I am desiring to utilize what I have learned and acquired from my yoga practice and transform that into serving those who are in need. I want to somehow take all of the time that I have put Into learning yoga poses, practicing conscious breathing patterns and sitting on a cushion alone in the quiet and turn that into providing assistance to those faced with extreme challenge. I want to do this because I believe we can make the world a place that supports the needs of each other. I believe that we can transform suffering into caring and challenge into compassion.
The method I am employing to attempt to do this is by participating in Crossing for a Cure. I am going to paddle my SUP, with support boat in tow, across the Gulf Stream from Bimini, Bahamas to Lake Worth, Florida. A journey that covers 80 miles and has to be completed within 18 hours. I am fundraising for the journey to benefit Piper’s Angels. The money raised will help those with Cystic Fibrosis and their families to receive care and treatments that can improve their quality of life.
Why am I participating in the Crossing? I want to try to do something that seems impossible! I want to move outside my own personal space of comfort to see what I am made of. When I first heard about the Crossing I had paddled about 2 miles toward the Jupiter Inlet in Florida and looked out at the Atlantic Ocean. My feet hurt, my back was sore and I was tired. Thinking about going out into the ocean and paddling to the Bahamas seemed absurd. I remember my friend telling me that he had participated in the event the year before. When I had heard about this it blew my mind. It was one of those moments that you almost just can’t register because it seems so over the top. As I was paddling and remembering that he had accomplished this I felt something inside me stir. I could feel the beginning of me wondering, “could I do this too if I tried?” I immediately upon returning to shore called him to find out more details. Upon hearing the details of his experience I was captivated. That was it! The spark had been lit.
It is always good to let a big idea sit for a few days so I did a little research. When I learned that the journey was inspired by a father (Travis Suit) who wants to help his daughter(Piper Suit) who has CF and others who are diagnosed with this life threatening illness it turned that spark into a fire. I have children and holding them close and wanting the best for them is something that stirs my heart. Something about the combination of attempting the seemingly impossible while driving awareness and support to those that need it seems like a perfect match. I also watched the video that documents the Crossing called Epic Love and I felt electricity in my body and tears well up from within as I realized I was going to go through with registering for this event.
Sometimes when coming up with challenges to test the human soul and fortitude for endurance the endeavor can often be seen as selfish and unproductive for the greater good. When we have busy lives and families that need our time and attention, to pull from that can appear selfish and unimportant. Participating in the Crossing gives me the feeling that I can challenge myself but instead of it being for my own self pleasure I can potentially help someone else. This is what in the world of Yoga is considered Karma Yoga. Acting for the benefit of others while expecting nothing in return. In summary by being of service I potentially can explore the practice of Yoga further.
Why cross the Gulf Stream on a Stand Up Paddle (SUP) board? The first time that I saw a video of Laird Hamiliton riding a SUP on the waves in Hawaii the hair stood up on the back of my neck. You know how when you love two things that seem completely unrelated are married together and produce a connection that you can’t believe hasn’t already been made? Like how come I didn’t see that coming? That is so obvious, of course you could stand up on a floaty board and use a paddle to propel yourself forward. Well until that moment it had never occurred to me. Living in Florida the waves are very inconsistent and this knowledge opened up a completely new avenue to enjoy the ocean and get into incredible fitness at the same time. I grew up surfing and paddling in canoes so of course I have to get a SUP, right?!?
The other reason I love SUP so much is that it feels like it is an activity that has a history that goes way back. I have included a link here that explains some of its history. It has strong roots in Polynesia culture and today it’s popularity is global. SUP is similar to Yoga which has a history that potentially spans the course of several thousands of years. Paddling in the oceans and rivers is a way that humankind have traversed the globe long before the combustion engine. When I am out in the ocean with the solitude of my board, paddle and my thoughts I feel it gives me the freedom to connect with our ancestors. I feel like I can somehow transcend the boundaries between the modern era of hyper technology and the age old practice of moving forward through the stroke of a paddle. It is very grounding to feel the fluidity of movement of my muscles much the same way I feel yoga facilitates the same outcome. Yoga practice and paddling feel like two art forms that are compliments to each other.
There are three core elements I have learned to cultivate through yoga practice that seem to compliment the practice of paddling that I would like to expound upon.
The first core element I feel an inextricable link between both practices is balance. Paddling while standing up on a narrow board in turbulent and constantly changing surface such as the ocean requires an impeccable amount of balance and coordination. My working definition of balance is the ability to make fine motor muscle adjustments at any given instant that allows one to maintain a specific position. Yoga practice includes practicing standing on either both feet and/or one foot while making as many different possible positions with the upper body and limbs as possible. Practicing holding challenging postures for longer periods of time has helped me tremendously with developing my strength and coordination and my overall balance ability. I am finding the coordination that comes from balance in Yoga to be enormously beneficial when confronted with extreme conditions faced on the Stand Up Paddle board.
The second core element of yoga practice that ties in wonderfully with SUP is the engagement of core which here means cultivating abdominal and pelvic floor muscle strength. I suffered a large amount of back pain when I started training for this event. So much so that I really started to doubt myself and my ability to make the entire journey. In my yoga practice I have been trying to cultivate abdominal and pelvic floor strength which in yoga terms is called Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha. One of the purposes of learning to strengthen core is so that more challenging poses we can be sustained by stabilizing the center to support the overall structure. Like the old saying goes, “castles made of sand wash into the sea, eventually.” Putting this theory to practice can be a building block to complicated yoga pose design. I began to practice paddling and simultaneously engaging the pelvic floor muscles and use the contraction of my abdomen. Once I began to exercise these practices while paddling I noticed that my back pain went away quickly thereafter.
The third core element of yoga practice that relates beautifully with paddling is the conscious application of both breathing and meditation. I find that when I am really struggling while I am paddling. By that I mean when my body is super sore, sweat is pouring out of every pore and exhaustion seems to be the norm. I am trying to consciously relax a bit and try to breath really deep and even go as far as to paddle at the same speed as I am breathing. Thus bringing the element of what in yoga terms is called vinyasa, which means breath and movement coordination, to my paddling. Practicing endless repetitions of certain movements and trying to fine tune the breath to be in sync with that is a proudly concentrative exercise. The basic premise is to inhale while lifting the paddle out of the water and then when the paddle enters the water exhale through the stroke and sync these two actions together seamlessly over and over again. This has proven to me to be a game changer. I am fascinated by the challenge of coordinating my breath with my paddle stroke. When I practice yoga all I want to do is improve my attention to coordination of my movement with my breath. Now I am finding my paddling practice is enhancing my yoga practice and visa versa.
My mission for writing these thoughts down and conveying these ideas to you is my attempt to bring my love for the practice of yoga and Stand Up Paddling through the event of Crossing for the Cure to a wider audience. I believe that we can enhance our experience of life by lending support and compassion to those that need and welcome it. If you would like to offer your support you can donate by clicking here. It is also my intention to just enjoy the journey and give this my best effort. Only 11 days to go and we will embark on the 15th of June, 2019. I will keep you posted with the outcome.