Zen and the art of ocean rowing

Zen and the art of ocean rowing




Ben Duffy


Centra, Gavan, Hennigan, Meditation, Mindfulness, rowing

As part of our Centra Restart 21 Day Challenge series, Gavan Hennigan, tells us that MINDFULNESS and simple MEDITATION play a major part in his life. Gavan recently completed an epic solo row across the Atlantic Ocean. Not bad for a man who battled with alcohol and drug addiction in his youth!

On 1 Feb 2016, Galway man Gavan Hennigan landed in Antigua. The 36-year-old had crossed more than 5,000km of open ocean in a tiny boat with only one person to rely on and one person for company – himself. And he had smashed the record for a solo row in the Talisker Whiskey Challenge race. But just how does Gavan prepare for and keep going when dealing with such a daunting challenge, and with life in general? MINDFULNESS and simple MEDITATION play a major part he says.

And the adventurer believes that we could all benefit from taking a little time out from our busy, technology-loaded lives and create a little head space for ourselves. So the ocean rower recently teamed up with Centra for their Restart 21 Day Challenge to share two 30-second videos on his top MINDFULNESS tips that help him with daily life. They were so beautifully simple and useful that we just had to talk to him more about the subject. You'll find Gavan's thoughts below. And if you'd like to try to fit a little MINDFULNESS into your day, you could sign up to Centra's simple 21 Day Mindfulness Challenge.  

"I used the principles of meditation multiple times a day on my row. I was often in my head thinking things like ‘I’ve just rowed five hours and I have to row another 10. I’m only on day 14 and I’ve another six weeks to go.’ When I let that into my head I would start to freak out. It would be come a mountain and I’d start to become mentally exhausted that I had so much left to do." 
"When those moments would happen I’d just stop with the mind business. I’d take a couple of deep breaths and feel the breath going into my belly. I’d identify everything. I’d feel my hands gripping the oars. I’d feel the pull of the water. I’d listen to the water lapping as I’d take a stroke. That is the foundation of meditation. That’s what I used to stop me freaking out that I had a million strokes left to take."
"Every day I tried to bring myself back into the moment. I thought this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is an amazing experience. I’m out on the ocean. Look at those clouds. Look at the sky. I wanted to identify that beauty and connect with nature. It’s so important for me."
"I learned these basic principles of mindfulness by doing a 10-minute daily meditation. I use an app called Head Space or you could try this 10-minute guided meditation by Pat Divilly’s."
"When you do a 10-minute meditation you sit down, close your eyes and try and feel the seat you’re sitting on. You try and feel the ground under your feet. You try and identify the breath coming into the lungs and deep into the belly. They are all the same principles as I used on the row." 

"It doesn’t have to be all official. You don’t need to sit in the lotus position in a dark room with a candle. It can be just simply a couple of deep breaths trying to connect the mind with the body. That’s the whole purpose of meditation. We spend a lot of our time within our minds – thinking about the future, thinking about the past. And we can be missing out on the here and now. But if you can take a few deep breaths and feel the body and have a greater sense of awareness of it, it can help you calm down and have a better sense of what’s going on right now. I certainly feel better equipped for what’s happening instead of being lost in thought or spending time on the phone or flicking through Facebook, or getting overwhelmed thinking about the row back or stuff in the past." 
"Living in a digitally generated world is a big problem for us these days. Phones and technology are becoming part of us so it’s good to be able to take a step back from it for just a little while – whether it’s through a short meditation in the morning or else just taking moments during the day to come into the body and just breathe into that."
"I’m not always as religious about practicing meditation as I’d like to be with it. I find it hard. I definitely find that meditation is a tough thing to do but I find it really helps me a lot." 
"I started meditating about eight years ago. There isn’t much routine in my life so I don’t always manage to do it. But when I get busy and things start piling up and I feel like I need head space, that's when I know I really need it. The world is so fast at the moment and things can be so crazy, it’s important just to take that time and set yourself up." 

"It helps me become less reactionary to a lot of things. I think it helps me be more thoughtful in relationships and how I address and talk to people. I’ve become a better listener to people because of it. I’ve become better at taking in what other people are saying and not worrying so much about what I’ll say in reply. You can become more of an observer." 
"A lot of the time we’re just going through the motion of things. Meditation can help you bring you back to being fully in the moment." 
"One of my tips is to stop and identify your breath. As I breathe in I say, ‘This is my in breath.’ And as I breathe out I say, ‘This is my out breath.’ And that’s it. It’s so simple but it brings you back into the moment." 
"People can really beat themselves up when they try mediation. They say – and I’ve said it myself – ‘Oh I’m doing it wrong because my mind isn’t still when I try. I sit down for the 10 minutes and I start doing my breaths but then my mind wanders and I start thinking about whatever I’m doing later that day and before you know it the 10 minutes is gone and you think that was a waste of time. I’ve failed and I’m not doing it right. But it’s the business of the mind to think. You can’t stop that. It’s constantly generating thoughts all the time. But it’s about becoming an observer. You start and identify your breath and then your mind wanders and you notice that and you say that’s fine and you try and bring it back to the breath. It doesn’t matter, if you’ve done 10 minutes and you’ve only been aware of three breaths, that’s fine. It’s more progress than before you started. It’s not about judging yourself. It’s a start." 

"Practicing meditation can be like trying to train a puppy. The mind is the puppy. A puppy will run off and pee in the corner and start playing and you have to bring its attention back to try and train it. It takes time. And after a series of mornings trying 10 minutes of meditation you will be able to just concentrate on that breath coming in and out. It just takes time."
"Meditation and mindfulness have really helped me be more centred as a person. They help me make sure things don’t build up in my life or get out of control. And that means I’m calmer in my relationships and other parts of my life. I don’t get into situations where I have huge arguments or where I’m in a situation and I think I’m so stressed out I’m going to have a drink now. That’s the whole point of meditation and mindfulness. To keep you from getting too overwhelmed. Nothing really fazes me now." 
"That foundation of mindfulness means I’m calmer. I wouldn’t have an argument now and f*** someone out of it and then feel really bad afterwards. Those are the situations where you’re really susceptible to going back drinking or whatever. Now I just am more comfortable within myself so I don’t feel like I have to get out of myself. That’s what abusing alcohol and drugs is about; it’s saying I can’t handle my reality so I’ll change it by putting alcohol and drugs into my system. I no longer have that draw because of the work I have done within myself."
Gavan Hennigan is now planning his next adventure. Believe it or not, he hopes to row solo across the Atlantic again this summer. But this time he will travel from New York to Galway, encountering much more challenging conditions thanks to massive currents, stronger low pressure storms, and more miserable damp weather conditions. Fewer than 20 people have ever completed a solo row in this direction. You can keep up to date with Gavan’s adventures on his website and his Facebook page.

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Zen and the art of ocean rowing

As part of our Centra Restart 21 Day Challenge series, Gavan Hennigan, tells us that MINDFULNESS and simple MEDITATION play a major part in his life. Gavan recently completed an epic solo row across the Atlantic Ocean. Not bad for a man who battled with alcohol and drug addiction in his youth!