BRANSON WEST, Missouri - I smile lavishly as I breathe in the warm, misty morning atop glassy waters on my local lake. I greet the morning with some half-sun salutations as the sun begins to peek over the hills and gaze upon me with its comforting glow. I literally can feel Vitamin D pouring into my cells, but what’s even more is the surge of what I call “Vitamin P” rushing down through my veins. “Pleasure”. No one I know has ever regretted any yoga they have done anywhere in anyway, but I’ll tell you one thing I know for sure...there is something pretty dang sweet about yoga on top of your SUP on the water.
I’ve been yoga instructor for over 15 years, and a SUP instructor for over 5 years and combining the two was what made my yoga practice more focused, more aligned and more purposeful than ever before. And I’ve been asked by many of my students, “Is SUP yoga better than yoga in the studio?” Better? Maybe. Maybe not. Instead, I prefer the word “complementary.” The benefits of any yoga practice are endless no matter what you use as a studio. But in my line of work I have found a few extra benefits to calling your SUP your mat and your local waterway your studio. And, I’ve decided to list them here so that, in the event you are still toying with the idea of trying out “Waterfall Pose” on top of the water, this may just get you out there.
My Top 5 Benefits to SUP Yoga
The unstable SUP surface creates an intense need to recruit dormant muscles which “wake your asanas up” when once again practiced back on land. | Photo: Ben Thouard
1. Engages the “hard to find” muscles.
In studio we hear the cues like “root down through all four corners of your feet” or “hug in with your inner thighs” and suddenly if your arm wasn’t interlaced behind your back you’d be scratching your head, since you can’t seem to figure out how to engage those muscles? Well desire to scratch no more, because once you set out on your yoga practice on your SUP you will have no choice but to engage these hard to find muscles.
Most all my SUP students have found that attempting a Warrior pose or any sort of standing pose, you will automatically be gripping with all four corners of your feet and engaging your inner thighs just to stay stable on the SUP. The first time I did Warrior 2 on my paddleboard, I immediately felt sorry for all the sleepy muscles I’d forgotten to wake up in my studio practice. The unstable SUP surface creates an intense need to recruit dormant muscles which “wake your asanas up” when once again practiced back on land. This recruiting allows your poses to become more healing, more beneficial, and more empowered progressing your practice to the next level. Very cool.
2. Core like never before.
Any form of stand up paddling, no matter whether you are paddling leisurely around your cove, training for the big race, practicing your sun salutations, trying some of my audio PaddleFit podcast workouts on Itunes, leaves you doing what I call “Core Like Never Before”. Every move you make, every breath you take on the SUP, you are utilizing your core. The instability of the board make it extremely necessary for your body to recruit your abs for every move from a stroke to a squat. There are days when even just a long paddle with no extra ab work gets my obliques obliterated and sore.
Yoga on a paddleboard calls for major core work, even more so than the core work required in studio. Once that core work is established, you will find that arm balances become even more bouyant and effortless, and that you find yourself calling on your core in class even during poses like Tree Pose and Bridge. Who doesn’t love all core, all the time!?
Yoga on a paddleboard calls for major core work, even more so than the core work required in studio. | Photos: Mandy McMurdo
3. Alignment and therapy for what ails you.
My whole life I struggled with a bit of knock-kneed-ness that kept me in a lot of pain due to some chronic mis-alignment in my hips. Even after I practiced yoga on land for many years, it wasn’t until I began practicing on the water that my hip stopped hurting and I even noticed my knock-kneed-ness tending towards better alignment. This was due to the fact that when you paddle and stand on a SUP, you have to be in anatomical position all the time. Knees can’t be locked out, feet can’t be turned out and must stay rooted evenly, you can’t slouch, and you must engage your core. In a perfect world this is how we would stand all day on land, but the stability of land makes us kind of a lazy species. That’s the beauty of being “on board”. The necessity of staying in alignment is priority one and quite healing over time. After just 6 years on a SUP, I no longer have hip pain I had been plagued with my whole life, and my knees seem to have moved into proper alignment due to staying in proper alignment throughout my whole body! Now that’s rad!
