This week my theme for my yoga classes is ‘Cleansing and Replenishment.’ This theme is easy for a paddler to appreciate. When it rains the rivers are replenished with water and anything that was stagnant or stuck on the river is washed away downstream. Our bodies also replenish and cleanse themselves without us even thinking about it. Every inhalation oxygenates the blood that our heart pumps out to the rest of the body nourishing every cell. With every exhalation we expel the waste product of oxygen – carbon dioxide. In this way, every full breath we take replenishes and cleanses the body and the blood. If you pause right now and bring awareness to your breath you’ll tap into this natural cycle.
During this busy Holiday season turning to your breath can also be very useful for reducing stress and taking a little time out for yourself. Breathing is the best stress reduction because it’s always available and it’s free! At the top of challenging rapids that I’m nervous about running I pause and take at least one full, slow breath. Breathing mindfully creates space in between my thoughts which allows me to relax, focus and tap into the flow of paddling well. It helps me to ‘cleanse’ my mind of negativity and see the perfection of the moment. You don’t have to be paddling a challenging river, or paddle surfing in the ocean to use your breath in this way. You could be at a family gathering or out last minute gift shopping – anytime you feel nervous, anxious or overwhelmed.
Another replenishing cycle that is good for the body and mind is proper hydration. Dehydration can lead to your muscles getting fatigued and not performing at optimum level. And, considering that fluids make up 60% of your body and assist with proper digestion, circulation, and transportation of nutrients, getting dehydrated can affect how you feel physically and mentally. Having fresh, filtered water with me at all times is key to feeling replenished and energized in any situation on or off the river.
Relaxation is also good for mind and body, but it’s something that I hear many people, especially paddler types, resist. In my experience most paddlers have personalities with a lot of drive to push their personal limits. This ambitious mindset leads us to believe that taking a break means going to a vigorous hot yoga class, mountain biking or paddling. Yes, all of these activities have wonderful benefits for mind and body, AND what would it feel like to truly take a break by doing a restorative or yin yoga class or going for a walk? I am speaking from experience! I would often skip relaxation pose in my personal morning yoga practice and go straight into meditation. To me it seemed appropriate since meditation is relaxing right? I liked that I could save time too. But, meditation is a practice of concentration and focus and so it isn’t as relaxing as relaxation pose where you let everything go. When I became aware of my pattern I decided to make a commitment to myself to finish every practice with relaxation. What I’ve found is that there is huge benefit in allowing myself the extra 5 – 10 minutes to truly relax. When I make the relaxation suggestion to people their reply is often something like: ‘Yeah, but I need to sweat, I need to workout.” Everyone is different and I understand that we each know best for our own bodies, and at the same time, my experience has been that the resistance to truly relaxing is actually a fear of relaxing – fear that it isn’t good enough, fear of what we might feel when we let go or that somehow we won’t feel fulfilled unless we’re running full steam ahead all of the time. Isn’t it interesting to not be afraid of whitewater kayaking, but to be afraid of allowing ourselves to relax?
If you look around you the world we live in mirrors the natural cycles of cleansing and replenishment. In the US and Canada most plants and trees are barren of leaves and flowers right now. This is the natural cycle. What you are seeing in these trees and plants is simmering potential. It is the cleansing phase that is preparing for the replenishment phase of spring when the leaves and buds come out. Our culture puts a lot of emphasis on the summertime phase which is full on abundance and beauty. But nature shows us that everything runs through cycles, including the rivers that we love to paddle, and I don’t know of any plant or tree that stays in its full abundance/most beautiful phase all of the time. Nature shows us that there is beauty and power in all of the phases.
So this Holiday season, or throughout the whole winter which is a great time for going within, if you find yourself feeling stressed or fatigued take a moment to slow down, and truly relax amidst all of the bustle. It really can be as simple as walking into a quiet room and taking one full, deep breath. Don’t be afraid to give yourself the gift of replenishment. It’s available, it’s free, it’s our natural cycle and it’s worth it!