Gym Class: Stand-Up Paddleboard Yoga
It’s no secret that I love yoga. As both a student and teacher, I’m continuously seeking ways to grow in my practice, from exploring various styles to rolling out my mat in new locations. But even after years of studying and instructing, I wondered if I would be centered and balanced enough to practice yoga on water. Since I started swimming at about the time I learned to walk, the concept of combining my love of yoga with my love of being outside on the water truly appealed to me, so I set out to take my yoga practice afloat.
What is it?
Stand-up paddleboard yoga (SUP yoga) combines the sports of stand-up paddleboarding with yoga postures, also known as asanas. The stand-up paddleboard itself is essentially a large, very buoyant board similar in shape to a surfboard, which is moved through the water using a single blade paddle. Yoga postures are then performed on the board out on the open water.
I had my first experience with stand-up paddleboarding on a trip to Hawaii back in March, when we rented boards and set out for a 4-mile river trek. While on the board, I attempted a few yoga poses (as seen in the picture above), as I had heard about full yoga classes that were being taught on paddleboards. I was curious to see what a posture like upward facing dog would feel like with water moving beneath me and wind flowing through my hair. I have to admit, the feeling of finding a deep ujjayi breath while exploring my strength, balance, and flexibility amidst the beauty of the Hanalei River was truly exhilarating. It was for that reason that I felt compelled to seek out a structured SUP yoga class.
To guide me in this new venture, I sought out the expertise of the instructors at Paddle Into Fitness. They offer SUP yoga classes along with SUP fitness classes and group and private SUP lessons on Mission Bay in San Diego, CA. With mounting research about the numerous benefits that yoga provides, individuals are continually seeking ways to grow in their practices, and the class offered through Paddle Into Fitness serves as the perfect option for those seeking a new experience along with a change of scenery.
The class I attended was taught by Roxy, a passionate and knowledgeable SUP instructor and registered yoga teacher who, as a Southern California native, knows an extensive amount about water sports, from stand up paddleboarding to surfing and everything in between. Roxy did a great job providing detailed instructions throughout the class, consistently emphasizing both safety and quality of movement, especially once we were out on the water. We spent the first portion of class (approximately 20 minutes) on land in a grassy space practicing sun salutations and several other yoga postures designed to properly warm the body in preparation for our practice out on the bay. We then moved toward the shore where we reviewed some SUP basics, like how to properly carry the board and place it in the water, how to paddle with correct form, and how to execute turns. Finally, we put our skills to the test, paddling throughout the bay and pausing at various points on our journey to practice an assortment of yoga postures. The small class size of six people allowed for an intimate feel as well as more personalized instruction, creating both an enjoyable and memorable class experience.
A highlight from the class was coming to savasana (also known as corpse pose) on the board, lying still under the warm rays of the sun with the sound of the water moving gently beneath us as we soaked in all of the benefits of our physical practice. While we spent the final minutes of class in this culminating posture, the subtle current of the bay gracefully guided us to the shore, which was a pleasant surprise to awake to following such a blissful period of complete relaxation and serenity.
What I wore
Since this class takes yoga out onto the open water, I wasn’t quite sure whether I should sport my yoga attire or throw on my swimsuit, but it turns out that either option works (it really just depends whether or not you want to work on your tan)! Since the particular class I attended started at 8 AM, when the marine layer was still blocking the sun, I opted to wear one of my favorite lululemon tank tops with coordinating crop pants. My outfil turned out to be a great choice, as the shorter length of the pants was perfect for walking the board both in and out of the water without getting too wet.
What it worked
When it comes to SUP, it’s all about the muscles of the midsection. The strength needed to both find balance on the board and generate enough power to move the board stems from the muscles of the core, from the abs to the obliques. The integration of yoga postures not only helps to further challenge one’s balance, but it also works to build strength and flexibility throughout the entire body.
Who is it best for?
All of the participants who attended this particular class had at least some SUP and yoga experience (although, for the most part, no one had ever really combined the two), which was helpful given the fact that the class was 90 minutes long. The class did, however, move at a relatively slow pace, making it accessible for participants of various experience and ability levels. The instructor also took time to review both SUP and yoga basics. Still, it is highly recommended that individuals take a beginner SUP class to gain a bit more experience with proper paddling technique, stance, and form before signing up for an SUP yoga class. Some experience with yoga is also a plus.
What to watch out for
Proper technique is key when it comes to SUP, so it’s important to seek out a qualified instructor who will teach you how to properly stand on the board and how to paddle with proper form in order to reduce your risk of injury and enhance your experience out on the open water (this is where a one-on-one or small group lesson before attempting a SUP yoga class comes in handy). Because the class also incorporates yoga, it’s important to seek out an instructor who is also a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT or E-RYT). Someone who has completed an extensive course of study will be able to safely and effectively guide you through various physical postures while offering modifications and/or progressions to best suit your ability level.
My experience with SUP yoga was as exciting and fun as it was tranquil and rejuvenating. If you’re seeking a change of pace and are open to trying a fun new way of enhancing your physical and mental well-being, all while enjoying some fresh air and sunshine, then this is a perfect option to explore on your health and fitness journey. Namaste!
Jessica Matthews is an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. As a contributor to The Juice Bar, she'll be giving you the scoop on the latest fitness classes, decoding newfangled gym equipment, debunking exercise myths, and more.
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