Posted on January 2, 2020 by Jeff Hale
Did you know you can literally paddle the stress away?
It’s no secret that exercise and meditation are great for your mental health. But meditating at home in the morning and hitting the gym after work might not be the best path toward a happier and healthier you. Perhaps this is the perfect time to merge the practice of mindfulness with exercise in a natural environment.
The secret is finding an easy way to immerse yourself in nature with a repetitive, low-impact motion to get you into a “flow state” quickly and easily. With a stand up paddle board (SUP), all it takes is 20-30 minutes to get a full dose of the "nature pill" your body and mind need to improve your mental health and overall well-being.
Meditation does not require you to sit cross-legged with your eyes closed like Yogis have been doing for hundreds of years. The practice is really about mindfulness and being present. When you set out to one of your favorite places to paddle, be intentional about “mindful paddling.” This means paying attention to the exercise and sensations you experience during your paddling session. Appreciate the feeling of buoyancy under your feet as you glide across the water and focus on the physical sensations -- the sound of your paddle moving in and out of the water, the smell of the air, the feeling in your muscles working. Acknowledging the sensations may not typically notice is what makes paddling as meditation so effective and rewarding.
Paddle boarding is the perfect exercise to get into a flow state that will allow your body and mind to unwind the natural way. The founder of Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute, Dr. Herbert Beson, coined the term “relaxation response” to describe how your body releases chemicals that make your muscles and organs slow down and increase blood flow to your brain -- an effective treatment for a wide range of stress-related disorders. While activities like yoga, acupuncture, tai chi, and simple repetitive breathing exercises can all help you enter the rejuvenating relaxation state, your paddle board is also an excellent platform for achieving your daily dose of zen.
When you hug a close friend or feel a sense of calm after a deep stretch, you’re really activating a complex system of nerves tied to the ebb and flow of hormones, such as cortisol. While we don’t fully understand every detail of this complex system, we do know it’s a key to well-being and happiness. Researchers believe the best way to activate this system is through activities like yoga or deep-breathing. The next time you’re paddling, make sure to pay close attention to your breathing to maximize your time on the water and reap the benefits of a highly-active vagus nerve like reduced stress.
While it’s always a good idea to get outside more, you can optimize your time by setting “specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-limited goals.” This will help you increase your physical fitness and mental health. Specific goals help keep you motivated to stay the course, and achieving your goals is an easy way to boost your mental health. For paddle boarding, this could be a specific paddling distance you want to achieve in a certain time, the number of days a week you’ll paddle, or the calories you want to burn. Just make sure to keep your goals realistic and measure your progress.
Immersing yourself in nature will have a positive impact on your mental health. A recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Psychology recommends "nature-pills" while offering proof that they really do work. "We know that spending time in nature reduces stress, but until now it was unclear how much is enough, how often to do it, or even what kind of nature experience will benefit us," says lead author Dr. MaryCarol Hunter. The study of 36 “urban dwellers” over 8 weeks concluded that you can reduce the stress hormone cortisol by as much as 28% with 20 to 30 minutes immersed in nature each day. Happy paddling!
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