How Kayaking Helped Me Improve My Body Image


by Mary Frances Hansford

Like many women, I struggled with my body image through my teens and my 20s. I often felt like if I just lost weight everything would be better. I ran, worked out at the gym and dieted a lot. I often found myself obsessing over calories, and would let my eating habits determine the tone of my day. If I’d eaten too much, my day was ruined. If I ate a little, I felt thin but that lead to eating too much later. The whole body obsession in today’s society can really lead to an unhappy mindset, and an endless search for satisfaction and control.

I had dabbled in yoga since I was about 21, and always enjoyed it. At age 28, I picked it up again, really falling for it, practicing weekly. Yoga was not only fun for me because you get to act like a kid and get into funny shapes, falling over while trying a headstand, but it also helped to calm my mind. Instead of racking my brain for the number of calories I had burned on the treadmill, I could get in touch with how I actually felt physically. I could tell I was getting stronger, more open and learning more about myself. Yoga helps you to listen to your body by quieting your mind, opening the blood and oxygen flow to new parts of your body and making you feel strong and energetic.

I started kayaking just about a year after I reunited with yoga. I was looking for a new hobby, never knowing that it would become such a large part of my life. Already feeling physically and mentally healthier from the yoga, kayaking really lit a fire for me. I loved that I could spend an entire weekend on the water, in nature, with new friends and get exercise all at the same time. I also loved how everyone put on their gear and was instantly in the moment. It didn’t matter what you looked like, where you worked or what kind of car you drove, it was all about being in the moment and enjoying the day.

Nearly every weekend now, I was kayaking, so needless to say, it began to seep into every part of my life. I realized that the yoga and exercise I did during the week, increased my performance on the river on the weekends. So, instead of going to the gym to burn calories to fit into some old jeans, I was working out to feel good on the water and progress my kayaking. I started to enjoy the food I was eating more and even like my reflection in the mirror. I felt like I was being myself and smiling a truly authentic Mary France smile. I saw photos of myself kayaking or just hanging out by the river and didn’t judge my image but saw a happy person, that I liked.

One of the reasons yoga and kayaking helped me feel better was because my goals had changed. Instead of working out to lose weight, I started working out to feel great paddling and to make it farther into the yoga poses. Finding an activity that you love doing and that you want to get stronger and faster for- kayaking, dancing, biking, – makes life more fun and makes you forget to look in the mirror and criticize yourself. I like kayaking because of the social aspect. I can spend a day on the river with friends and feel so fulfilled when the day is over because I’ve exercised, talked, laughed, focused and breathed fresh air.

Now that my lifestyle has changed and I teach kayaking. My exercise habits have changed. I continue to love yoga, but I’ve found that well, after guiding in Costa Rica for three weeks in a row, I need to be strong. The strength increases my confidence while improving my strokes, my rescue skills and my boat lifting (I’ve got to lift a lot of boats, and it’s a TON easier when your muscles do the work). So, now I’m focusing on core strength and upper body strength on top of doing yoga and cardio.

These days, I’m a much more confident person. I feel like all of that searching that I did in my 20s, has lead me to feel so much more comfortable in my own skin. I don’t know how much I weigh, or how many calories I’ve burned today, but I do know that I feel strong and if I want to eat chocolate chip cookies, I do it. I’ve learned to listen to my body and to give it what it needs. I’m sure that with time, I will continue to learn how to love my body and take care of it, but I’m happy to be where I am today with it. I struggled something fierce, and it wasn’t fun for a long time. So, if you feel this too, find something active that makes you happy and enjoy it. Enjoy life!!


If you’d like to give whitewater kayaking a shot check out our awesome clinics this summer. Or if you’re looking for a way to get fit in your own home, check out Anna’s Yoga for Kayaking DVD.