the Garnock club and it was great to catch up with everyone there. It was, as they say, a sort of homecoming.

So I went along to the pool on Friday night with very few expectations. It was interesting to note how much more pleasant travelling over on to the ferry and driving down to Kilbirnie became when I wasn’t fretting over irrational fears of failure, drowning etc. Perhaps this attitude could be applied a little more broadly.

Under the critical eye of Euan, I demonstrated my progress (ha) in rolling. Of course, my first attempt failed and I relaxed into the acceptance that I was, indeed, back at square one. There was, therefore, no-one more surprised than I was when my second attempt resulted in success. This time, I refrained from leaping into wild displays of ecstatic triumphalism (or at least breaking into a happy dance), recalling how far my ego had come crashing down the last time that happened. Instead, I allowed myself some contentment in the knowledge that my learnings hadn’t gone completely to waste after all. Being that it seems that I can now roll 2 different kinds of river kayak, perhaps there is some renewed and realistic hope for learning to roll my sea kayak.

Towards the end of our practice session, Euan observed my roll again and suggested that I should relax my head. Anyone learning rolling will be well familiar with the importance of head positioning. As the head is so heavy, it is better to allow the water to support it before bringing it up last, thus lessening the “burden” on your roll. Of course, this is quite counter-intuitive as every novice feels an urgent need to raise their head the heck out of the water first. After working to overcome that particular instinct, my own tendency has been to forget about my head altogether (not difficult), or to focus on it too much and somehow hinder my roll all the more. However, Euan’s employment of the code word, “relax”, tapped right into my yoga learnings and the resultant roll felt almost effortless by comparison. Am on to something now.

How often I’ve been in a challenging yoga asana, only to hear my teacher‘s guidance to bring awareness to where there is resistance and to let it go. Naturally, this guidance can apply to kayaking and beyond. Just about everything in life gets a whole lot easier when you learn to relax and let go.

A new club, and other trials

There are certain clubs that are a pleasure to join and participate in. I can think of the 2 kayaking clubs that I have joined in the past couple of years. It’s been a while since we’ve been over at Garnock in Ayrshire and it’s not for want of wanting. We haven’t forgotten our pals over there and the fun we had with them last year. A happy complication occurred when the local Cowal club started up and met on the same night as Garnock. The choice was drive 20 minutes to the Cowal club, or 1.5 hours to Garnock. As you might guess, Cowal won out and we now hang our heads in shame in front of the Garnock crew (we do intend to return soon).

Some clubs aren’t so fun, and last week I discovered that I had qualified (without even trying!) for entry into a new one, the one called “Multiple Sclerosis”. Ugh. The diagnosis didn’t come as a shock as it’s been suspected since last October, and it is classified as “mild”. But somehow actually having the label pinned on me has been a bit unsettling, to say the least. Half of me is in complete denial – I feel fine overall and still have all my fitness, and the other half is determined to beat it (yes, I will be the one!). There’s another half of me (I know, I know) that is all messed up. I am told that that is natural.

I’ve been grappling around for something to lift me out of that third half’s abyss, to occupy my mind with more pleasant things. The other day, Alan and I decided to take advantage of the sultry temperatures and go to Loch Eck to try to roll our sea kayaks. I figured, now that I’ve mastered rolling the Dunoon pool boats (one of my proudest achievements of recent times), there was a fair chance of success and nothing would cheer me more than rolling my very own Nordy.

OMG it was like trying to roll concrete.

There are several possibilities here:

  • The amnesiac excuse: I’ve completely forgotten everything I ever learned about rolling (it sure felt that way).
  • The blame someone else excuse: the technique is waaay different between a river kayak and a sea kayak, even although several coaches assured me it would not be.
  • The feeble excuse: the cold shock of rolling in the not-so-sultry waters of Loch Eck deprived me of any cognitive ability, other than to gasp and panic.
  • The looking for sympathy excuse: I was a wee bit distracted and not in the best frame of mind.
  • The poor workman blames his tools excuse: the Nordkapp’s thigh braces aren’t the most gripping.
  • The bad karma excuse: my self-pride at learning to roll the pool boats was unwarranted and OTT, so this is what I get.

It was with great despondency that I exited the water realising that I have taken a bit of a step back, in more ways than one. But no-one promised us a rose garden, did they? Life is by its very nature a bit of a trial – it’s how we respond to that trial that determines how much we actually suffer. Happiness is, after all, a choice.

