Yoga for Kayaking: Torso Rotation and Upward Boat Pose


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Using Torso Rotation to Pan Am on Nile Special

New River Academy is back in Chile to kick off our spring semester. We are excited to welcome Jackson Team member Stephen Wright to the team as our Head coach for our time in Chile. Our first day out, we took advantage of our location on the banks of the Trancura river to do a flat water workout. It was great to get everyone back on the water, and to start off the semester by re-emphasizing some of the foundational skills inherent to improving as a kayaker. The following day we had a team paddle on the upper Trancura, where we worked on increasing power in our forward strokes.

Both days, whether river running or playboating, one of the main points that we kept coming back to was the importance of torso rotation for kayaking, and how few paddlers use torso rotation properly. But what exactly is torso rotation? What can we do to improve upon it off the water?

Uppavista Navasana: Feet planted on the floor, belly button drawn up and in.

Lift your torso up out of your hip sockets, rotate to the right, leading from the belly button.

Lean back slightly as you open your arms. Focus on rotating from the belly button, opening your chest and shoulders.

Torso Rotation refers to the action of rotating your torso, or upper body area to gain power for paddle strokes and other motions. Through rotation, the large muscles in your core “wind up”, rather like a spring. When you unwind, these muscles release, allowing for a short burst of power.

This rotation and release is where majority of your power comes from for the kayaker. It  helps to load and power even the most basic forward and sweep strokes, and it is torso rotation that allows for the majority of freestyle kayaking moves- from the simple cartwheel or bowstall, to blunts and other more advanced moves.

One of the main reasons torso rotation is done improperly is that many kayakers rotate from the shoulder girdle, rather than from the lower part of the torso. This is a common mistake in many yoga poses as well. This means that even though your shoulders move from side to side, your ribcage, lower torso and the majority of your abdominal muscles remain still.

I find one of the best visuals for proper rotation is to imagine as though your belly button had a flashlight in it. To rotate properly, you want the beam of the flashlight to move. This means lifting the torso up out of the hip sockets, and leading the rotation from the navel.This twists the lower part of the core, leaving the shoulder girdle quiet and the spine in a single, straight line from hip to crown.

Upavista Navasana : Variation with rotation. 

One great exercise to build core strength and aid in proper rotation is this variation on upavista navasana- or upward boat pose. Core strength is essential for any kayaker- and any yogi! Having a strong core helps protect your spine, support your posture and power your paddling/poses


Start seated, knees bent up towards the sky, feet planted firmly on the ground in front of you. Crown of the head is lifted, belly button is drawn in towards the spine. Palms are together in prayer, in front of your heart, elbows out to the side.

Inhale, lift your torso up out of your hip sockets, exhale, rotate to the right, leading from the belly button. Inhale lift, and rotate back to center. Exhale, repeat to the opposite side.

For added variation, as you exhale and rotate, open your arms and lean back slightly. Inhale, hands return to prayer as you lift and rotate back to neutral.

For those who like an additional abdominal workout, try lifting your feet off the floor. This  balancing forces your core muscles to work harder to stabilize your torso as you rotate. I find it is easiest to start by lifting one leg at a time, finding your balance before you begin your rotation.

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One Response to “Yoga for Kayaking: Torso Rotation and Upward Boat Pose”

  1. Terry Rich says:

    Excellent! It is surprising how many “experianced” kayakers know about torso rotation and think that they are doing it properly but still rotate from the shoulders. otter

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