Imagine that it’s early in the morning and you are floating on Lake Tahoe. You are balanced on top of a paddleboard, grounded into your feet, with your hips relaxed and your knees slightly bent. The sun, still nestled behind the mountains in the East, is sending a warm yellow glow up from behind the treelined peaks. The wind has yet to pick up, causing the surface of the lake to be as smooth as glass. The horizon of the cloudless blue sky is fringed with pink and orange hues. The only sound you hear is your paddle as it gently moves in and out of the crystal-clear water. You take a deep breath and can’t help but smile as you become fully immersed in the present moment.
Paddleboarding is so much more than a trendy new way to get your exercise and strengthen your core muscles. Under the right circumstances, it becomes a moving meditation, with profound benefits for the mind, body and soul. Let’s explore each of these benefits in greater detail to discover what makes moments like this so transcendent.
1. The mind. There is something about stillness that brings great peace of mind. Standing on a perfectly calm lake, away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world, it is easy to let the constant chattering of the mind fade into a whisper and, eventually, into silence. Stillness is the natural state of the mind, the silent womb from which we all emerged and to which we will all return someday. The mind’s primary job is to think- to evaluate and problem solve and figure things out. However, when you are out on a paddleboard in the early morning, you realize that there is no need for problem solving because there is nothing wrong. There is nothing to accomplish or fix or change or compare to. The mind can finally be given permission to let go and be at peace.
The thinking mind is sometimes compared to a glass of muddy water. By continually agitating the glass, the sediment will swirl around and stay suspended in the liquid. By keeping the glass perfectly still, the mud will eventually settle down to the bottom of the glass, allowing the water to become clear. In this metaphor, our thoughts are the sediment swirling around, whereas the water represents the clarity of pure consciousness that is undisturbed by thought.
2. The body. One thing about paddleboarding is that you have to keep your body balanced or you will soon end up in the water. That means keeping your feet firmly planted, with equal weight between the left and right foot. It means standing up straight without leaning too far forwards or backwards. It also means staying loose and flexible in the ankles, knees and hips. If you are too rigid, the smallest wave will knock you off balance. The trick is to be strong yet flexible, rolling with the motion of the waves. You soon become aware of your center of gravity, located just below the naval, and you learn to rest your focus there. Also known as the ‘dan tien', this area is the source of energy and vitality in the body.
Floating on top of such a large body of water, especially one that is completely still, can also have a deeply calming effect on the body. This is because all matter is made of energy and, as a result, everything puts off a distinct vibratory pattern. Lake Tahoe has 39 trillion gallons of water and it emits an overwhelmingly peaceful vibration. How does this vibration affect us? Well, imagine that you have two brass singing bowls, placed side by side. Because the two bowls are made of the same material, you could strike the bowl on the left and notice that the bowl on the right will eventually start vibrating as well. So you see, since the human body is at least 70% water, we have no choice but to vibrate at the same peaceful frequency of the lake.
3. The soul. Perhaps the ultimate realization of the soul is that life is beautiful. Or perhaps it is that all of life, and everything in it, is 'one.' I like to think that our conscious presence on Earth is what brings the world into being. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and not necessarily in the scene that is being beheld. Imagine what sunrise on Lake Tahoe was like before there were any eyes present to see it. Or before there were hearts and minds here to appreciate it. Was it still beautiful?
That is an interesting question because, without a witness present, did it even really happen? Our witnessing of the Earth’s natural splendor is what makes it beautiful. Which is perfect, because our ability to recognize and appreciate beauty is what makes our time on Earth worthwhile. It’s what makes the whole creation of the universe worthwhile. Tuning into the soul means recognizing the fact that we are the witnesses- we are the ones that bring the beauty of life into being.
Nick Hughes is a massage therapist, yoga instructor and co-owner of Well Being.