From Yoga Journal:
Paddle boards offer a tremendous dynamic element into any Yoga practice. Where often one finds gravity the only major antagonist towards balance, it is dispersed into many different planes on the water. This constant jittering of posture can help to draw inner focus to your center of balance—and is a lot of fun!
Her wispy blond hair falls about her face, but what comes into view when she looks back between her ankles is not the wall of a yoga studio. Instead, it’s where the cool, blue ocean meets the sky in San Diego Bay. Seagulls fly in the distance, and at any moment, a dolphin may make an appearance. Her mat? An epoxy paddleboard that gently rocks with the Pacific’s undulating waves. Gibree shifts her weight front to back and side to side to steady her floating Down Dog. “It’s a totally different experience than in the studio,” says Gibree, a vinyasa yoga teacher and professional standup paddleboard racer who first began playing with yoga poses on her board in 2009. “You’re out in the elements and have a total connection to nature. It’s so relaxing and meditative. It feels amazing.”
“The craziest day out was when the waves were chest high,” says Fraser. “I took a group of fellow instructors out, and just doing Downward-Facing Dog was challenging. It was like riding a bucking bull. We had a lot of laughs.”
The beginner-friendly sport of standup paddleboarding was born in the 1940s when Waikiki surfers stood on boards and navigated their way through the waves with a long paddle. Standup paddleboard yoga (or SUP yoga, as it’s known to its devotees) is asana practiced on 10- to 12-foot-long boards in the most serene of settings: an ocean bay, a glassy lake, even a slow-moving river. In recent years, water-loving yogis—some with board sport experience, like Gibree, some without—have embraced SUP yoga as a practice that brings a sense of joyful freedom to an otherwise earth-bound yoga practice.
Paddle Boards Help Focus
“On the water, I have to let go of any control or wanting to do everything perfectly because at any moment, the current can change everything, and I’ll be in the water,” says Jessica Taylor, a vinyasa teacher who started her SUP yoga practice in Savanna, Georgia, where many mornings she’d warm up by paddling against the current on Richardson Creek near her home. Over the spring, she moved to Jacksonville, Florida, where she now practices at Neptune Beach. “In a studio, I find myself trying so hard to do everything perfectly that I forget how fun yoga is. SUP yoga is a reminder that it’s not so serious.”
Taylor begins her playful practice with a few grounding asanas like Cat-Cow Pose and Balasana (Child’s Pose) to get her balance. Then she moves on to more challenging standing poses such as Vrksasana (Tree Pose) and Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I), which can end in the water if her weight isn’t evenly distributed front to back or side to side. She compensates by using a wider stance and rocking with the waves—and by letting go. “The worst that can happen is that I fall in and get back up,” says Taylor, who notes that not taking yourself too seriously is crucial to making it fun. In that spirit, she and her SUP yoga students give each other snaps when someone goes over.
Rock and Roll
In New England, where Karen Fraser teaches SUP yoga, the rougher Atlantic waters can turn practice into a thrill ride. “The craziest day out was when the waves were chest high,” says Fraser. “I took a group of fellow instructors out, and just doing Downward-Facing Dog was challenging. It was like riding a bucking bull. We had a lot of laughs.”
It’s a fun practice but with some serious benefits. Doing yoga on a surface that is constantly in motion fires up your core muscles, says Gibree, and strengthens muscles that aren’t called on in everyday practice. “Even Plank Pose is more challenging because your board is moving a little back and forth, and that added tipsiness activates your core and arms,” says Gibree. “You definitely feel these tiny muscles that don’t activate on the ground.”