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TopRow boat on the Thames

Rowing : mindfulness on the river


It’s the killer all-body cardio workout: 60 minutes in the boat = 700 calories burned. Boom! But who knew that rowing would also be the ultimate in mindfulness practice?

I’ve been learning to row on the Thames at Putney with TopRow since the spring, and am loving it not just for the fitness boost but also for the mental benefits.

Rowing as part of a crew is the ultimate team effort. Full-focus on the mechanics is essential, and it’s that concentration that forces all other thoughts out of your mind.

Every stroke, I am aware of how my body is moving, whether I am in synch with the rower in front, how my weight is balanced and the rhythm of my breathing.

I am thinking about the positioning of my hands on the oars, keeping wrist twist to a minimum as my fingers swivel the oar to square the blade before it enters the water, engaging my quads and glutes throughout the stroke, making the optimum stretch forward through my arms and then back to ensure a smooth, effective movement through the water.

Stay relaxed, don’t tense shoulders, jaw or neck. Lean, heave, slide, stretch. Breathe steadily throughout the stroke to maintain tempo and concentration.

Closing my eyes, I hear the creak of the boat, the slide of our seats, the clunk of the oars in the rowlocks as they switch from vertical to horizontal and back again, followed by the gentle splash as they drop in the water. I feel the smooth motion of the hull in the water or perhaps a slight jerking or wobble if we don’t get the timing quite right.

The epitome of mindfulness, blind rowing is an exercise that amplifies the feel of our movements on the motion of the boat and is just one of a number of exercises our TopRow coach has employed to help finetune our technique.

Let your mind wander and it can be just moments before you fall out of time with the rest of the crew, miss a catch or fail to square up the blade just early enough to make for an efficient stroke. Rowing is utterly absorbing.

The Thames at Putney
The Thames at Putney

When I signed up for my first TopRow course, I expected to spend time on the water enjoying the view, observing birdlife and maybe even chatting. But an hour on the Thames from Putney, upriver past Hammersmith Bridge and back is more often than not a prolonged period of physicality and silent concentration. Conversation can be a distraction, so we save it for rest/coaching periods, or when we are rigging/de-rigging the boat.

Striving for correct form on every stroke, requires utmost concentration. I love it.