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Yoga for Dragons: 6 Yoga Poses For Dragon Boat Paddlers

Yoga for Dragons: 6 Yoga Poses For Dragon Boat Paddlers

I have been incorporating yoga as part of dragon boat trainings since I had the opportunity to lead and design our team’s training programs as we prepare for races.

For those unfamiliar with the sport, dragon boating simply put, is a boat of 20 paddlers, a drummer and a steers person paddling to cross the finish faster than their competition. It’s a team sport in its purest form that encompasses the elements of power, speed, synchronization and endurance. (source: While it utilizes the full body strength,  it requires a lot of shoulder and back movement, which can sometimes result in injuries, if not properly conditioned and trained.

The key is too keep the poses simple. Dragon boat land trainings are usually 1-2 boat-fulls, or  20-40 paddlers. This gives you very little space to do corrections which are essential to avoid further injuries.

Here are a top 6  yoga poses our team does in between paddling sessions:

  1. Thread the needle

Most paddlers are not into yoga, hence the simplicity of the pose makes it easy for them to execute, while reaping the benefits of the posture as it opens up the muscles of the chest and shoulders.

  1. Cobra

Paddling for hours can bring stiffness to the back, and fatigue in the arms and shoulder. This pose is paddler’s favorites as it brings instant relief form all of that. It stretches the chest, shoulders, lower back, and strengthens the wrists and spine. It is very therapeutic, especially when combined with gentle twists.

  1. Boat

I wonder if it is called a boat pose for a reason, but it definitely helps in strengthening the core which is essential in paddling. Twists can be added to activate the obliques (also because dragon paddling technique requires twisting). This pose also strengthens the hamstrings, which can be stiff if paddling drills require kicking of the boat.

  1. Pigeon pose

Dragon boat paddlers do a lot of running as part of our endurance traings. This is the universe’s gift to tight hips. It’s a simple yet powerful hip opener, and it is also our team’s go cool down pose especially after a cardio session

  1. Reverse prayer hands

This may sound simple, but trust me, less than 50% of paddlers can do it. The pose can modified by simply grabbing the elbows from behind. This became a paddler’s standard measure of shoulder tightness, which is common especially after hours of paddling

  1. Seated Twists

The modified Marichiyasana C, because most paddlers won’t be able to do the full pose. It stretches the shoulders, strengthens the spine and back which gets abused during water training sessions.

Yoga Saved My Life

I was one of those who turned to yoga for healing. I was one of those who are in their lowest point of life, travelled to do soul searching, with high hopes that everything can be fixed.

It also took me lot of courage for me to admit that, because I was also one of those who judge people who only goes to yoga when they are down and low (because you know, yoga is a “lifestyle”, not a savior when you need saving). Until it hit me, I became one them.

This is not a blog about my sad experiences – I’m not ready to talk about that and I don’t think it would be of anyone’s interest. Let’s keep that story aside, this is supposed to be happy story. About how my perceptions have changed, and ironically, despite knowing that yoga is not a savior, it saved me.

For context so you all can relate, think about your saddest experience. Think about the moment you were trying to move on with life. That was me. I was in my longest yoga-off season, probably about a year of no practice. Out of an effort to get going with my life, I booked a week of yoga retreat to Phuket. Not those fancy ones. It was on an island far from the airport where you have to travel on your own as there was no option for aiport pick up. Yes, it was that “un-fancy”.

Ok, so now back to how I think yoga saved my life. Yes it did. Through experience. Yoga taught me the best lessons in life –

  • I learned to appreciate life more. During the retreat, I met people who are in the same, if not, worse situation as I am. This sounds bad but you know there’s a mini relief when you feel someone is also suffering. In German they call it “shadenfreuede”. Apart from that, I took note of the small things that I tend to take for granted, and realized how these small things collectively bring me joy.


  • Life will not make it difficult for me. I became too used to the “fancies” and considered anything less as “suffering” or “sacrifice”. The simplicity of the yoga retreat place made me realize how superficial my world had become. I can survive with minimal things. I survived Uni days with no money and having instant noodles for a meal , and I survived.


  • I am resilient. What I am going through is just an adult version of a 5-year old me having all my favorite toys burned in fire. It was a big deal back then. It sounds shallow now of course, but to five-year old, that was my life. And I survived. There will more of these moments.


  • Success is relative. I learned to let go of all the pressures from society’s expectation and definition of success, many thanks the owner of the yoga retreat place. He was a doctor. A very successful one – I would have wanted to be like him, who foun contentment in living a simple life, sharing the love of yoga. This has probably the biggest impact in my life. So much that whenever I’m asked about my future-slash-retirement plans, I see me, contented, with a simple bed and breakfasr by the beach, teaching yoga.

My First Yoga was Hot

Writing this is long travel down my memory lane – this experience dates back to 10 years ago. This was back in 2010, when Hot Yoga, also known as Bikram Yoga was a hit. Yes, my first yoga was a Hot Yoga. Twenty-six postures and two breathing exercises in a heated room of around 40 degrees Celsius and a relative humidity of 40%-60%. Even for someone like me who grew up in the humid tropics, being locked in a heated room for 60 to 90 minutes was a challenge. Add the challenging postures for someone who has never stretched  a single muscle in her life (except if I need to reach for food).

I only had one goal in mind – to lose weight and look good in a bikini.

It was a love and hate experience. I love the after-yoga glow, but I hated the process. After all, we must work hard if we want to achieve great things right? That was my mantra to keep me going through the class. J

Let’s first start with the things I hated – I hated the frustration that came along with my inability to do the postures, and hold it for a long time. I dreaded the Half Moon Pose opener,where I had to extend my arms up and bend on one side, and hold if for what felt like a day (I’m exaggerating). The Camel Pose made me feel like vomiting afterwards. Oh and I only had a small bottle of water with me. So there, the dehydrated almost dying me, excused herself to go out of what felt like a giant oven, and grasp some air. Weak.

Ok, now the love part. I felt amazing after the practice. I loved the high. The micro sense of achievement of looking at my sweat-drenched workout clothes was kind of addictive. I felt clean and detoxed, long, sexy, light and glowing. I looked good and fresh the next day. I was getting compliments from my glowing skin, which I guess spikes up my serotonin and dopamine levels and my ego was rejoicing to hear that. J

And so I came back the next day, and signed up for a 10-class pass. The rest is history.

Fast-forward 2020, I’m still into yoga and it will always be close to my heart, albeit I see it differently know. My motivations are bigger now than just looking good in a bikini. I don’t do hot yoga anymore as I’ve started liking other yoga practices. I do have my yoga off-seasons too as I venture other sports, but somehow, life brings me back to it. I’ve learned to embrace it as a lifestyle, and I wouldn’t mind doing Sun Salutations for as long I can.