4. Vitamin D exposure.
Even the fanciest, most relaxing indoor studio in the world can’t offer you this much needed Vitamin. Most of us are chronically low due to lack of intake of proper foods like salmon and sardines which contain Vitamin D, but mostly due to the fact that we are usually more indoors than we are outdoors. Practicing yoga on the water gives you the chance to soak up some rays and soak up some D. Make sure you are out there for at least 20 minutes and don’t be afraid to get a little skimpy on your clothing. Vitamin D needs full exposure to the larger areas of your body such as your torso, arms and legs.
Just walking outdoors with a short sleeve shirt on and jeans isn’t gonna get you the levels you need. To avoid sunburns and overexposure, practice SUP yoga in the earlier morning hours when the sun is still coming up, or towards the later part of the day as the sun is setting, and consider using a good organic sunscreen after your first 20 minutes of exposure. I recommend Raw Elements sunscreen www.rawelementsusa.com which will go on and stay on even on top of sweaty-betty skin.
Practicing yoga on the water gives you the chance to soak up some rays and soak up some Vitaman D. | Photo: Ben Thouard
5. Fresh air and nature.
In this world of chronic over-stimulation from so many electronic devices, it’s no wonder that we find it so difficult to pull away from our devices and go outside, and yet its also no wonder we long for it. It’s our human nature to be in nature, not beyond a computer screen.
Think about your typical day: first thing in the morning you check your cell phone while turning on the tv to watch the news as you use your electronic toothbrush to get your pearly-whites whiter. After your morning selfie, it’s off to work, with your cell phone still tucked neatly alongside you, you blast your satellite radio while following your GPS. Work surrounds you with computer screens, other peoples cell phones, tablets, cash registers, internet routers, music, television, and more noise noise noise from traffic, people talking on their devices around you and more. Then it’s home from work to lounge in front of the tv, while surfing the net for those fivefinger shoes you’ve been longing to try, and texting your bestie. I think you get my drift.
We’ve become so accustomed to electronics that we don’t even realize how much we use them. Fresh air and nature somehow has become a weekend warrior outing where you may go to the park or you might go for a hike, or even take your SUP out. But what if your weekly Monday, Wednesday, Friday Yoga practice wasn’t in a studio, but instead was on top of your local waterway? Chances are you might feel as though #itsalwaystheweekend! Bottom line: any excuse to get outside away from all the electrons and radiation soaring through you body at any given moment, and take in fresh air, and essential oil molecules that float into the surrounding air from local trees and, and grasp ahold of the brilliance and wonder of nature all around totally trumps anything you could possibly do indoors. Remember that feeling you get after being outside surrounded by water, or barefoot in the grass, or hiking through the wilderness, or sitting on a sandy beach, or surfing alongside your buds? That feeling is the authentic self, the authentic you, slowing down enjoying exactly what we as humans were created for. Living.
So while I won’t say that SUP yoga is “better than” yoga on land, what I will say is it will definitely go a long ways in improving not only your current practice, but also your current state of health, and even your moods! It complements your land practice and it complements your health. And the benefits extend beyond just my top 5 listed here. What other benefits are there to SUP yoga? Well, I guess that’s where you come in. Hop on your board and find out for yourself.
New to SUP yoga? Check out Standup Paddling TV on Youtube, and my SUP Yoga videos viewed by thousands there on some pretty rad BiC SUP boards. Or find a qualified SUP Yoga instructor near you and take a class. Namaste, my little yogis. And we’ll see you on the water!
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Branson West, Missouri - Jodelle Fitzwater has been a yoga instructor for over 15 years, and a SUP instructor for over 5 years. She's a BiC SUP Pro Stand Up Paddle Ambassador, SUP TV Fitness & Yoga Host, Certified PaddleFit Instructor, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer, and Certified Nutrition Coach. Oh, yea, and self-proclaimed mermaid.Website: www.getfitwithjodelle.com/