Yoga and Kayaking

16 May

Unangan kayaker (from the Aleutian Islands) hunting whale

Yoga and kayaking are two ancient traditions that have been around for thousands of years. Today the two disciplines compliment one another quite well. Many of my kayaking friends, here in Coloma, have gotten into yoga in the last year or two. For me, it has been a joy to share with them a practice that has enrichened my life in so many ways, and pretty much saved my bacon when it came to paddling.

I got serious about paddling in 1988 when I bought a sea kayak and began to explore the coast of Alaska. I found the combination of stunning alpine scenery and sunny beaches…well perhaps sunny is stretching things a bit… to be particularly alluring. I fell in love with sea kayaking. It rekindled a boyhood passion for the ocean. But my body hated the sport, or at least, it couldn’t tolerate sitting in  the cockpit of a kayak with my legs out in front of me for any length of time. An hour and half of paddling left my lower back screaming and my legs sound asleep. The later would actually collapse under me when I’d go to get out of the boat and stand on shore. It appeared I was going to have to give up kayaking before I ever got started.

Part of the problem was a structural weakness with my  L4  vertebra called retrolesthesis. A lack of paddle technique and  poor biomechanics exasperated the back issue. With a prognosis of spinal surgery on the horizon, the forecast was grim. That’s when I found yoga, and the clouds began to part.

Initially I could only practice yoga on my back. Hamstrings, external rotators of the hip, and lower back muscles all had to be stretched gently and cautiously. Anything resembling a typical yoga class, even uttanasana, the basic standing forward fold, was out of the question. I was in my mid thirties then, going on 90. Though I only practiced a few minutes a day, I began to experience less back pain and more mobility. So I added a few more minutes and cut back on the daily, 2400 milligram dose of ibuprofin. Two years later, I had an hour-long yoga practice and was drug-free, pain free, and enjoying kayaking.

I’m relatively certain that if I hadn’t found yoga, I wouldn’t be paddling today. As a kayak instrcutor and yoga teacher, I’ve come to appreciate what yoga can do for kayakers. Of course I think yoga is a great for every body. In the next couple of blogs we’ll be looking at the many ways that yoga can help improve paddle performance and maintain the overall health of the shoulder girdle. Stay tuned.

9 Responses to “Yoga and Kayaking”

  1. loiskubota May 17, 2012 at 1:59 am #

    I soooo want to learn how to kayak. I’m hoping to do that with my sister when she’s done recovering from breast cancer. I might have to wait until next summer. You must have a lot of pitta qualities, being such a lover of water and snow!

    • wildyoga May 17, 2012 at 9:45 pm #

      I’m a water child according to the stars, born under the sign of the crab. Let me know when you are ready to learn to paddle. My friend Dan Crandall has an excellent kayak school right here in Coloma. Check out Current Adventures when you get a chance.

      • yogaianas March 12, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

        Thank you so much for sharing so much wealth in your blog. I’m a Yoga teacher in French Guyana and will take a group on Saturday, kayaking up a river to a beautiful place in the jungle where we will practice Yoga, before returning back on water too. This article is inspirational to me and I wanted to share your words so I translated it in French for the participants to read. It is published here:
        I hope it doesn’t bother you, but if it does, please let me know and I will delete the article ASAP.

      • wildyoga March 13, 2013 at 12:38 am #

        You are very welcome. I’m flattered to have my blog translated into your beautiful language. I appreciate your passing it on to others. I am writing a book about kayaking the coast of Alaska. You might find it interesting when it comes to print. Have a wonderful paddle/yoga trip.

  2. Diane Valentine May 18, 2012 at 11:38 pm #

    I, too, want to learn how to Kayak. I tried it for the first time on my yoga retreat in Mexico and experience that low back pain. Perhaps I could join Lois and her sister.

    • wildyoga May 23, 2012 at 1:11 am #

      You certainly could Diane. Perhaps we could turn it into a yoga/kayak retreat. I’ve always felt that water is one of the greatest teachers we have.

      • loiskubota May 23, 2012 at 4:00 am #

        Fabulous! I would be so excited to do this.

  3. Scott K July 25, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

    I totally have to do twists and forward bends after hours of kayaking.


  1. Yoga & Kayak | yogaianas - March 12, 2013

    […] La version originale en anglais se trouve ici: English version […]

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