Benefits of Yoga – for paddlers (and other athletes)

Last weekend I had the privilege of teaching Yoga to the Outer Harbour Senior Women’s Dragon Boat team. It was a privilege in several ways: these women were National Champions last year (best in the country for their age group over several distances); we worked outside, always a favorite of mine, to teach Yoga outdoors, even in a busy area; they train in Toronto, which probably has the same number of Yoga instructors as New York City, so to be asked to teach a top ranked crew is special, as they have access to great instructors.

One of the unique benefits I have in teaching them is that I used to do what they are doing. I was a competitive paddler, so I know the aches, the twists, the tight muscles, the sore shoulders and pecs. I also know where their heads are at during a training camp. These women are preparing for World Club Crews in Ravenna, Italy. Although they won the right to race in Ravenna last year, the club won the right to have a crew attend. Who makes up the crew is yet to be decided. Ahh, head games, mixed with physical work, x 20 paddlers…. thus training camp.

There are many poses that address the stresses athletes deal with – hip openers for runners and cyclists for example. Dragon boat paddling is unique, in that some paddle on both sides, but often paddle or race on one side only. Also, the whole body is being called upon: legs, core, rotators, spinal erectors, shoulders, pecs. Finally, there are 20 people paddling a dragon boat, 10 per side, and a drummer at the front and a steers person at the back, coaching, yelling and encouraging. And that’s just in your own boat; during a race, other crews may be right beside you, or pursuing you. It takes a certain head space to deal with all of this going on at once.
Enter Yoga. I know your body needs it, but it’s really your mind I’m after.

Top coaches will tell you that the training is 5% and the other 95% is a mental game. Races can be won or lost within 9 1/100’s of a second. Your training can be great, but it needs to be better than your competitors. And if you are really fit, and a good paddler, what makes up that 2% that wins race? How can you bring your best to a race, and bring your best for the 19 other paddlers, your coach, drummer and steers person?

Practice paying attention. Over, and over, and over. As the old joke goes “Do you know how to get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!”

yogapaddle3The poses/asanas are the physical practice of yoga. They can help deal with muscular tension, and if done with attention to detail and knowledge of the sport, can release issues in the tissues, often fascial. It’s my opinion that Yoga for athletes, well, it doesn’t need to be ‘athletic’. That’s what their sport is. That’s what the weights and the running are. Yoga needs to help them to slow down. And pay attention. Focus on the big picture – how are you doing this? How well can you do it? If you have a movement ‘glitch’ how can you teach yourself to move differently? What can we take out that you don’t need?

The breath is what helps you pay attention to what is going on in the poses.  A short breathwork, or pranayama, practice helps you focus on what is going on in your body. If you can slow down long enough during a Yoga class, (considering this is primarily a sprint sport, with the longest distances being 2 km, so adrenaline runs high for short periods of time), you can teach your self to focus under the stressful conditions of racing, as well as testing, and training.

While racing or even training, your brain has to rapidly scan your body for technical flaws, correct and execute a better movement pattern, keeping you in perfect timing and rhythm with fellow paddlers while supplying your maximum power. We call it ‘using the rolodex’. Scan the computer. The better your focus, the calmer your demeanor, the more effortlessly this can be done. The more often it can be done.

Meditation practice is an even better way, to calm and focus the mind. Rather than have no thoughts (a common misunderstanding of meditation), you are able to focus your thoughts, act and execute the race plan, without over reacting.

The whole point is to keep the nervous system from, well, being too nervous, and attending well to the task at hand, under stress.

Does Yoga make you feel better? Without a doubt. It can help you think and move better as well. That’s how races are won.

It can certainly help you be a better athlete. Just ask my friends on the Senior Women’s Outer Harbour Dragon Boat team.


