Conscious Strokes – A mindful, yogic, vegan, kayaking blog
I am returning from a trip to the West Coast. Jacquelyn and I took my parents to California as a gift to celebrate their 50th anniversary. We spent time in San Francisco, and then made our way eastwards into Yosemite National Park.
Since first seeing Ansel Adam’s photographs of Half Dome, and the Yosemite falls, visiting this natural wonder of the world has been on my bucket list. I had a desire to experience the wonders of seeing the majesty of the mountains, hewn from granite that millenniums ago had bubbled up from the volcanic fault lines below.
I am reading a book written by Sharon Salzberg, Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness. A focal point of her message is that “Love for others without the foundation of love for ourselves becomes a loss of boundaries, codependency, and a painful and fruitless search for intimacy”. Self-love is at time been challenging for me. Society seems to teach us that self-love is about fueling our inner ego.
I have always wondered why the hell I enjoy rolling my kayaks in the Minnesota winter. It gets f@#$ing cold here, there is no other way of putting it. -18°F, -27°C for the metrically inclined, is the lowest temperature I have paddled in (so far). Wrapped in my tuilik, dry suit, neoprene mittens and layers of woolen long underwear and sweaters my body felt like the Michelin man.
I wish my silent absence was due to a period of reflection, or self-development, about which I could wax lyrically. However, instead, life’s curve ball sent me chasing down a path of lay off, searching and reemployment. This was an unplanned adventure caused by the ever present, unpleasant, human condition of the quest for wealth by people other than myself.
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.
We act as if we know what we are doing, yet we exist in a permanently changing environment. Rather than accepting this, we attempt to control things, and we resist the inevitable change. By spending time resisting we are missing the opportunity to enjoy the present.
I would posit, that rolling impacts at least three different mood affecting chemicals within the brain/mind (serotonin, oxytocin and estrogen) and so it should come as no surprise that I come off the water feeling refreshed, happy and cleansed, much like when I walk out of the yoga studio or get up after a meditation.
Just as my kayak rolling needs practice and training to grow my abilities, so too I need to train my body and mind to transition out of its current state of emotion processing. My meditation and yoga practices are creating the space within my thoughts to allow me to recognize the mental beating is about to commence and make a simple, conscious, acknowledgment of my flaws.
Much has been written about man’s eternal quest for reason, to discover the essence of what our purpose on this planet is. Being absent of a deity to dictate my destiny I find myself confused why we should, or if we actually have, a purpose. So instead let me flip this discussion around and approach it from an alternative more solvable perspective.
Yesterday I returned to the sweat shop, my weekly hot yoga class, an opportunity to immerse myself completely for an hour. The room kept at 105F, my body slick with running perspiration, drips falling noticeably from extended limps, onto my sodden towel. My body and mind in unison, occupied, completely, developing strength and flexibility.