If you are like me, looking to improve your rolling, you may find the answer in yoga. Through my yoga practice, I have become a more naturally fluid roller. My body moves, stretches and bends in ways that help facilitate safe, powerful and graceful rolling. Yoga is not just a physical practice or set of exercises, it is a holistic practice of mind, body and breath. By spending time now working on your whole being, before the (USA) season starts, I hope that your season of paddling and rolling will be enhanced, and you can progress safely through the process of developing as a roller and paddler.
Over the coming weeks, I will be publishing a series of post about preparing yourself for kayak rolling. These posts will focus on preparing yourself and not your equipment, paddle, kayak, tuilik etc. Many people develop rolls with a poorly conditioned body and an ill-prepared kayak and gear, it is possible, but it is rare that it can be done in a way that does not put your body at risk of injury.
Here is a taste of what I will be introducing:
Back flexibility: The spine is a complex series of bones that affect everything from our pelvic bones to our head’s skull. Back flexibility involves rotation and bending, both motions that are integral to the body mechanism of all rolls. How and where the spine bends and how to use other connected bones to help with the motion will all be discussed.
Abdominal flexibility: People often think about strengthening their abdominal muscles, but many people overlook the need to increase the flexibility of them too. Abdominal flexibility is an integral part of core rotation as well as backbends, both needed for rolling, especially layback rolls like the Standard Greenland Roll.
Shoulder opening: Office-bound workers like myself spend an inordinate amount of the waking day hunched over a keyboard (I am right now!). This causes the shoulders to rotate forward and the chest to compress. Lay back Rolls often pass through the Balance Brace position which ideally places the shoulders “flat” on the water. Getting the shoulders flat requires undoing the years of hunching we have all subjected them to. Getting them open reaps dividends as we learn to float in a relaxed chest up position.
Core Strength: Good rolling requires the use of the oblique muscles and the rectus abdominal muscles. Many people compensate for weak abdominals by using their arms to lever upwards using the paddle for support. Placing their shoulders at risk of injury. Similarly, lower back strength must be developed.
Quad strength: The kayak does not magically roll up on its own. The application of pressure to the thigh braces, deck or masik is necessary to ensure the kayak follows your body to the surface and then continues to right itself as the roll completes. When mentoring rolling many people discover just how much they need to develop their quadriceps. This muscle group is especially important for people paddling larger heavier kayaks.
Relaxation techniques: I have previously posted about the need to relax and not muscle through rolls. Muscle tension is the opposite of what is needed, rolling well requires a relaxed posture and a reliance on the body to float and receive the waters support. This can happen if we try to roll with a tense torso, arms or knee. Learning when and how to relax these muscles will help change a roll into an excellent roll, one with greater reliability and grace. I will discuss how mantras can help the mind in stressful situations and overcome our inhibitions or fear-based responses.
Finally, like yoga, rolling is a practice. There is never an end, there is always something to work on improving, and we never become experts. We are all on a journey, in my case, my yoga practice enhances my rolling journey.