Flint, MI–As the kayakers closed their eyes and set down their paddles, slight ripples on Thread Lake swayed their boats side to side. Small chirps from birds flying overhead filled the air as a warm summer sun shone down. Cassie Kent, Kayak Flint’s mindfulness paddle instructor, waited before speaking and starting the first activity, allowing the participants to take the moment in.
“Close your eyes. Notice color. Textures. Sounds. Feelings.”
The June 15 event was a part of the mindfulness paddle series that allows paddlers to kayak Thread Lake for two hours while participating in mindfulness exercises.
Kent defines mindfulness as “paying attention, on purpose, without judgment,” and this incorporation of mindfulness brings a unique experience to kayaking.
Kayak Flint, part of the Flint River Watershed Coalition, has been offering kayaking and paddling events for years. For Jaime Welch, who works for the coalition and is a paddling instructor for Kayak Flint, hosting mindfulness paddles was a good fit for their mission of getting more people on the Flint River.
“I love being on the water and I love sharing that with people,” Welch said. “So, the more ways that I can offer people to get on the water, the better for me. … We run into people that fear the Flint River and they’ve got this negative imagery in their head. I want to replace it with what we saw. I want to replace it with seeing the bald eagles that we see every day flying over Flint, or watching minks play down by the water or the ospreys coming in the dive, or you know, the beaver that we see. I want to give them that.”
The event series was created in 2019 by Craig Levitt, the former director of Crossover Outreach. He approached Rebecca Fedewa, the executive director of the Flint River Watershed Coalition, with the idea of combining mindfulness training in the river. The program originally served students in the Flint area who were struggling with difficult home situations, offering them a “toolbox of coping mechanisms to turn to instead of anger.”
From the success of the program to the small group of students, the event series has since been opened up for the Flint community in partnership with Kayak Flint and the Crim Fitness Foundation’s Mindfulness Department.
Kent, a member of the Crim Fitness Foundation Mindfulness department, said each mindfulness paddling session is unique and tailored specifically to each group’s needs.
“Sometimes you can do things that you won’t see on a normal kayak trip when you’re with a group of people,” Kent said. “You might notice that if you’re by yourself, but when you’re with other people there’s other distractions other things happening.”
During the two-hour session, participants kayaked along Thread Lake and practiced in three mindfulness exercises.
The purpose of the first mindfulness session was to “open awareness and focus attention,” Kent said. Participants were called to close their eyes and rely on verbal prompts drawing attention to each of the five senses.
The theme of the second mindfulness session was on mindful movement. Participants were instructed on how to stretch various body parts using their paddle and kayak, allowing them to “notice what is happening in their physical bodies.”
The third and final session focused on gratitude and self-compassion. Participants were instructed to think about people or things that they loved in their life, paying gratitude towards them as well as themselves.
Kent believes that the popularity of the event is because people want something to “ground themselves” and mindfulness is one tool that people want to learn more about to ease anxiety.
“I think mindfulness is starting to become one of those things that people are turning to that helps them in their everyday life,” she said. “Like a gym membership.”
In addition to mindfulness, all the organizers of the event are excited to get more people out on the water to explore the many lakes that Flint has to offer.
“We want them to come back and do it over and over again and bring their friends and their family, and start to consider the Flint River as a recreational opportunity that they could have right here in Genesee County versus, up north,” Fedewa said. “We want people to get reacquainted with the natural world right here in our community because we have a lot of really fabulous opportunities for people to get out and enjoy their watershed and start to love it as much as we do.”
The next Mindfulness Paddle event will be on July 10 at 9:30 a.m. For more information on upcoming kayaking events happening throughout the summer, visit Kayak Flint’s website here. For more information on upcoming mindfulness events, visit Crim Fitness Foundation Mindfulness Department’s website here.