By Hayley Tia
5 mid-passage poses every sailor should do!
The essence of yoga has been and will always be, a mind and body practice, moving toward self-awareness and essentially a feeling of enlightenment in every aspect of your life. You are far more likely to gain the benefits of yoga if you work the postures (aka asanas) and philosophies into your everyday life than if you were to take a class here and there. Given you are sailing miles from any swanky yoga studio why not work these 5 mid passage poses into your next voyage? Your body will thank you for it later!
1. Samasthiti- Some call this Mountain Pose but we call it The Helmsman
This is a pose that we all do every day- especially if you are stationed at the helm for the long haul. Its yogi Sanskrit name translates directly to equal standing, aiming to find balance and stability in an active, yet relaxed neutral standing posture.
Start by standing with your big toes together and your toes fanned out wide, with the outer edge of the feet parallel. Take a slight 'micro bend' in the knees which will act as a shock absorber against the movement of the boat.
Hands are gently resting at 2 and 10 o’clock on the wheel. Shoulders are broad and your gaze is straight ahead, chin parallel to the deck, back of the neck actively keeping the head balanced equally.
The key here is in the activation of the core- in yoga it's called the contractions or controls within the body, the Bandhas. It is a way of regulating the movement of energy and provides safety and stability to the spine and organs. Used in conjunction with diaphragmatic breathing it can be cultivated, with regular practice, to support the subtle and gross body in everyday life at sea! More on this in later posts, but a simple way to start is to allow your exhalation to become longer, focusing on taking your breath to the lower abdomen. Once you have a sustainable rhythm and all the breath has been expelled, briefly contract the abdominal muscles as if you are drawing the navel back at the end of each exhalation. Repeat these same techniques with every breath as you deepen the body into the pose.
If you have a particularly rough sail on your hands this can be a great way to practice awareness of the posture. This is an opportunity to rock forward onto the toes, left then right, inner foot and outer foot-noticing what it feels like, feeling the imbalances whilst working all the tiny muscles in the feet and ankles. When you do find that center point recognize the grounding feeling.
2. Vrksasana- Tree pose or the direct yachtie translation Mast Pose
To add on to your sequence at the helm, progress on to this more advanced standing pose. The added difficulty of standing on only one leg trains the body to learn how to stand on two individual legs.
From your Helmsman pose bend the right knee and bring the soul of the foot to either the ankle, calf or inner left thigh- finding a place that feels comfortable and doesn’t compromise your balanced helmsman posture.
Ensure the standing leg remains strong, toes are spread wide, grounding down all four corners of the foot.
Arms can remain gently resting on the wheel for some assisted balance.
Again, the core needs to remain engaged, paying special attention here to the pelvis. You want to keep the pelvis squared, pointing forward. You may need to take a slight tuck in the pelvis to ensure there is no arching in the lower back.
As you find your strength in this pose you can begin to carefully draw the right knee back to deepen the external rotation in the hip, feeling a deeper stretch in the groin. Spend a few deep breaths here before switching sides.
3. Sukhasana- Easy Sit
Once it gets to that stage of the shift where you can kick back and take a seat inside the cabin you might like to attempt a mindful sitting posture. Sure, it translates to ‘easy sit’ but for many of us, it is far from that! This is a pose that is different for everyone but it can be adapted to suit everybody.
Start by sitting with your knees bent and shins crossed. If this is already causing you grief let's adapt it! If your knees are up by your ears or your lower back is rounded- put a cushion or towel under your sit bones to raise your hip above your knees. If your knees hurt- prop some cushions under the knees to provide support.
Once you are settled into a more comfortable place focus on sitting tall with an active spine. It might feel nice to take a slight tuck in the chin feeling the back on the neck lengthen with the spine.
Try to avoid picking up your phone, but instead rest your hands gently on your knees, letting the shoulder blades slip down the back and bring your attention to some of those deep belly breaths.
The beauty of this pose is the longer you persist with it the better you will become. To use the movement of your sailing vessel, rock forwards in the hips leaning to the left side, then to right side, loosening up the hip joints and the lower back. You might even like to get WILD and try crossing your legs the other way!
4. Adho Mukha Svanasana (variation)- commonly known as Downward Dog
We know you don’t have much deck space so this is a great variation to a popular yoga pose that your boat has been built for. Start by finding a step, companionway, railing, or locker that is at hip height.
Bring your feet hip-distance apart before reaching over to your chosen deck tackle. Rest the hands at shoulder wide distance apart with the palms of the hands facing down or grasping downwards.
You may need to shuffle your feet here to ensure you are creating a 90 degree bend in the hips, your upper body should be abeam your legs.
With every exhale encourage your head to come between the arms, feeling the shoulders broaden with each breath.
If at first you feel a very sharp stretch in the backs of legs, take a slight bend in the knees slowly working to straighten them over time with each deep breath.
This is a great one if you have had a tough day, bent over grinding winches. It helps to stretch out the entire southern plane of the body, from the heels to the base of the head. It also opens up the shoulder joints and stretches the triceps.
5. Sutchi- Translating to 'Needle Point'
A pose our seafaring ancestors would have known all too well, a posture they assumed for hours whilst scrubbing the decks of their mammoth sailing vessels. The painful pleasure evoked by this pose makes this an ideal one to complete your watch with. Each passing second your mind will quickly forget about the much-needed rest you have been craving, and instead, shift to other areas of the body.
Coming into kneeling tuck the toes under, bring the knees wide, and slowly sink back on the heels, gradually adding more weight to the heels.
As you will quickly notice this pleasure and pain feeling might become difficult to bare. To take the mind elsewhere tuck the thumbs inside clenched fists and rest these on your knees.
Aim to sit tall with all your weight resting on your heels, feeling an intense stretch in the souls of the feet.
This can be a very energizing pose and certainly very engaging. If at any time it becomes too unbearable, rock forward onto the hands and wriggle the toes out before taking a deep breath and resuming the pose.
Happy Sailing and Namaste!
A liveaboard sailor and professional copywriter, creating content from the cabin of her floating home. Prior to life on the water, Hayley owned and operated a seaside cafe for over 7 years whilst starting a degree in marine biology. She now enjoys the space and time the liveaboard life has given her and enjoys preparing nutritious meals in the galley as well as utilising her qualifications as a yoga instructor to lead morning yoga sessions on the beach at each new anchorage.
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We always love hearing how you salty seadogs go with these little sequences at sea, comment below on your success, failures or attempts- we want to hear all about it!