Getting your nose to touch the foredeck of your kayak should be a goal of anyone aspiring to develop a great Greenland kayak roll. The literal translation of “masikkut”, part of the Greenlandic name of many of the Greenland kayak rolls, means being “at the masik”. In case you didn’t know, the masik is the deck beam that supports the front of the cockpit. Thus, being “at the masik” means being on the deck, forward. Whether you are starting a Standard Greenland roll low, or finishing a Storm roll forward, your ability to get close to the foredeck will affect the effort and grace of your rolls.
When my rolls start to become hard work, or begin to fail, I take myself back to basics. I usually find I have forgotten how the roll ends. I find the flexibility, strength and muscle memory needed to finish most rolls are the hardest parts to achieve, remember and retain. The yoga poses in this post are some of those that I use to help make sure I can finish low (and start low). The ability to finish low requires two things, a flexible lower back and most importantly long flexible leg muscles. Having already focused on back flexibility in the Waking up the Spine post, this post will focus specifically on lengthening the hamstrings and quadriceps leg muscles.
Forward fold (Paschimottanasana)
I enjoy this pose. It is one that is frequently done wrong, and which can hurt your lower back if you don’t follow the correct process. Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you and feet flexed. Lean forward from the hips (not the waist), keep your head and neck in line with your spine. You should be looking beyond your toes and feel like you are reaching forward with your chest. If you can the reach forward with your hands to your feet, or use a strap around your feet to hold onto.
Go deeper now by gently lengthening the front torso, keeping your head raised. If you are holding the feet, bend the elbows, if holding a strap, walk the hands towards the feet, keeping the arms long. The lower belly should touch your legs first, then your upper belly. Once you are lying on your legs you can round down allowing your ribs then head to touch. With each breath in, lengthen the front torso; as you breathe out, release a little more into the bend. Eventually, you may be able to stretch the arms out beyond the feet on the floor. Hold the pose for five breaths.
Head to knee forward bend (Janu Sirsasana)
Start seated with legs out in front of you. Bend your left knee and bring your heel into your groin, so your foot rests on your right inner thigh. Breathe in and raise your arms up, if necessary, rotate so you are facing your right foot.
Breathe out and reach forward to grab your right foot with both hands. Use your inhalation to draw your stomach in then round down and bring your forehead towards your knee. Breath in again, and extend the front of your body forward until your hips fold more deeply.
On your out breath, bend your elbows out to the sides and widen the collarbones and chest. Hold for five breathes then repeat on the other side.
Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana)
Lie on the ground. Breathe out and hug your left knee to your chest, and push actively through your outstretched right leg and foot.
Unless you are already flexible, loop a strap around the arch of the left foot and hold the strap in both hands, otherwise loop your fingers around the big toe of your left foot. Breathe in and straighten the knee, pressing your left heel up toward the ceiling. Press your shoulder blades into the floor.
Hold the pose for five breaths, then slowly release as you breathe out. Repeat with your right leg for the same length of time.
When in this pose you can consider a variation where you also use it as a hip opener. With your foot raised, allow it to lower out sideways while keeping the opposite hip on the ground. It is unlikely that you will get your foot to the ground at first. it is more important to keep your hips flat and just allow your leg to open partially and then allow the stretch to deepen over time rather than pushing the pose to get your foot to the floor but letting your hip rise. You can also lower your foot across your body. When lowering across the body, only lower partially and again keep both hips grounded.
Cat pulling its tail pose
Start by sitting with both legs in front of you. Twist over to the left side, and lie down on your left elbow. Keep your left leg straight, bring your right leg forward and to the side. Bend your left leg, bringing your heel toward your butt. Reach back with your right hand and grab your foot. Pull the foot away from you.
Reach with your left hand and grab your right big toe or foot and gently pull your right leg our straight and perpendicular to your spine.
Lie back on the ground and gently flatten your shoulders against the ground, then look over your right shoulders. This pose becomes a spinal twist as well as a very deep stretch of the quads and hamstrings. Hold for five breaths.
To release, let go of the bottom foot and roll onto your belly. Straighten the lower leg and roll onto your back. Repeat the pose for equal time on the other side.
Mermaid pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)
This pose is hard and remains a work in progress for me. It pushes the limits of my flexibility and balance. I include it more for inspiration than practical training purposes. I recommend you start practicing this pose once you are competent at the other poses.
Start on all fours. Bring your right knee to touch your right wrist. Keep your right thigh straight ahead and inch your right foot forward until it’s just in front of your left hip. Flex the right foot to protect the knee. Slide your left leg backward and lower both hips toward the floor. Place your hands on the ground next to your hips. Square your hips, torso, and shoulders to the front.
Slowly bend your left knee, raising your left foot up. Reach back with your left hand to grab your left foot. Move your left foot up the arm and place it into the crook of your elbow. Raise and bend your right arm. Reach behind your head to clasp your right hand with your left hand.
Stay in the pose for five breaths and then on an exhale let go of your hands and disengage the pose. Repeat for the same time on the other side.
The first part of this series of posts focused on increasing your spines flexibility. Part two worked on your rotational flexibility. Part three your leg and abdominal strength. And this post on improving your leg muscle flexibility for getting low on the kayak deck. Putting everything together, you now have a decent set of yoga poses to build a practice (flow). The next post will focus on the mental preparation, mediation and breath practices that will help calm you underwater and give you the opportunity to allow your body to react without panic.
Words of caution
Yoga is a physically demanding exercise, consult your physician to determine if it is right for you. Seek professional advice if you are unsure how to perform a pose correctly, I am no professional. Never do any pose that causes pain, it is your body and your practice and you are your best guide and teacher.
Words of thanks
Thanks again to, Jacquelyn; wife, mother, lover (just checking to see if she is reading this), photographer and fellow yogic roller, who took the pictures.