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Yoga afloat

A Journey to Mental Resilience

May Mansfield describes how yoga has provided a path to self-discovery while living afloat

It’s not until I was sitting with a cup of tea on the bow of my boat, immersed in the quiet chittering of birds, that I could look back and realise everything I was searching for has always been here, within myself. Yet the path to getting here was not as peaceful.

May Mansfield practices yoga on her boat roof
May in her happy place: practising yoga on her narrowboat rooftop.

After purchasing the boat with my ex-partner with dreams of raising a family amid the serenity of the waterways, our journeys diverged. The end of that relationship was heart-wrenching and I found myself grappling with an isolation I hadn’t experienced before. This led me to various pursuits – maintaining an active social life and starting a YouTube channel – which kept the silence at bay. But what I found most poignant was the time I spent on my yoga mat, sitting on the roof of my narrowboat.

Having worked as a mental-health professional with CAMHS (Child & Adolescent Mental Health Service), I was well acquainted with the importance of mental well-being. I had taught yoga for four years, and practised it for over a decade. When the outside world became too much to bear, I turned inward. The yoga mat was my sanctuary. It wasn’t just about physical flexibility; it was my emotional refuge. The only time I felt truly and completely alone, in a good way, was on my mat.

It became a space to process my grief, bit by bit, breath by breath. Yoga isn’t just for the fit and flexible, as many perceive due to social media’s skewed representation. You can practise yoga while sitting comfortably on a chair. It’s all about aligning your spine and focusing on your breathing. “Yoga is an experiential science – you won’t grasp its transformative power until you immerse yourself in it,” is something I often emphasise in my classes.

May moved onto her narrowboat in 2021.
May moved onto her narrowboat in 2021.

Today, as I glide through the waterways on my narrowboat, I offer a weekly ‘Rest, Restore & Re-connect’ class for those in search of connection, just like I once was. For anyone sceptical about the effects of yoga, consider this: research has shown that restorative yoga practices can significantly decrease the secretion of cortisol, a primary stress hormone. This has profound implications for our nervous system and overall well-being.

The waterways are serene, and they reflect the journey of life – sometimes calm, sometimes challenging. But, just like yoga, it’s all about navigating those currents, finding your balance and, most importantly, finding peace within yourself.

May's boat at sunset
See more of May's story on her YouTube channel Wellbeing on Water.


This is an abridged version of the article that appeared in "On The Cut" in Waterways World January 2024