Ocean Breath (Ujjayi Pranayama)

I started writing this post on World Oceans Day on the 8th June, but here we are, still rolling on with it six days later, like a long surf wave or sustained exhale.

A week that began with World Oceans Day has also seen me get back behind the helm, well, metaphorically at least. It’s been a completely unintentional, but significant, week for re-connecting with my ocean sailing ambition after a couple of months of being very inward looking and domestically focused contained within my home; always doing something, whilst at the same time, nothing much in particular. I have been quite restless at times and sometimes found it very hard to summon the focus or motivation for work-related tasks that demand a lot of mental energy and intellectual creativity.

Similarly, whilst it has occasionally felt like all my neighbours in the terrace are doing Joe Wicks’s exercises each morning and out clocking the miles during the day peddling the Bristol-Bath cycle path or numerous other Sustrans cycle routes that kriss-cross the city, I have struggled to motivate myself to go for a run or cycle. Some days, I just haven’t left the house!

I think when the official news eventually came through that the race was postponed I was in shock, not only that the thing I had worked towards was not about to happen, but also, with the dawning reality that we were not free from the virus on this little island. I mentally and emotionally shut down. I kept busy doing ‘mindless’ tasks like housework, clearing out drawers and cupboards, filing copious amounts of dusty paperwork, tackling a build-up of limescale in the shower or moss in the gutters; that kind of thing. It was therapeutic, because I could keep myself busy doing these things whilst grappling internally with my overwhelming feelings of disappointment and anger.

So, I am somewhat surprised and bemused by the fact that as the weeks have flowed into months of a new ‘normal’, I have found myself being drawn to and finding sustenance from, almost daily yoga practice at home. It was stabbing attacks of shooting back pain when stood lecturing in front of 200 undergraduates that brought me to Pilates and now, it seems its life in lockdown that has brought me to yoga.

I get the impression I am not alone in taking yoga more seriously right now and giving it the space in my life that it deserves. Until lockdown, well, until Clipper announced back in mid-March that the race was postponed, I had barely time and energy to think outside of race preparation and departure day. I had also been quite focused on cardio-fitness and core strength floor exercises. Yoga just seemed too still at the time. Too slow… and classes in this city are expensive.

However, just before the pandemic struck, I had picked up a leaflet for yoga classes at my local supermarket. It grabbed my attention because the classes were affordable and located in a church hall, a mere 5-minute walk from my front door – and that’s me assuming a slow walking pace! I thought to myself that if I can’t “turn up on the mat” (as yoga teachers seem to often be heard saying), when said mat is only five minutes from my front door, when can I ever? I also knew that the great sailor whose feats and skill have inspired many of us Clipper Crew – Bernard Moitessier – used to do regular yoga practice on the deck of his boat whilst doing his solo circumnavigation. I got the impression when reading Moitessier’s account in The Long Way, that yoga and sailing were drawing on similar energies and skills in attention and noticing (not to mention balance).

I managed to turn up to about 3 of Krama Flow yoga classes in early 2020. Then COVID-19 swiftly took those classes away too, but all credit to my teacher, also called Hannah, for getting to grips with setting herself up with the equipment and mindset to be able to offer her weekly class online instead. Over the months we’ve become a little support group and check in not only with ourselves, our emotions and aches and pains, but also with each other. There are people in her Zoom class who I know from my neighbourhood or from the face-to-face class in the church hall, but equally there are people in the Zoom class I’ll probably never meet in person.

Many of the asanas that we are led through develop one’s balance, which can only be of benefit for the time when I will, hopefully, plant my feet firmly back on the deck of Punta del Este, instead of a yoga mat. As global movement, the economy and our day-to-day lives have shrunk, I have found myself slowing down to the point that a few weeks ago, I declared to my husband: “I think I’ve come to a full-stop!” Once I had got over my initial shock, anger and disappointments, I began to ease into taking stock, noticing, reflecting and catching-up with myself. Yoga fits this mood completely and I am enjoying the journey so far.

The other journey I have started this week is one that’s been set in motion by the Skipper of team GoToBermuda, David ‘Wavy’ Immelman, with one of his team’s crew, Andrew Cowen. Hats off to them both for their hard work and generosity of spirit, which is required in setting up and hosting a 10-week yachtmaster theory masterclass via Zoom that’s completely free for all crew, across all the race teams. They have created a valuable learning opportunity and shared it across the race fleet.

I leapt at the chance to further my knowledge and ‘keep my hand in’, so I didn’t hesitate to sign up and attend my first online class this week. It reminded me that the last public outing I had before ‘lockdown’ was to attend my Day Skipper theory exam, followed by a pint with my instructor and a fellow student at Bristol’s floating harbour…Those were the halcyon days (Pubs. Pints. How I miss you)! I was worried that I would have forgotten everything after 3 months of absolutely no sailing or nautical activity of any kind, so it was a confidence boost to remember my navigational lights and the main aspects of the ‘COLREGS’ (collision regulations). It was even more of mood booster when I saw a few familiar faces – some of my teammates -when I clicked on the gallery view in Zoom. After class, a flurry of WhatsApp messages went back and forth between Punta del Este crew; it felt SO good to re-establish contact and touch base with the race and some of the key players after these last few months’ race void.

Over the last three years I reckon I have been on a BIG roller-coaster of a self-development journey (for want of a better term that comes to mind right now); making myself do things that scare me, putting myself into unknown situations that bring me into contact with new people, knowledge, skills and ways of being. 2020 was meant to bring about the fruition of all of that learning and experience through living-out the challenge of ocean sailing in the Clipper race itself, but it has, rather like the title of my blog, changed tack. Almost imperceptibly, I have been re-setting my compass during lockdown, setting course towards an inward, slower-paced journey. So, it makes me excited to get hints this week that maybe, just maybe, these journeys will coalesce into something much bigger in time; postponed race or cancelled race.

Thanks for reading (assuming you have got this far). I hope this finds you well.

What journey have you been on during lockdown? What have you (re)discovered? Use the comments box below to share your reflections and revelations or send me a private email via the contact page on this blog. It’s always a nice surprise to hear from readers of this blog.

3 thoughts on “Ocean Breath (Ujjayi Pranayama)

  1. Dearest Hannah, so glad to read more from you and know despite all you are doing what you can, no doubt supporting your essential worker hubby too. Although I’ve still been working as I’m in primary care for real (not academic!) I’ve been knitting more for my refugee kiddies to help my brain unwind. Much love Kim


  2. Dearest Hannah, so glad to read more from you and know despite all you are doing what you can, no doubt supporting your essential worker hubby too. Although I’ve still been working as I’m in primary care for real (not academic!) I’ve been knitting more for my refugee kiddies to help my brain unwind. Much love Kim


    1. Hi Kim,
      Indeed, life in lockdown for “essential worker hubby” has been entirely different from mine! In fact, he says he is delivering far more parcels than he ever has, because so many more people are shopping online. In contrast, I hope your work is manageable under these current circumstances. Knitting is definitely a healthy way to unwind from work demands. I have been reconnecting with my threads, but I am too shy to gift my creations to anyone yet. What have you been knitting for the kids? …and your message has reminded me that for a few years now, I have aspired to make quilts for St. Micheal’s ICU (https://projectlinusuk.org.uk/) after a friend really appreciated her’s at the time of a harrowing birth, but firstly, I need to re-familiarise myself with my sewing machine as it’s been a long while. Lovely to hear from you. Hannah. x


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