In 2018, a fellow yogi friend invited me to come along for a short holiday in Cornwall. One day, we hired a pair of SUP boards and spent our day paddleboarding and practicing yoga on the water.
I still think of that as one of the best days I’ve ever had. It inspired me to buy my own paddle board and dive into the wonderful world of SUP yoga.
Curious about paddle board yoga? This article lays out the following aspects of paddle board yoga:
- What is paddle board yoga?
- 6 benefits of paddle board yoga
- 4 risks of paddle board yoga
- 6 tips for beginners
- FAQs about paddle board yoga
What is Paddle Board Yoga?
Don’t worry, this is not a trick question. Paddle board yoga is exactly what it sounds like. It is a fusion of yoga and paddleboarding, also known as SUP yoga.
In terms of the postures, paddle board yoga is not very different from a regular Hatha practice. Of course, the specific asanas included in the practice, as well as the level of difficulty, depend on the teacher and the present weather conditions.
What truly sets this type of yoga apart is the fact that the practice takes place on the water. As such, it requires more focus and balance awareness than any class on solid ground.
Benefits of Paddle Board Yoga
Thanks to the unique nature of this modern yoga style, it offers a myriad of benefits you may not otherwise receive through “ordinary” yoga practice.
1. Improved Balance
The very first thing you will notice once you’re out there, on the water, is the constant need to maintain balance. This is particularly evident when performing asymmetrical poses.
Whether you are seated, kneeling, or standing, the steady rocking of the paddle board will make you very aware of the moving ground.
The upside is that SUP yoga is an excellent way to work on your balance. By constantly challenging it, you are strengthening the stabilizer muscles and improving coordination.
2. Core Strength
Core strength is closely related to balance. It’s a major part of our muscular system that ties everything together.
In order to remain steady on a paddle board, you must engage your core even in the postures that would usually be considered easy and accessible.
3. Wrist and Ankle Mobility
For most people, standing with their feet firmly planted on the ground feels effortless. However, if the ground was moving, you would be forced to constantly adjust the position of your ankle to stay upright.In the context of paddle board yoga, this applies to any standing pose, squatting position, and even some inversions. Every time you manage not to fall, you improve the mobility of your ankles.
4. Better Body Awareness
Yoga is a great way to learn to listen to your body and gain a profound mind-body connection. Paddle board yoga takes this body awareness to the next level.
When you’re balancing on a SUP, every asana and every transition require full presence. Naturally, this leads to a deeper understanding of body and movement.
5. Time in Nature
It’s amazing how much your perspective can change when you spend some time surrounded by nature. This is especially important for those who live and work in an urban environment.
6. Sense of Community
When you attend a paddle board yoga class, there is a distinct sense of camaraderie among the participants.
It is generally expected that you may wobble, or even fall into the water. It’s part of the fun, and laughing certainly brings people together.
Risks of Paddle Board Yoga
The same unique aspects that bring additional benefits also come with extra risks. While the risks cannot be nullified, knowing about them can help you practice as safely as possible.
1. Muscle Strain
On a level studio floor, familiar poses like Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana) or Tree Pose (Vrksasana) usually feel steady and… well, easy! However, the added challenge of staying balanced in a space limited by the paddle board can be surprisingly difficult.
It’s important to move mindfully and modify poses if necessary to avoid muscle strain.
2. Slippery Surface
Inevitably, some water will make its way onto your paddle board. Some parts of the SUP may be covered with textured material to provide extra grip, and yet the water may still make the surface slippery.
Therefore, it is important to mind your step and be ready to fall off the board if you happen to slip up.
3. Exposure to the elements
As nice as it may be to practice yoga on the water, it’s also important to take precautions based on the weather.
For instance, if the air and/or water temperatures are low, it wouldn’t hurt to wear a wetsuit. You might also want to have a towel with you to dry yourself in case you fall into the water.
On the other hand, if you’re practicing on a bright, sunny day, remember to apply sunscreen and dress appropriately to avoid sunburns and overheating.
Finally, you may need an insect repellent depending on your location.
4. Falling In
Let’s be realistic. When you’re practicing yoga on a paddle board floating on water, there is a definite risk of losing your balance and tumbling into the water.
At the point when it happens, your personal safety is the priority. Try not to panic as you resurface and (hopefully) mount your board again.
Most SUP boards come with a cuff attached to the board via a leash. If you practice somewhere with a current, be sure to strap in to avoid losing your paddle board after a splash.
