Over the last few months, I’ve been focusing on how to be more present in many aspects of my life. One of them, obviously, is kayaking. Trying to explain that to some of my friends has been challenging, so I decided to take it further and try to write about it.
Before I start, I would like to say that I am not writing to say ‘this is right’ and ‘this is wrong’. I’m trying to share a few things that work for me to feel more present, or mindful, when paddling. I am still working on it … there are things I do that I probably won’t change for a while. Being more aware of these things is already a step forward in being more present, so I thought, why not share them?
What is the first thing you do when you put your boat on the water for the first lap of your day? I feel like taking a deep breath is something most kayakers would do naturally. There are many reasons you would: tell yourself ‘yes that’s it, I finally get to paddle’, calm yourself if you’re feeling nervous, or maybe just appreciate being here. Taking the time to focus on my breathing when I get on the river has had a good few positive impacts on me: I feel more present, but it also calms me down and makes me realise how ridiculous and unimportant my stress levels and my small problems in life are.
Next time you get on the water, try closing your eyes, take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Focus on everything you feel around you: what’s under your feet, the water flowing under your boat, the breeze on your face, the scenery around you … this might sound pretty cheesy, but spending a few seconds doing that could make you feel a lot calmer, and more present.
Stop and smell
Memories can often be evoked by your sense of smell. Kayakers usually have a pretty bad sense of smell, but it’s worth paying attention to. Take a few deep breaths and try to put words on what you smell. You brain’s bank of smells are all connected to places or moments of your life. You’ve probably experienced a smell that brought you straight back to a particular place or time. You can build up your own bank of smells and memories by taking the time to reflect and breathe every time you get to a place. Who knows, maybe hiking through some forest in ten years will remind you of an amazing day you had on the river?
Most of us have GoPros and cameras nowadays. Have you ever run a rapid you wouldn’t otherwise have run because someone took out their camera?
Wearing a GoPro puts a kind of pressure on me and the way I paddle – I feel ‘observed’ and concerned that all my moves had to perfect. Beside the usual thoughts of what was the best way to run a rapid, I would also (subconsciously) ask myself how it would look best on video. That somehow changes the way I paddle.
So I switch on my GoPro at the put-in and leave it on until I get to the takeout. I become less mindful of the camera. I don’t have to think about it before every rapid. If there’s a drop of water on the lens when I do a cool move, I just have to accept that I won’t be able to post it online, and that’s no big deal!
If you do bring your camera, try not to think about what’s going look the ‘coolest’. Run the rapid the way you want or try a new move because that’s the feeling you’re seeking, not because it would get you ten more likes on your next post. Detaching yourself from that social pressure will help you to focus on the present.
Social media is hard to avoid. There are good reasons you could be keen to share something you did; to encourage people to get out and paddle, to show how cool you are, to show how beautiful a place is, or to please your sponsors. Photos and video are wonderful souvenirs of travel and kayaking. No matter what your reasons for sharing, it shouldn’t be a big part of your experience on the river. If you don’t get the chance to be on the water that often; you might as well enjoy your time and focus on what’s there in front of you.
It’s all about balance. People sometimes refer to Instagram as their paddling diary, which is a great idea. But a brief written personal diary or journal of every day spent paddling will make you reflect at the end of the day in a way that posting a photo on Instagram might not. You might even build up your ‘smell diary’ and connect all the dots together: smells, souvenirs, words, photos and videos … reflecting on and enhancing your paddling experience and how you feel on the river.
I’m working on my mindfulness – if you have any thoughts on what I shared or have tips or tricks you use yourself, hit me up on Facebook, I’d love to hear them!