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Stand-Up Paddleboard Yoga Keeps Things Cool

Katie Grant

For most of us, being on the water means a road trip to the beach or a staycation at one of our local lakes. For others, it means being literally on the water — floating atop a board while trying to hold a triangle pose steady. Om Yoga, located in Fort Mill, now offers Lake Wylie’s first full-service, instructional stand-up paddleboard (SUP) yoga classes as an unconventional way to get in your daily yoga practice while simultaneously beating the heat.

On a recent Saturday morning, I filled out a waiver and did a quick meet-and-greet with our instructor before our small group walked down to the water for a quick tutorial on how to correctly fall off a board (splash don’t crash) and activate the flotation device participants are required to wear around their waist like a fanny pack. We then paddled out for my first aquatic yoga adventure, sandwiched between the glittering lake and the high summer sun. I appreciated these few minutes of paddle time, as it helped me find my balance and acclimate to the stand up paddleboard.

We followed our instructor away from the trees and docks toward the middle of the lake, where she called our first pose: downward facing dog. I’ve tried SUP a few times on my own, but have never combined it with yoga. My assumption was that it couldn’t be that difficult, as it’s not too hard to keep your balance during a normal day of paddleboarding, but it only took until my first down dog on the water to realize how wrong I was.

The board essentially becomes the yoga mat, but the added element of moving water significantly increases the difficulty factor — something my slightly hungover body and mind weren’t prepared for on this particular morning. Knowing my balance was already off, my chances of falling in the lake water were already higher.

In each pose I found the same muscles are challenged as when done on stable ground, but in a new and different way. I felt shaky to say the least, both from the hangover and the struggle of awkwardly maneuvering my body on a floating board. Believe me when I say it felt less like a flow and more like an ungainly attempt to keep from falling.

Typically, we use our breath and gaze to steady ourselves in yoga poses, the same skills I use when doing stand up paddling, but the combination was especially challenging to my core, arms and legs. Yoga on a floating paddleboard also requires a different kind of concentration, and in my struggle to stay afloat, I could feel my mind and body both using skills they never had before.

According to Christa Sterling, when “we learn something new our brain forms new connections and neurons and makes existing neural pathways stronger or weaker.” Some experts call these changes “plasticity” in the brain. Our brain will continue to change until the end of our life, and the more we learn along the way, the more our brain will change and the more “plastic” it will become, which is a good thing! Also, new experiences cause a rush of dopamine, the motivational component of reward-motivated behavior.

We stayed on the water for about an hour, moving through a series of balance-challenging poses — falling off boards, having a laugh, getting back on, then working our way into the pose again. One might think falling could be a slight blow to the ego, but on the water, it has the opposite effect. With cooling lake water to break the tumble, falling actually becomes fun and a welcome embrace from the midday heat. After all, isn’t laughter the best medicine?

After a lolling savasana (or corpse pose) atop the lake water, we navigated to shore, officially closing our practice with a group high-five and a cold beverage, mine of course being coconut water to nurse my hangover. Should you choose SUP yoga as your next summertime adventure, based on my experience alone I would recommend wearing a bathing suit or something wicking, and don’t forget to apply sunscreen before and bring a towel for after, both of which I didn’t do but wished I had.

Because OM offers this class to all levels, it gives visitors a chance to really shape their own practice and experience. You can either push yourself, finding your edge, or take it easy and enjoy the atmospheric calm of the outdoors. Whichever option best suits your fitness personality, it’s an imaginative way to combine the ancient practice of yoga with a contemporary mode of exercise, crafting the ideal outdoor experience for the modern-day yogi.

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