Sensory deprivation and other...

-- Last Updated: Mar-13-06 5:01 AM EST --

...peculiar practice techniques.

We often discuss here the merits of taking the standard skills courses, reading books, and watching videos as we develop our paddling skills, but there's something I never really see discussed in the many paddling forums and mail lists I participate in. And so...

I'm not sure if many others do what I'm about to mention, but if you haven't considered the possibilities, I'd recommend you give some of these exercises a try. While I recommend trying these in waters you're comfortable with, you'll certainly want to get to the point where you're practicing these in something more lively than entirely flat water.

As we know, many species of sentient creatures, ourselves included, can develop very finely tuned senses if we're deprived of one or more of the other senses that so many of us simply take for granted. The same is true with regards to many aspects of our physical abilities. All too often, there's a downside for those of us who consider all our senses and physical attributes to be fully intact, because we can become complacent, and never even come close to reaching our potential in terms of perceptual sensitivity and physical performance. Just as a blind person can develop their other senses to an extraordinary level in order to compensate for their lack of sight, so can we all develop our available senses to a much higher degree than many of us already have. This is why I enjoy practicing various forms of situational awareness and physical performance while depriving myself of one or more senses and/or physical attributes at a time.

For instance, I'll paddle long distances with my eyes closed, even in quite bouncy conditions, so that my other senses can pool their resources to keep me going. Sometimes, I'll wear earplugs, or I'll do both in combination. Even plugging our noses can change how we perceive our surroundings. I also practice limiting some of my other physical abilities, like taking one or both feet off of the braces and laying my legs flat and "limp" on the cockpit floor as I practice all sorts of boat control techniques (something like this can also help me evaluate other aspects of the cockpit outfitting). Paddling with one arm, or with half a paddle can also be helpful for learning what's possible, and what's not possible.

None of this is really new to people who are variously "differently enabled", but for most of us "able bodied" paddlers, not only are our senses and abilities not as fully developed as they could be, but we rarely even think about or practice certain types of situations that could actually happen to us while we're out on the water. Some things that could happen to us are quite unexpected and can be very debilitating indeed, but there are many situations we can actually prepare ourselves for by simulating them as part of our regular practice routines.

In any event, the worst that can happen if we invent peculiar practice techniques for ourselves is that we can heighten our senses, develop more varied physical skills, and learn something about both our potential and limitations if we do find ourselves dealing with unexpected sensory or physical problems while we're on the water. And finally, just like with rolling and other types of self and assisted rescue practice, this type of practice can be a lof of fun! :-)

I hope that some of you will try some of these practice techniques for yourself, and perhaps think up other ones that you can share with us so that we might expand our repertoire of sensory and physically enhancing exercises.


Deprivation–and the opposite
In the U.S. we are sometimes so overloaded both in senses and thoughts that practicing sensory deprivation techniques has a calming effect.

I haven’t tried any of them while paddling, but I do like to close my eyes while hiking (on a safe stretch). It allows me to smell better. Since owning dogs, I have found that being with them has made my sense of smell sharper. I really think it’s not that our sense of smell is deficient, so much as that we tend to mentally tune out things we don’t consider important right that moment. Yet we are tuning out many clues to the environment that could be vital to our welfare.

For example, one time while walking the dogs, I noticed both had their snoots pointing in a particular direction, sniffers wiggling. I slowed down and conscientiously sniffed the air–and discovered that a forest fire was burning somewhere. A very faint odor, but unmistakable. Two days later, the news report stated that a fire had gone out of control…that fire had begun the day my dogs and I sniffed the beginnings of it.

Now that I think of it, I have practiced one sensory deprivation while paddling: closing the eyes during rolling practice. I suppose it forces me to become more aware of that 6th sense known as body position.

I mute the TV and see if I can figure out what’s going on…that’s about it.

Actually, I like your idea. It makes a lot of sense to explore all aspects of how we relate to the paddling experience, and to stimulate growth and learning instead of just being satisfied with our current skills and awareness. Sing has sometimes offered advice concerning “offside rolls”; practicing the offside until it becomes the “onside”, rather than the typical approach of doing what you’re already good at.

I have spent a good deal of time using and training my left hand to do everyday tasks (to try to balance my inherent right hand bias.) I also have done rolls with eyes closed (like pika) to simulate conditions where I can’t see.

I think this is the key to growth in all areas of life…this “openness of mind” that always seeks to explore and improve and take things to a higher level.

Thanks for sharing.

The less dominant hand
While I was building my wood boat, I had to use my left hand a fair bit, usually due to space and movement limits.

Somewhere along the way, I found that I started using my left hand more for non-building actions, too. Then after I was done I slowly regressed back to my dominant right hand.

I decided to consciously use my left hand more. Here’s a tough one: use your offside hand with chopsticks! Also, tie knots “opposite” the way you naturally do. It was very hard for me to tie some basic knots with the off hand.

I’m thinking that people who regularly and frequently visualize and manipulate objects from 2D to 3D have a much easier time with the two tests above.