My first yoga class didn’t teach me anything except that downward facing dog may be one of the reasons I’m a biped. It wasn’t until a friend talked me into another yoga class that I connected with an instructor. He roamed the classroom speaking about “beginner’s mind.” The idea is that no matter if we have done something for 20 or 30 years, it’s the effort to achieve the result that has value.
Yoga is considered a practice, in the sense that it’s a repeated exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency. In the yoga studio, the environment is controlled. The temperature, sound and austere surroundings, and even the space in which we practice our postures are prescribed. My dedication to regular yoga classes took a hiatus when hunting and fishing became the reigning exercise in my life. Coming back to yoga years later, my practice is now more often “off the mat” and geared toward the physical requirements of hunting.
When I asked a group of hunting friends whether or not they practiced yoga, many of them did, and reported improved upper body strength and balance. Anna Vorisek, the first woman to accomplish an archery Grand Slam of the 4 North American Sheep, performs yoga for strength, stability and flexibility. “It’s not just something I do at home,” Anna said. She uses yoga in the field to loosen up sore and tight muscles. While hunting, she has guided fellow hunters through moves to open up and loosen various areas of their bodies where problems had developed.
First, take stock
The muscles used in waterfowling include the shoulders, back, arms, legs and abdominals. A duck hunter must be able to lift, carry, swing and fire a shotgun from a solid foundation. For me, getting to the blind often requires slogging a pack and shotgun across a marsh in heavy chest waders. Once in the blind, I’m sitting for long periods, interspersed with jump shooting. Mentally, I need to be focused, patient and aware. Physically, I need strength, dexterity, flexibility, balance, endurance and coordination. Starting my day with a Sun Salutation sequence gets my blood flowing and sets a tone of reverence and gratitude. Doing variations of poses throughout the day keeps me limber. And, after a day in the field, restorative yoga brings back the balance lost from so much physical exertion.
Firearms and forearms
Strong forearms combat grip fatigue, and shooters often focus on strengthening the long muscle on the top of the forearms with wrist curls. Weight-bearing yoga poses such as Upward-FacingDog, Plank and Crane will add strength to the forearms and wrists. A simple counter balance to the gripping action used in shooting is to rest the forearms on a flat surface (sometimes I use the top of my legs while sitting) and press the thumb side to the surface. Unwinding the flexors provides relief and brings new energy into the forearms. At home, I deepen the stretch to my forearms using a variation on Dolphin Pose with the palms facing up (instead of together) and forearms pressed to the floor.
Shooting shoulders don’t have to mean shooting pain
Imbalance caused from repetitive shooting movements stresses the joints. Practicing proper alignment and building strength around the joint creates stability. Tree Pose and Warrior II Pose are my favorite standing poses for balance and alignment. Poses that require an inward rotation of the shoulder, such as Cow Face Pose and Marichi’s Twist II create balanced flexibility. After a day at the range, shouldering a gun, widening the collar bones and drawing the shoulder blades together and down in Mountain Pose and Upward Salute provides relief and acts as a nice counteraction. During the day, arm stretches that utilize a wall (or tree) are my favorite. At the end of the day, floor poses involving spinal twists have the most appeal.
In yoga, focus on breath is used to calm the mind and relax. Each inhale is followed by a pause, each exhale lasts a little longer, and is also followed by a pause. Remembering to breathe helps me to work through tension in the field. When I hit the proverbial wall, just like when the tension in a yoga pose becomes too intense, breathing helps me to push through the boundaries of my comfort zone.
A day spent in the marsh hunting ducks takes as much out of a hunter as it gives. It’s what makes me feel most alive. The battered shoulders and water-logged ache of my body are worth the companionship of friends and dogs and days like no other. For every duck I bring home, I know it also is the effort to achieve the result that has value. If yoga can keep me doing what I love longer, and help me to do it better, I’m doing it. And, when my yoga instructor asks me to envision a heavenly place where I find calm, I don’t envision a sandy beach — I envision the duck flats.