Rowing and Mindfulness

Imagine your mind in a state of peacefulness, tranquility, solitude, and reflection – ALL WHILE YOUR HEART IS RACING AT 160 BEATS PER MINUTE!!! That’s what rowing is like for me.

Eighteen months ago, when my rowing journey began (I had no idea it was going to be a journey, but it became one) I didn’t really know what to expect. I had never rowed before but, I just knew it was supposed to be a good form of exercise and an alternative to running (I hate running – there, I said it. Apologies to you runners out there). And, I started rowing as part of a bigger plan of improving my health.


My whole adult life, and maybe part of my youth, I have been a person with a high level of stress. I just couldn’t help it. I have to admit it, I stressed easily over everything. Money, the kids, my job, my family. Even things that were supposed to be enjoyable to me, like playing sports, or coaching sports were stressful to me. It has affected me in many ways over the course of my life. Stress fingernail biting, stress induced illness, stress induced skin conditions, and of course, stress eating and high blood pressure. For the past 15 years, my weight has yo-yoed over that time too as I always tried to blame my weight for my high blood pressure but, subconsciously knowing it was the stress. 

When I retired, i thought “this is it, worry free! Woo-hoo! Hakuna Matata!” WRONG! I mean, don’t get me wrong, a lot of stress was shed at that time. No more deadlines, no more bosses, (except The Warden, of course!) no more alarm clocks…FREEDOM! But, the stress just shifted. What do I do now? Do we have enough Money? I think we do, but you never know. I had a job, now I don’t have a job, should I go back and get a job? Stuff like that. So I ate, I drank, I had fun. I got lazy, I got fat, and my BP was through the roof. And then, one morning, I woke up and said to myself “you gotta do something about this.” So, I made a plan. An honest to goodness written plan to reduce my stress.


It was a three phased approach: Nutrition, exercise, and mindfulness. Yes, mindfulness. I started researching mindfulness as a way to help relieve stress. I begin each day now with about 15 minutes of meditation. I also read The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle. It’s a short book but, mind blowing. I highly recommend it. He writes about being present in this moment, because this moment, now, is all we are guaranteed in life. By being able to live in a mindful state, trying to focus (yes, try, I’m not always successful) on now and not dwell on the past or project the future, has helped tremendously with stress. 


But, what I discovered to be amazing is that, for me, rowing and mindfulness are the one in the same. When I meditate, much of the time is spent just focusing on breathing. Relaxing your body, sitting quietly, shutting out other thoughts (that is not an easy task) just observing and concentrating on your breath. After many times of practice, you can do it, and it feels tranquil. A stress beater.

Common thought would be that rowing is not tranquil, that it should be the opposite of tranquil. An exercise that uses so much of our body at one time, requires us to “push, swing and pull” with so much force, and at times accelerates our heart rate to the max (mine maxes out at about 157 bpm). It’s an exhausting sport that at the end of a workout can leave you completely soaked with sweat and physically and mentally drained. And all that is true but, when I am on that rowing machine, mentally, I reach that state of mindfulness.


George Yeoman Pocock was quoted – “It’s a great art, is rowing. It’s the finest art there is. It’s a symphony of motion. And when you are rowing well, why it’s nearing perfection. And when you near perfection, you’re touching the Divine. It touches the you of yous. Which is your soul.” And that is exactly how I feel when I row. 

From the time I started rowing, I have been striving to perfect my rowing motion. There are times that when I am close, when I near perfection, that I feel that state of mindfulness. The repetitive motion of the stroke – catch, drive, swing, recover, catch, drive, swing, recover… over and over again and labor for the perfect stroke that enables me to shut out the rest of the world and be present in that very moment. For each moment (stroke) is the important one. I cannot dwell on the past strokes or project the future ones. I am living in that moment! And when I reach the end and I have experienced physical and mental exhaustion PLUS a state of mindfulness, it is euphoric. My stress is gone and I am at peace.

I love rowing.


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