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Back roads yoga for paddling (8 photos)

Bill is looking forward to paddling and to help with physical preparations he sought some advice to strengthen and stretch our bodies on and off the water

Many of us have been housebound for a while and now it is time to get out and stay out. We are aching to paddle our canoes, kayaks and paddleboards. We’ve got to ready in more ways than just finding our gear and to prevent the day after smarting and soreness.

It's pretty accurate to say yoga has taken the country by storm. And the popularity of the practice is visible in lots of ways: in the sheer number of yoga studios and classes, the number of yoga accessories that are for sale at all kinds of retailers

But even more, it's evident in people's reasons for doing yoga including getting ready for the paddling season.

“As paddlers, we are often in a forward flexed position, straining the back and torso as well as hips and SI joints. Every muscle in the body has a dream of being strong and supple for optimal performance. Muscles want to be able to do a multitude of paddle strokes when called into action and be able to yield when it's time to stretch and relax,” said the author of Yoga for Paddling.


Anna Levesque’s book includes paddleboards, kayaks and canoes. She is the leading expert on kayak instruction for women and yoga for paddling. Named one of the most inspirational paddlers alive by Canoe and Kayak magazine, she has been featured in landed Time, Shape, and Self magazines.

She is a certified instructor of just about anything that moves on the water. American Canoe Association whitewater kayak instructor and trainer, stand-up paddleboard (SUPer) instructor trainer, and an hour certified yoga teacher with Yoga Alliance. She is the founder/director of Girls at Play and Mind Body Paddle.

As an athlete, Anna was a member of the Canadian Freestyle Whitewater Kayak Team from 1999 to 2003 and earned a bronze medal at the Freestyle Kayak World Championships in 2001. Needless to say, her depth of knowledge is immense in both paddling and yoga, which shines in Yoga for Paddling.

The book is a visual, instructional guide designed to walk readers through 30-35 yoga poses that are effective in stretching the muscles that paddlers use most, and strengthening the muscles that they use least. The book includes chapters on anatomy and alignment principles specific to the movements of paddling for kayakers, canoeists, and SUPers, and includes tips on proper paddling technique, performance focus, relaxation, and short stories about paddling injuries healed via yoga. One to three photos demonstrate each pose, with clear, concise text on how to get into and hold the poses.

There is a metaphorical approach in her paddling prose.

“My words for people starting out are to recognize that the river would not exist without the banks. The banks of the river are boundaries that allow for the water to flow and dance freely as it makes its way downstream. There is freedom in the flow of the river because of the banks.

"To me, this is a beautiful metaphor for finding freedom through discipline.

"Having the discipline to practice on a daily basis, even if it's just a few poses/stretches is what's going to have the biggest positive impact on our health, wellbeing and our ability to paddle in the long term.

"Doing whatever we want whenever we want is actually bondage to our compulsions. Doing what is necessary, what our bodies are asking us to do in the moment.”

See her four essential poses/stretches on YouTube.


Anna uses a river running analogy.

"In order to peel out of an eddy, you need to understand the downstream current, the eddy line, the feature creating the eddy, and the current inside the eddy.

"It's all connected, and being able to engage when you need to engage and pause when you need to pause is important for executing a successful river-running move.

"The inability of just one muscle group to move through its full range of motion can have an impact on performance and comfort. For example, hamstrings must be strong enough to keep our knees bent when we sit in our kayaks or canoes or stand on our SUPs. On the other hand, they also need to be supple enough to allow us to sit or stand with our pelvis tilted forward (anterior tilt) for good posture.

"Good posture leads to optimal core engagement, which leads to optimal power in our strokes. Paddlers who have shortened hamstrings paddle with their low backs rounded. This position can lead to back pain, an increased risk for disk injury, and poor stroke technique."

Strengthening the muscles that we underuse in paddling and stretching the muscles that we overuse helps to bring our bodies back into optimal alignment. Alignment can help prevent and reduce pain, discomfort, and injury.

She said, “By paying attention to our bodies and bringing balance to the imbalances, we have the potential to heal ourselves before invasive intervention is needed.

"I do the work required to bring optimal alignment to my body so that I can continue to enjoy the sport that I love. Not only enjoy it, but paddle with skill, ease, comfort, and strength.

"Optimal alignment also allows for freedom and ease of movement. Hunched shoulders, poor posture, and an inability to enjoy the sports we love do not have to be our destiny in old age.

"We can choose to take care of our bodies and our alignment. By doing so, we give ourselves the best possible chance of enjoying a strong, supple, and active body throughout our lives.

"Crucial bodily functions such as digestion, breathing, and elimination also work better with optimal alignment. Our diaphragms have room to move, and our organs don't get compressed, which can lead to reduced function.

"Doing the work to balance our imbalances is important, not only for our ability to paddle but also for the state of our overall health and quality of life.

In this book, Anna has chosen poses that focus mainly on opening the front of the body (a counter movement to paddling), as well as targeting other relevant areas, such as the hamstrings.

The positioning of the poses themselves can help paddlers balance their bodies. She's also included alignment principles, subtle actions that can be engaged while in the poses

"To understand how yoga for paddling can benefit your body and performance, it's important to have a basic knowledge of the muscles we are targeting in this book.

"I'm not an anatomist, so my intention with this information is not to be overly detail-oriented 

"I want to provide a big-picture view that sets the reader up for further exploration and learning. It's relatively straightforward to feel and understand the imbalances that arise from the movement of the upper body in paddling. The lower body, however, is mostly static, whether sitting, kneeling, or standing.”

Before taking the practice from land to water, Levesque offers guidance to the reader on how to structure the provided postures into a flow or balanced routine.

It’s there where she offers three sample sequences moving through gentle, active, and vigorous levels of movement. I appreciate how she reminds us as the reader-paddler that more isn’t always better, and that there is great value in taking time, to not only balance our bodies muscularly but also energetically- allowing the mind and body to fully recover before pushing the limits to the next campsite. See her profile.

Northern Ontario

Krystal Henophy Is the co-owner of Grounded Studios located in North Bay.

It offers many styles of yoga along with martial arts and has been in business since 2014. She said the benefits of yoga are first noted physically.

"We see the body becoming more flexible, stronger and core toned as well. The longer yoga is practiced, the more benefits may be observed emotionally and mentally as well as spiritually.”

Krystal commented on doing yoga outside.

"During our beautiful seasons of change, we offer outdoor classes (alongside our indoor classes) with the idea of 'grounding' the body and offering greater awareness to our connection to the Earth.

"When we practice yoga outdoors, our senses are heightened, we smell the air differently and the gentle breeze can assist in offering a greater breath.

"The sunshine warms the body and increases our wellbeing through the draw of Vitamin D.

"We hear the sounds of birds flying by along with chipmunks and squirrels playing and scurrying. We feel the soft grass against our skin... moments of peace and calm resonate through our minds perhaps with greater ease...

"The benefits of yoga are tremendous and I believe when we can take a moment and practice outside, we can gain so much more."

Back Roads Bill appreciates the images within the book that show proper and improper form, so we can all identify the errors you we make. The descriptions are detailed yet understandable broken down into terms the “non-yogi” can easily understand and implement into our water weekend pursuits as well as daily life.

This information is right on for the spring/summer target of reducing discomfort correcting muscle imbalance and improving flexibility for what we like to do, be on the water.

We have been inside and around our homes for too long. Get outside, breathe, and move with awareness and feel better the morning after the big paddle.