I tried stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) for the first time last summer, on the Jersey Shore. On the day of our lesson, we headed to the spot where we were to meet our instructor, who turned out to be a middle-aged, beach-worn, hippy dude who we liked instantly. He hauled our boards down off of his Jeep and placed them in the calm water of the inlet, and my husband instantly hopped on and was paddling away, while I hesitantly floated around on my knees for a while, uncertain about my balance.
After a while, I stood up — toes digging into the board, body tense, shoulders hugged up into my ears, white knuckles wrapped around my paddle — the tiniest two-inch wave would have knocked me off of my board if my instructor didn’t repeatedly tell me to relax, bend my knees, breathe, and enjoy being on the water. I was doing everything I constantly tell my students not to do on the yoga mat.
So I lifted up my toes and spread them out nice, fluffy, and wide, focused on my breath, let the tension out of my body, and realized that this was either going to be a lot of fun if I just went with the movement of the water and became one with the elements, or it was going to be torture if I tried to fight it and stayed tense the entire lesson. I chose the former, and I haven’t looked back since.
Over the past year we’ve rented boards from our home base in New Jersey, and have gone as far as the Pacific Coast of Santa Barbara, California. Eventually we ended up buying boards, and I found a sport that complements my yoga practice in a profound way, so much so that it has become an extension of it.
SUP is like yoga in the sense that it can be calm and relaxing if you take your board into still waters, much like a restorative or Yin yoga practice. It can be exhilarating, heart-pounding, and exciting if you take your board out into the bigger surf of the open ocean, much like trying arm balances and inversions, or an intense Vinyasa class.
Either way, SUP is wonderful for your body and a moving meditation. Depending on the day and on the kind of session you want, you can choose calm stillness, or push yourself to realize you're capable of things you never knew were possible. SUP challenges you to be completely present, connected with your breath, and you and your board are the only thing that matter when you're on the water.
Playing around with yoga poses on a stand-up paddleboard adds even more fun to the mix. Down Dog becomes a whole new challenge, as different muscles in your body engage and relax depending on the direction the water is lapping at your board. Sun Salutations slow down, and placement becomes more deliberate. Balances and inversions are incredibly challenging, but amazingly fun and generally lead to lots of shrieks and good natured laughs as people full into the water, which is more than welcome on a hot day anyway!
It’s all part of the fun. As I always say in yoga, if you fall, just smile, realize it means you tried, get right back up and try again, and don’t forget to have fun.
SUP has opened up a whole new world for me, and I see it as another way that yoga has found its way off of my mat and into my everyday life. It allows me to be 100% present and mindful, and every time I walk away from the water with my board under my arm, I’m filled with gratitude for my body, my soul, and everything beautiful the world has to offer. Because of yoga I consider myself lucky to see the world through an altered lens, and my SUP practice has made that lens even more positive, glowing and bright.