From Home, to Paddle, to Work: Morning Paddling and the Mental Health Benefits
With the ever challenging times we are living in due to the COVID-19 outbreak, we were forced to hold back from paddling for a while. Back in March and April accessing places to paddle was quite limited. We were only able to dream of future paddling plans or perhaps relive special paddling moments from past years that activated our paddling memories and motivated us to plan for future paddling experiences. We knew eventually that restrictions would be relaxed, when Provincial and National Parks would open and when paddlers could again connect socially with each other. We were looking forward to those days!
Now that we can get onto the water, despite being in the middle of a pandemic, paddling feels so great! I felt this blog might offer fellow paddlers some thoughts of how our mental health can be supported by paddling,
I am fortunate to live and work in a great city, Calgary. My regular commute takes me past Glenmore Reservoir. In the past few years I have enjoyed a morning paddle on Glenmore before digging into my work day. I suppose not everyone is lucky enough to pass by a place to paddle, or perhaps live in a supper accessible lake community, but if you thought about it, you too may be able to find a sweet spot to have an early morning paddle. Some folks drag themselves out of bed to go to work out at the gym or hit the pool for some morning laps before heading off to their work day. It’s definitely worth trying to build self-care and exercise into a daily routine. Paddling is a great option to set the tone for your day.
Early morning paddles for me seem to set the course for the rest of the day. There’s a peace and solitude that is omnipresent and is only interrupted by the sound of wakening birds. Sunrises on Glenmore are often quite fantastic, particularly when the water is still. Getting out on the water early in the morning before others are awake helps me feel energized and ready to start the day in a focused and grounded way. There is a connectedness and calmness along with a level of alertness and energy that comes with paddling before my work day starts. I’ve tried getting out on the water at the end of the day but I find it difficult to commit to. There is generally something that keeps me at work or something that is pulling me in another direction, away from the water. Even on the days when it is hard to wake up and head out for that 6:00 am paddle, once I get on the water the benefits are so great. Simply celebrating that I pushed through the desire to sleep in a bit, I’m pleased to find myself having a fantastic paddle and nodding at the rowers who are also out for early morning training. In this time of physical distancing, paddling is a self-soothing outlet to let go of the stress and anxiety we are all experiencing.
All of us have stress in our lives and in our work. COVID 19 has definitely impacted our ability to cope day to day. We are often faced with the need to consider so many more aspects in our daily lives that we can experience decision fatigue. Brain science acknowledges that we think better when we are calm. While that might be a “No Brainer”, there is research that suggests how we can calm ourselves down to be able to think through the things life throws our way. When we have a lot on our minds and are charged up emotionally, we are using the lower parts of the brain sometimes referred to as our “Lizard Brain”. Patterned repetitive activities are great ways to help up calm down. When we are calm we are able to access out cortex, the thinking part of our brain, we can understand abstract concepts and non-reactive future orientated thought is easier. The cortex is fondly referred to as the “Wizard Brain”.
Kayaking falls into the group of activities that are undoubtedly patterned and repetitive. I find when paddling, that I become focused on the mechanics of paddling. I think about posture, where the paddle enters the water, engaging the torso and legs, where the paddle comes out of the water, while also maintaining a relaxed open hand and soon, I am just in the groove. Paddling helps any of the worries, frustrations or irritations of life fall away. I find myself “simply paddling” with a clear mind that is only connected with the movements, the water and nature. It’s such a fantastic way to ease into the day with a feeling of accomplishment.
Aside from a soothing start to the day, there are so many benefits to a routine of morning paddling. Kayaking helps to reduce depression and anxiety by releasing chemicals in the brain, particularly endorphins that help regulate our mood leading to improved happiness, mental health and well being. Kayaking improves focus, enhances memory, improves sleep, results in healthier self-esteem and allows time for self reflection. Kayaking can be thought of as exercising in the “blue gym” or doing a “moving meditation.”
Flat water kayaking is something that almost anyone can get into. In general it offers such rewarding experiences and supports mental health as well as physical health. There is nothing better than paddling off from the shoreline under your own power and settling into a paddling cadence while you connect with nature. Whether it is for one hour or several hours, as paddlers we can notice that decrease in stress levels as the endorphins kick in.
If kayaking is a new idea your just wondering about, check it out by registering for a Wednesday Evening Kayak/SUP Rental night.