So I’ll try rolling again, maybe with my Capella just for comparison. I’d pay good money for appreciate any tips about transitioning from rolling a river kayak to rolling a sea kayak.

I’ll do a bit of yoga to sort my head out. And I’ll probably go for a paddle somewhere nice too.

Tomorrow is another day.

Failure is an option

After several weeks at the Riverside pool in Dunoon, the newly re-formed Cowal Kayak Club has transferred its Friday night activities to Loch Eck. The sea kayakers are presently outnumbered by the river kayakers, but hopefuly in time, as word gets out, this imbalance may be rectified. Already we have formed the expected “us versus them”/sea versus river cliques. We sea folks remain dubious of any ostentatious displays of kayak acrobatics by the river guys, and they in turn have watched with derision fascination as we practice our wet exits and re-entries. Cruising around in our sea kayaks amongst the river boats is a bit like being a whale surrounded by lots of little fishies.

It has come to my attention that Loch Eck is rather cold, actually Baltic, to use the vernacular. This has made me less than enthusiastic to plunge myself into its freezing depths, despite wearing a drysuit. Bracing practice for me has been a rather muted affair, and I have rarely surpassed a “2” (out of 3) on the edging scale. Rolling is out of the question quite frankly, as I’m not sure my noggin could handle the shock. Alan, on the other hand, has been throwing himself into our various practice drills with gusto and is accelerating past me on the learning curve. I plan to catch up just as soon as the loch warms up – even if that is only for one week in July.

Nonetheless, I did manage to chuck myself out of my kayak for a bit of self-rescue practice. I confess to not having attempted this for quite some time, for similar temperature-related excuses reasons. And it showed. After about 15 attempts to climb on top of my kayak, during which time Alan had been deftly demonstrating correct technique to a rapt audience of river folks, he noticed that I was positioned at the wrong spot. My memory had dimmed since the last time I’d practiced – but it is now seared on my mind that the correct place is precisely where my “Nordkapp” logo is located. Unfortunately, after all those failed attempts I couldn’t succeed in completing the rescue due to having run out of “oomph” and having lost all sensation in my (by now blue) hands.

Following on from that, I sensed the commencement of what I’ve come to know as the “Friday night funk”. No I didn’t immediately head for the night clubs, instead I observed my mind descending down the spiral of negative thought. It goes something like this:

  • I am a failure and will never learn to (insert desired skill here)
  • (Insert name of person) can do it so much better than I can
  • Everyone must think I’m a loser
  • Everyone must be laughing at me
  • If I can’t (insert skill) soon, I will have to give up kayaking for good

Of course, you can see a common theme here. The frequency of references to “I” and “me” gives it away. Yes, that old culprit – the ego. It doesn’t like when it’s been given a bit of a battering and can tend to exact its revenge by undermining any consoling thoughts that one might happen to muster. Conversely, I confess to having allowed my ego to enjoy a little inflating in the recent past. For example, when I learned to roll in the pool, I definitely permitted myself more than one happy dance (much to Alan’s nauseation). But that only serves to create a bigger fall when the next setback occurs.

As we drove home, it occurred to me: I can let this encroaching gloom engulf me, or I can … not. It is like the Cherokee legend about the two wolves. One is angry, envious, greedy, self-piteous, proud and arrogant, the other is joyful, peaceful, loving, hopeful, serene and kind. The question is, which wolf survives? The answer is, the one you feed.

In kayaking, as in yoga, as in life, failure is not a defeat, it is a learning experience. We never stop practising and we never stop learning.

Buddha Frog

Does a frog have Buddha nature?

Does a frog have Buddha nature?

Forgive me for straying a little (a lot?) off topic, but I wanted to share a small something with you. Coming home one recent evening, we found a visitor on our doorstep. It seemed that our usual doorstep resident, the garden Buddha, had acquired a little student. A frog had taken up a meditational pose alongside him and was evidently lost in deep contemplation, so much so that he was oblivious to our shuffling past him to enter the house, put on the lights etc.

There is a Zen koan which asks, “Does a dog have Buddha nature?”, the answer to which is considered inaccessible and elusive. Adjusting this koan slightly, however, I think that we may have found a valid response – a frog most certainly does!

