Yoga For Sailors - Keeping Your Alignment Underway

Julie Phillips-Turner
Yoga For Sailors - Keeping Your Alignment Underway

Have you ever caught yourself in the middle of some sort of activity – whether it was strenuous or passive – and thought, “Wow, my posture is really bad right now. I’ll bet my yoga teacher wouldn’t approve of this.”?

Well, I do. And, well, it’s probably because I’m a yoga teacher and I study, and teach, a lot of proper alignment skills.

But the truth is, the alignment and posture we learn on the mat doesn’t translate too easily into our everyday activities.

Check it out next time you’re reading a book. What are your shoulders doing? Hunching, right?

So take your alignment skills to some other active or extreme activity, then try monitoring your posture and alignment. It’s not so easy. Yet we spend hours on the mat trying to perfect our breath and posture, to just throw it away when we need it most.

So, I decided to take this yoga practice awareness with me to one of my favorite activities – sailing – to practice full awareness of my breath and posture – including back, legs, knees – just like in class.

On the boat, I usually work the halyards and sheets, or “the ropes” for those unfamiliar with the sport. Tending these “ropes” takes a lot of work and can easily throw the body out of any alignment – as it requires fast and heavy pulling ropes and pushing handles, and a lot of concentration on stabilizing the sails, as well as the body, while the boat is tilted sideways.

How can anyone possibly remember proper alignment when doing activities that require thinking about other things other than posture?

The answer is simple. Practice.

When we’re aware of our placement during our yoga practice, awareness of alignment will show up in other activities whether still or moving.

So, when I mindfully incorporated proper alignment into my sailing, I found that it helped to protect my back, neck, legs and arms – and even improved my pranayama a little along the way.

So, any yogi sailors out there who would like to take their yoga practice on board, here are a few warm-ups and reminders to keep you in alignment – while you’re working hard to do the same for your boat.

1. Ardah Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Half Forward Bend) And High Lunge

are great warm-ups for the legs and back. Being aware of the alignment of these two poses – particularly the straight back – will help to remember your alignment when leaning over the winch handle. Or, if you’re on a big race boat with one of the “coffee grinder” types of trimming systems, think “Utkatasana” (Chair pose).

2. Use Uddiyana Bandha

when grinding the winch or pulling a line to raise a halyard – simply engage naval to spine. This will not only give you more core power, it will also protect your lower back while you’re leaning forward.

3. Don’t Forget To Breathe!

Count your inhales and exhales while grinding the winch – this will not only help regulate your nervous system, but it will also help reserve energy to keep working. Use your breath to help you move. And of course, use uddiyana bandha.

4. Shoulders Back, Not Hunched

It’s so easy to collapse the shoulders while pulling the lines. Keep mindful of the open shoulders to protect the arms, back and neck.

5. Knees Soft, Not Locked

Balance requires the ability to be able to shift with the changes of the body. But when those changes are more likely because the boat is bouncing on waves, it helps to keep not only the knees, but all joints soft. You’ll be more likely to go with the flow than topple over.

Sailing is probably one of the most mindful sports I can think of – it tries to bring order to conditions we have no power over, such as wind speed and direction as well as water conditions – while maintaining the things we can control, such as trimming and easing the sheets to keep the boat moving, and following a course and not getting lost or running aground.

But, whether or not your sport is sailing or football, there is always room to bring your yoga practice to your favorite activity – just practice.