Tips for Beginners
1. Practice Under Supervision
The best thing you could possibly do as a complete beginner is find a SUP yoga class. Even if you’ve done yoga before, there are still a lot of nuances specific to this type of practice.
Under the watchful eye of a paddle board yoga teacher, you can learn the very basics and stay safe. You’re also unlikely to drift off into uncharted waters.
2. Try Before You Buy
Another advantage of attending a paddle board yoga lesson is that the SUPs are usually provided by the instructor. This allows you to try it out without a major financial commitment.
Alternatively, you may be able to hire a board and find your stride via independent practice. I would only recommend this if you are a competent swimmer.
3. Broaden Your Stance
To keep the SUP steady, it is important to distribute your weight wisely. Some poses may require modification (such as a wider stance) for extra stability.
4. Take It Slow!
No one expects you to be an expert from the moment you step onto the paddle board. Even if you have plenty of experience doing yoga on solid ground, you will likely find SUP yoga tricky at the beginning.
Don’t rush and try to enjoy the process as you discover the ins and outs of paddle board yoga.
5. What to Bring?
You won’t have the opportunity to grab something from your car or your locker, so be sure to have everything you need with you.
- Water. You may be surrounded by water but that does not mean you get to forget about your hydration!
- Towel. If you happen to fall into the water, being able to dry yourself off is good for your safety and well-being.
- Season-appropriate clothing. Don’t be surprised to see students practice yoga in their bikinis on a warm, sunny day. On the other hand, during colder weather, it may be better to wear a wetsuit or a long-sleeved yoga set.
- Waterproof bag. Having a simple waterproof bag is a convenient way to keep your belongings together and keep them dry!
6. What Not to Bring?
Similarly, there are some items you should probably leave on dry land.
- Phone. The temptation to capture a moment during the class may be overwhelming, but it’s not worth losing your phone at the bottom of the lake.
- Fitness watch. Unless your fitness tracker is designed to withstand water, it may be best to leave it behind. Watches that have the option to track swimming are typically fine.
Do I need to be proficient at paddleboarding before I try SUP yoga?
Truthfully, you don’t need to be very skilled at paddleboarding, but it helps to know the basics.
However, yoga on a paddle board is quite different from stand-up paddleboarding itself. It may help you with standing poses but the rest requires its own unique set of skills.
The teacher will often start the session with a safety brief and a demonstration of how to perform basic functions such as standing up, paddling, or mounting the board. If you’re not sure, it’s best to inquire ahead of time.
Where can I practice if I don’t live near a body of water?
It may surprise you, but there is such a thing as indoor paddle board yoga. Depending on where you reside, you may find a class in a local swimming pool or even a regular yoga studio.
The latter uses boards mounted on top of special platforms. It’s a great option for city dwellers who want to experience the workout without having to drive for several hours to the nearest lake or ocean.
Indoor SUP yoga is also accessible in less-than-ideal weather conditions, which makes it perfect for paddle board yoga enthusiasts who want to continue their practice in the winter.
What if I cannot swim?
Another advantage of indoor SUP yoga is that you can enjoy this challenge without getting wet.
If you’re keen to practice on water, take every precaution to avoid the risk of drowning:
- Stay close to the coast or shore, so that you can get help if necessary.
- Wear a floating device. If you have access to safety gear that doesn’t restrict your movement, you can practice yoga on a paddle board even if you’re not the best swimmer.
- Don’t practice alone. Find a class you can attend, or at the very least, practice with a yoga buddy.
- Wear the cuff. This way, if you fall into the water, you won’t lose your board.
- Choose still waters. Don’t go out on a windy day, and opt for practicing on a calm lake or sea as opposed to a river or ocean.
- Learn to mount the paddle board from the water. Take some time to master this skill before you venture out.
Do I have to buy my own paddle board?
Not at all! Paddle board yoga classes usually include board hire as part of the cost. Similarly, there is often SUP hire at popular tourist spots.
How accessible is paddle board yoga?
Paddle board yoga presents extra risks and challenges compared to most “standard” yoga classes. As such, it is not particularly accessible to those with limited mobility, poor balance, someone prone to dizzy spells, people who cannot swim…
As great as it is, SUP yoga is less inclusive than other types of practice. That said, if you are comfortable staying seated or kneeling on the board, it’s a great way to enhance your meditation practice.
What can I expect from a beginner paddle board yoga class?
If you’re curious as to what beginner SUP yoga practice looks like, check out this sequence by Gerry Broom.