Dragon Boat Team, Business Team – one and the same

I've been retired from elite competitive Dragon Boat for almost 2 years now. I knew the time had come so I wasn't upset to leave that world. I was happy to see other women (in my case mostly for the Canadian Senior Women's National Team) and men and women create their own experiences, memories and friendships (based on my experiences with the Outer Harbour DB Club Warriors.) When I was ruminating back over certain experiences for both teams, it struck me that I had been working with my own executive team. Not ever having worked in a corporate framework, I passed these thoughts onto two executive friends of mine, one of whom I paddled with on the Warriors, the other who is in high level sales. My fellow paddler was struck by how accurate a description it was, and my other friend was surprised,knowing I don't work in the corporate world, and wondering how that team connection could be replaced. (I'm not sure it can, other than by finding other teams with the same vision, guidelines and goals). If you look at the process, to join a team you need to go through hiring/testing process, commit to development and growth, both for yourself and the good of the team. The directives are given, staff go off, and work on their projects to better the outcome for the team; results are measured. It is beyond the scope of one person to achieve the results that can be measured when the collective efforts of 19 fellow paddlers, a coach and/or steersperson and a drummer all join forces. As we Yoga types like to say, 'attention follows energy'. This type of attention brings collective, measurable results, and I can say that for recreational teams, elite competitive and National teams. You may have read "The Boys in The Boat" about the 1939 Gold Medalists at the Berlin Olympics. Paddlers don't row (that has to be said) but we all work better together when we have collective 'swing'. Please see my colleague Beth Gitlin's article for further thoughts on this subject:   Or, read 'The Boys In The Boat'. I'm still looking for the paddling version of that 🙂

3 weeks at Paddling Camp – Paddle, Stretch, Eat, Sleep…

I recently had the pleasure of spending 3 weeks in Florida! That was a real delight, after the long and cold winter we had. The true pleasure, however, was getting back on water, teaching Yoga and stretch classes to paddlers and reconnecting with my paddling community.

The camp is put on by Bow Wave Dragon Boat Camp and Space Coast Dragon Boat Camp. This was the 14th year of camp – they have a number of return campers. As you may have guessed, Dragon Boating is the main activity of the camp, (twice a day for 1 – 1 1/2 hrs); this is supplemented with Outrigger Canoeing (OC 2’s in this case), and SUP – Stand Up Paddling. This can mean up to 4 – 6 hours on water, with at least 2 of those hours sitting on the hard seat of a dragon boat. Butt pads aside, if you have never sat on a Dragon boat seat, you don’t know the discomfort that arises – the ‘third sit bone’ I call it.


In addition to paddling, every person in the camp can come to a 45 minute Yoga classes, and a 30 minute stretch classes, everyday. If they didn’t come on the first day, they came on the second. It was such a pleasure for me to be able to share my love of teaching Yoga with my knowledge of paddling; the two activities fit together exceptionally well. The repetitive nature of paddling on one side of a boat makes Yoga a perfect antidote to wound up muscles, sore shoulders and tight lower backs. As well as messed up feet, hips, hands – you name it.

The first day, after our setting our intention for the day and our 3 opening Om’s, I opened my eyes and looked up – there were about a 100 people in the Yoga pavilion! That’s a lot of smart paddlers! After their first paddle, they came back for stretch class; we had a great week after that, trading jokes about what parts hurt the most, and sharing groans and deep breaths on the mat. Breathing is critical, for many reasons: being able to momentarily relax during a strenuous workout piece, or a race; being able to stay focused before or during a race; being able to stay calm, when the world around you goes to ‘crazy world’ as one of our coaches calls it.

The very best part of camp, is the people. This is my third year teaching at camp, and with the number of return visitors, I get to see old friends, and spend some time with them. I get to meet new people, and ease them into the world of Dragon Boating. My coaches, when I paddled competitively, and the coaches at camp are one and the same – former high level club, National, World and even Olympic level athletes. While everyone of them is as down to earth as the next person, these people have inspired and motivated me over the past 8 years, and continue to share their gifts to the campers every year.

Who are the campers? Every walk of life, every age, every ability. Anyone paddles. Everyone paddles. The age range this year was 21 to 80. 80! That’s amazing! Some people were paddling for their first time – first time ever paddling ANYthing. Some are recreational paddlers, some are National and World level athletes. Several Breast Cancer Survivor crews were there. If you want to meet an interesting group of people who are surviving AND thriving, come to camp, and meet my Survivor crew friends. They’ll show you pink hair and a determination that doesn’t quit. And they are pretty good at paddling, singing, having a good laugh and enjoying a glass of wine or a beer when all is done.

The spirit of camp moves me. It provides me with experiences of joy and laughter, and a connection and commitment that is so strong, I’ve yet to see it elsewhere. 20 people in one boat – you would do for them, or your coach, as you would for no other, just to experience the rhythm and power that make that boat ‘glide’, just to work as hard as the people around you.

Camp – I come for the teaching, and the paddling. I come back for the people.


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