It is the beginning of April and many parts of Canada are starting to awaken from winter and the signs of spring are beginning to show their face, funny enough, as I look out my window and we currently have light flurries here in Prince Edward Island! In a normal year, many of us with immersion gear are starting to get out on the water and most of us are certainly starting to think about getting our kayaks ready for some spring paddling. Some of us might have routines throughout winter that keep our minds and bodies engaged in kayaking or the other sports we love.
This spring we have a new factor to deal with and it certainly is unlike anything we have seen before. COVID-19 has turned many of our lives on its side and has created a lot of uncertainty in our lives. Depending on where you live it can be more challenging to venture out for a spring paddle or more challenging to engage in the cross training activities we might normally undertake in spring.
Our public health professionals are doing an incredible job keeping our population safe and healthy and this has meant some restrictions have been placed on our daily lives. This can take a toll on not only our bodies, but our minds as well. This spring, more than others, it has become more apparent how all aspects of our health are of great importance. The health of our minds and bodies are interconnected and taking care of one depends upon the health of the other.
I have been working hard to stay active and focus on wellness. Below are a few activities that have helped me. As we are all under different directives and following different recommendations, all of these suggestions will be focused on indoor activities in your home or activities you can do close to home. We all know our bodies better than anyone and know what our individual needs are, so listening to your body and allowing it to guide our direction is always a good path to follow. I am not a healthcare professional or a personal trainer (although I have been both a long time ago). I am however a kayak instructor and have been a competitive athlete since I was young as well as a varsity athlete and that is informing these suggestions. I am hoping to present these as options to encourage us all to look into how we can engage in positive self-care and nurture the mind and body during these challenging times.
I have been actively practicing yoga for about 4 years. I have found my yoga practice has provided me many positive gains for my paddling. My flexibility and mobility has improved greatly and I have particularly noticed how I have become stronger at the farthest reaches of my mobility.
Now, I am lucky to have a partner (Heather) that is a yoga instructor and we are able to talk about how yoga can help kayakers and she has been able to guide and coach me. Her first guidance was to ask me what body parts we are using while paddling, and few quickly came to the surface. Our shoulders are in high use and are constantly rotating, our obliques and core muscles are twisting and stabilizing regularly and our hips are in seated position for long periods and regularly stabilizing our body in the kayak. She smiled and highlighted to me that yoga will have a lot to offer shoulder, core and hip health. She highlighted that yoga will certainly help stretch and lengthen our muscles, will help improve joint health and will also provide strength development in different ranges of mobility among a variety of other benefits, including mental health and an opportunity to connect with your breath (more on that later).
There are a variety of options for at-home yoga practice. At the beginning of my yoga journey Heather emphasized that it is called yoga “practice” and encouraged me to allow myself time to practice and develop my movement! As with many things, consistency is key. If you are having trouble finding an option that works for you, I encourage you to check out Nature Space Yoga. They are offering yoga sessions every Wednesday evening online using Facebook Live through a private group. If you’re one of Heather’s regular students it’s free. If you want to join the group it’s only $10.
Strength and resistance training is a great way to maintain and build lean muscle mass, increase strength, improve balance, increase stamina and improve core strength – all of which are helpful for improving paddling performance as well as preventing injuries.
I feel, during these times, the key is to simply keep moving! As Heather’s Grandmother would say “You rest, you rust!”. Of course, rest if important, but you get the idea. Depending on your past training history, if you are new to training, this likely isn’t the time to be trying new complex movements or to go for personal bests, but it is quite reasonable to start to explore some home based training options. With a simple google search you are sure to find a variety of options out there from bodyweight exercises, resistance bands and weights. There is certainly something for everyone, start simple and start slow. The goal is to simply keep moving! If you are new it would often be recommended to find a personal trainer to ensure you start out with correct form and movement. Given our times, in-person sessions likely aren’t an option, however if this is something you see value in there are virtual coaching options available online.
One option folks could check out for personal training as well as virtual programming is Kinetic Fitness in Charlottetown, PEI. They have a variety of online activities on the go. Send them a message, they will be happy to help find something that works for you!
Cardiovascular training, often referred to as “cardio” is a great way to improve your physical and mental wellbeing. As kayakers, we know that our self-propelled activity can be demanding at times, especially when the weather changes on us. This is a great opportunity to spend some time on building your “engine” so when things return to normal you will have the endurance and energy for those amazing days on the water.
There is also research out there that indicates consistent aerobic activity will not only improve physical health and help prevent chronic disease, but will also improve your ability for restful sleep and emotional health.
Maybe you have a stationary bike, treadmill or rower, which is great, then you are all set! Many of us do not, but fear not, there are lots of options out there. If you are able to, get outside, go for a walk, run or ride your bike. If you need to be indoors there are a variety of bodyweight circuits at multiple skill levels online that I am sure will get your heartbeat pumping.
Many folks have preconceived notions of what mediation is. Often times this conjures up images of uncomfortable postures, sitting just so with eyes closed and dark lighting, and the impossible feat of, “clearing your mind.” Not but a few years ago, this would have been my perspective as well. Heather is also a meditation/mindfulness practitioner and instructor, and has helped open my eyes to a much more accessible option for meditation; simply stopping to pause and pay attention to my breath.
One practice is in a long grocery line (something we avoid these days) and I now pause and listen to my breath. I relax and feel the breath go in and my breath go out. I have been amazed at how this simple practice has helped slow down my racing mind which may be worrying about the future or re-evaluating the past. I’m not sure about you, but frequently I can find myself caught up in the mindless “chatter” in my head. Sometimes referred to as the “monkey mind” which is constantly offering analysis and commentary on our experiences. This prevents us from focusing on what is right in front of us and being present for the moment. Being in the present moment allows us to enjoy our experience and connect with those around us more deeply. If you find the concept of mindfulness or meditation is daunting, there are a variety of simple resources online that will help you to learn more. There are also a variety of great apps that a quite accessible and can be useful for beginners. The one I have enjoyed is called Calm.
I have made a real connection to mindfulness in the last couple years and while I am paddling, like many of you, I am completely in the present and focused on everything right around me!
Jarrod Gunn McQuillan is a Paddle Canada Instructor and the owner-operator of Cloud 9 Adventures based in the Maritime Provinces of Canada offering a variety of Paddle Canada Programs as well as sea kayak training adventures on the Bay of Fundy, Atlantic Coast and Gulf of St. Lawrence.