Lobstermen repeatedly haul unwieldy traps, oyster farmers bend over to pull up hulking cages and scallopers hunch over to shuck their prized shellfish at sea. Harvesting seafood for a living can exact a stiff toll on the lower back.
The industry has long had a reputation for a “rub some dirt on it” mentality when it comes to these and other daily aches and pains, but a new program aims to introduce fishermen to yoga to keep them on their feet and out on the water.
The program — a collaboration between yoga instructor and Port Clyde oyster farmer Antonia Small, Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association and Maine AgrAbility — started last month and will create an online library of different yoga poses picked to combat the repetitive tasks of those who make their livelihoods on the ocean.
“Even if you get in just a few minutes, that can really make a huge difference on how you’re feeling later,” said Brie Weisman, an occupational therapist with AgrAbility, a nonprofit that works with fishermen, farmers and loggers.
The program’s first entry on the AgrAbility website went up last month and showed oyster farmer Dana Morse with his arms high in a “warrior one” — a particularly useful position for those who have to bend over and haul cages or traps.
Each month the trio will pick a new pose to help keep harvesters nimble and Small will demonstrate them in a how-to video. While the idea is simple, Small hoped the library of positions would battle perceptions of yoga and help it break into the seafood industry.
“Culturally, people feel that yoga is for the bendy people,” she said. “It’s really not.”
To show it can be for anyone, the group decided to also use pictures of actual fishermen and farmers doing poses on their boats instead of a yogi in a studio.
“You do not need lycra. You don’t need a yoga mat,” Weisman said. “You can use the stuff on your boat or on the dock.”
The yoga effort fits into a broader push by the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association to prioritize fishermen’s health and wellbeing.
“It doesn’t take much to hurt yourself on a boat,” said Monique Coombs, the association’s director of community programs.
Her group has also started survival raft and suit loaner program, paying for fishermen’s counseling sessions and started a weekly blog by National Alliance on Mental Illness clinical staff that delves into mental health and wellness for the industry.
The industry-targeted yoga moves could help fishermen stave off injuries as well as provide relief from daily stress, according to Coombs.
Morse tries to stretch regularly and said he can feel the difference when he does.
“Oyster farming is pretty hard on the body and it really does help,” he said.