Kayak Yoga

That may seem a strange juxtaposition of words, but kayaking and yoga do indeed go very well together. Who has not draped themselves extravagantly over the stern of their kayak after a hard day’s paddling in order to enjoy the wonderful back muscle stretch that this affords? It has become the case that activities such as climbing now go hand-in-hand with yoga, with many climbing gyms offering yoga classes, and many leading climbers becoming proficient in both activities. This is extending to other sports and physical pursuits as the benefits of yoga are increasingly recognised. One need only refer to the definitive Sea Kayak: A Manual for Intermediate and Advanced Sea Kayakers by Gordon Brown (no, the other one) to find (on pages 33 to 40) a section on “Preparing Mind and Body”, which includes some useful yoga stretches and advice.

The reference to preparing the mind is, of course, highly pertinent. The ancient discipline of yoga is not simply about stretching. I confess that, at one time, that was all that I thought it comprised. I admit to watching attendees arrive for the lunchtime yoga class at my gym and to harbouring delusions of superiority. While they were om-ing away their lunchbreak, I was out there doing “proper” exercise and kicking butt on the running track/elliptical/stepper. I’ve learned a few things since then. First, while those yoga students were building strength and flexibility, I was building up to injury. Second, with the exception of my own ego, no-one actually cared whose butt I kicked in the gym or elsewhere.

It took me a while to come to those realisations and 2 situations were instrumental in leading me to yoga. One scenario was, indeed, that of physical injury. I discovered that, for all the running, biking, hiking etc I’d done, I had a weak lower back which led to a great deal of pain and discomfort on my acquisition of a garden. Gardening is the ultimate back workout, of course, and mine simply wasn’t up for it. Years of sitting at a desk, combined with ever-tightening hamstrings (from all the running, biking etc), and a total lack of conditioning of my back meant that bending down and standing became unbearable. This, in combination with hip flexor tendinitis, made running a non-starter. Being that going to see your GP with a sore back is the equivalent of going to see him/her with a cold, I realised that it was time to learn how to help myself. Around this timeframe, Alan and I were also dealing with some pretty trying life circumstances involving family illness, career changes, house/country moves etc, and a general sense of being overwhelmed. Similarly, I realised that I could either sink with it all, or learn to swim. During my research into the physical benefits of yoga, I uncovered a mine of information on the benefits that relate to the mind. In fact, it can be said that yoga is more about the mind than it is about the body, being essentially “moving meditation”.

So how exactly can this assist with kayaking? Obviously, there are the physical benefits of the holistic approach that yoga offers. It’s easy to focus on one or 2 areas of the body, whilst neglecting or overworking other areas that in turn could lead to injury elsewhere. By addressing the whole body, yoga ensures that all the interconnected muscles and tendons (right, left, front, back, top and bottom) are kept flexible and strong and therefore stand you in good stead for continuing years of “fitness” in the truest sense of the word. In addition, by linking movement with breath, we learn to calm our minds and I have certainly directly experienced the benefit of this, particularly when submerged in a failing roll. Yoga encourages you to check your ego at the door, to ignore the “monkey mind” that is busy telling you that you’re making an eejit of yourself, that everyone’s watching, that you’ll never learn to roll/brace/surf/do the lotus etc, and to simply breathe and be. Sometimes it’s difficult for your ego to accept that it doesn’t have to be the centre of attention, but eventually it will take a back seat and let you get on with the business of living more fully in the present moment.

There are many different styles of yoga, from beginners to advanced, from gentle to dynamic. I have the very good fortune of having an excellent yoga teacher in Cowal whose ashtanga classes I attend each week. I am attracted to the more dynamic forms of yoga, probaby because of my background in outdoor pursuits, but that doesn’t mean there is no appeal in the “gentler” styles. Some would argue that the less physically demanding forms are better for taming the mind and that, especially in today’s society, savasana (or corpse pose) is the most difficult pose of all.

It seems that I cannot locate the photo of me doing a headstand in my kayak that should accompany this entry. That’s probably because it’s never been taken (and likely never will). The important thing is that we are all exactly where we’re meant to be – in kayaking, in yoga, in life, and I’m grateful to yoga for allowing me to accept this.

“We are training in choicelessness and kindness. Giving up all hope of fruition, we recommit each day to doing the best we can”. Ani Pema Chödrön