By Kelly O'Shea, Sports Medicine & Fitness Editor, Philly.com
Last Tuesday, I ducked out of the office around lunchtime to get my downward dog on. Except, this was no ordinary class.
As I opened my eyes for my first sun salutation, what came into view wasn’t the mirrored walls of a typical studio — but, a beautiful view of the Philadelphia skyline as I stretched atop a 12-foot stand-up paddleboard floating on, none other than, the Schuylkill River.
In West Fairmount Park, I met Jana Mars and Michelle Doyle of Aqua Vida for my first foray into the world of stand-up paddleboard (SUP) yoga.Now, let’s pause here for a second because I have a confession to make. I was beyond excited to try SUP yoga, and I was also equally as nervous. In fact, the more I talked about it, the more nervous I became. I was 97% certain (hey, gotta give myself some credit) that I was going to fall in to the dirty brown water that runs down the Schuylkill — so, of course, I had an entire change of clothes packed in my bag.
But guess what? I didn’t fall in, not one close call or anything! Here’s how my amazing experience went down:
To start, Mars, a WPA certified standup paddleboard instructor, gave me a quick SUP tutorial on land. She showed me where to position my body on the board, how to paddle properly and all of the other basics before she set my board in the Schuylkill and told me to hop on.
At first, I paddled for a few strokes on my knees, and then quickly braved it onto my feet. Once I got the hang of it, we paddled back and dropped our anchors for Doyle's yoga session, which was the main source of my anxiety. Doyle trained at the Nosara Yoga Institute in Costa Rica so I knew I was in good hands, but I still couldn’t shake my nerves.
I’ll be the first to admit, my form on a mat is definitely not the best and I was pretty sure that would cause some problems for me on the board. My fear must have been easy to read because Doyle repeatedly kept telling me to laugh it off. Aside from inhale and exhale, the only other words Doyle used consistently were smile and laugh.
Did you know that every time you smile or laugh you engage your core muscles? Yea, me neither. So when we shifted into our first plank and I immediately got that “are you serious” look on my face, Doyle just reminded me to laugh through it — and it worked. What started out as a few nervous laughs, eventually became full blown I-can’t-believe-I’m-doing-it laughs
Throughout our 45-minute session, we cycled through the usual suspects: Cat, cow, boat, chaturanga, and planks, so many planks. (Michelle is admittedly a core fanatic.) Towards the end, I got a little daring with a modified warrior pose and even shifted into a one-arm, one-leg plank that looked better than the ones I try on land!
I’ll bet right about now, you’re saying to yourself, I don’t know, on a scale of savasana to handstand just how difficult is SUP yoga?
Don’t worry, Doyle caters every session to her students. Some days she’ll lead a yoga for athletes class which is heavy on the stretching and other times a flow class will suit her students best.
“To me, yoga is for everyone,” said Doyle. “I work with cancer patients, athletes, kids as young as 3-years-old and adults as old as 76.”
Plus, practicing on water means that the forgiving surface is much easier on your joints and your body as a whole. In fact, when the Aqua Vida ladies took me out on the water last week, Doyle was awaiting surgery for a torn labrum that had her sidelined in the classroom, but on the water, she was able to do most of the poses with me.
Yet, if I’m being honest, the whole session was so much more than just yoga. It’s really about believing in yourself, pushing yourself and finding out what you’re really capable of.
“Jana and I have this firm belief that you need to have confidence in yourself and believe in yourself and Aqua Vida means that to us,” said Doyle. “It’s our passion, it’s our water life, and it’s our way of building each other up instead of bringing each other down.”
As I sat up after savasana, I was hit with the deep relaxation that I always feel after a yoga session — but, what I felt more than anything after this class was a sense of empowerment. And that’s a feeling that you really can’t beat.