Getting ready to roll with the best version of me

by | May 8, 2017 | kayaking, meditation, yoga

I want to be a better kayak roller. I also want to be able to manage my depression better. I am aware that my rolling is limited by my physically and mentally capabilities, and that improvement will only come through working on both capabilities. The amalgam of best advice that I have acquired is that my mental health requires a combination of pharmacological support, physical fitness and mental training. There is a surprisingly similar set of capabilities that I need to grow if I am to move towards the two disparate desired outcomes.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a spiritual leader and humanitarian who has written extensively on how to create outcomes. He describes three elements, Intention, Attention and Manifestation. To paraphrase his teachings into something more consumable; Success (manifestation) is achieved through forethought (intention) and engagement (attention). It is such a simple concept that we often overlook its value in creating achievement and growth.

Nothing in the world can bother you as much as your own mind, I tell you. In fact, others seem to be bothering you, but it is not other, it is your own mind. – Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Growing, or growth, is inherent in most of our everyday practices. Be that growth in mental clarity, physical skills development, or the building of entities like a wooden kayak. These acts if initiated with a deliberate and consciously acknowledged intent will have a greater probability of matching desired growth than acts spontaneously engaged in without forethought of the output.

Knowing this relationship between intent and manifestation has allowed me to help focus my attention on some very specific practices, the collection of which I will label as yogic.

Yoga is a huge field, a vast collection of spiritual and physical practices that can feel overwhelming if one attempts to engage in all of it. I am focused on practices that will increase my physical strength and flexibility, and those that will help develop my mental acuity.

Aside from the obvious general fitness and low body mass index that help the physical aspects of kayak rolling, muscular control and flexibility are also essential to rolling. The flexibility of your spine and torso, the ability to control and use the strength of your abs, quads, lats and triceps all impacts your ability to move your body through the motions necessary to roll well. Last year I noticed that my back flexibility, ab and quad strength and control were all letting me down. They were preventing me maintain from a good position during the ending of forward finishing rolls and they were preventing me from arching my back downwards sufficiently for more technical lay back rolls. I was also finding myself consumed by frustration at my inabilities when practicing hard rolls. This highlighted to me the need to address mental health, not just for depression management, but also for the success of my rolling practice, although if I am honest I only realize that now with hindsight.

My yoga practice has allowed me to focus on the physical development of muscular strength and length. Meditation practice, both within my yoga practice and external to it, has been helping me develop the mental space to manage my emotional responses to stress.

We are all vulnerable to stressors. How our minds react, deal, cope or collapse in response to our challenges depends upon our strategically developed methods of dealing with stressors such as meditation. Our reactions are also impacted by our present circumstances, something that I will call circumstantial vulnerability. The greater our vulnerability the more likely we are to be unable to respond in a healthy manner to challenges, so it is important that we develop skills to lower our vulnerability over the long term as well as attempt to decrease our circumstantial vulnerability.

Ask my wife when I am the most vulnerable and she will tell you that it is when I am hungry. Why does hunger make us mentally vulnerable? Leptin and ghrelin are two hormones, the production of which have been shown to be impacted by reduction in food intake. These hormones have also been shown to impact the serotonin uptake in the brain. Significantly, the hormone gherlin has been associated with anhedonia a condition where it is not possible to feel pleasure. So being hungry unquestionable throws a challenge at your brain, making it harder to enjoy things and generally messing with your brains serotonin functions. Hunger is thus a factor in our level of circumstantial vulnerability.

The second most common cause of circumstantial vulnerability for me is tiredness or disturbed sleep patterns. This should come as no surprise given the function of serotonin (a major chemical factor in depression) in sleep regulation. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation has a profound effect on the level of brain activity in the amygdala, which is the area that decodes emotion. The research shows that the sleep deprived brain starts to impact the secretion of norepinephrine which is a trigger of our flight -or-fight reactions. So, like hunger, tiredness is a factor in our situational vulnerability.

Learning about the science behind the brain chemistry helps me rationalize the importance of mitigating the circumstantial vulnerability and not pushing them away. Last year, the quickest way for me to get fraught, was to practice kayak rolling, and fail, when I am tired and hungry. Unfortunately practicing after work, in the evening, which was my most frequent schedule, was highly likely to lead to that exact scenario. Fortunately, now having identified the cause and effect, I am now armed with knowledge to prevent it or minimize it.

My physical yoga practice has been improving my flexibility and strength. I feel I am physically at a level that I do not remember having been before, and it is continuing to improve with each week. I am excited to share in future posts the yoga poses and practices that are helping me and how I think they apply to kayaking and especially rolling.

This summer I will be changing the way I practice my rolling. I will be trying to take advantage of techniques that will maximize my physiological and physical circumstances, and trying to be the best version of myself. That is my intention, and I will be giving it my attention. I look forward to the manifestation of new rolling capabilities.