For the past few months I’ve been trying to simplify life. It started when I watched a Netflix documentary about minimalism and I later read the excellent book Goodbye Things by Japanese author Fumio Sasaki. I was inspired to reclaim time and space by living more simply, and while I won’t share my decluttering efforts on this blog, I wanted to make decisions quicker. Instead of weighing up pros and cons, researching for days or analysing a menu for 20 minutes, my mantra became ‘if you want it, get it’ and ‘if you’re interested, do it’. I’ve regained so much time by thinking less. It’s incredible.
This ‘do what you’re drawn to’ mindset is how I found myself at a swimming pool at 7am on a Tuesday, about to do yoga in my bikini. I love the water and had been interested in trying stand up paddle (SUP) boarding for a while. When I saw Precious Breath were offering a three week SUP yoga course at a local aquatic centre, I knew I had to give it a go! I usually workout with my mum on a Tuesday morning so I asked if she wanted to join me. She loves a fitness challenge too so we paid our AU$120 course fee and a few weeks later, we were poolside.
As the name suggests, SUP yoga combines stand up paddle boarding and yoga. You’ll do a range of yoga poses while balancing on a paddle board, with the class duration typically 45 minutes to an hour. There’s no paddle! The sequence can vary but as a guide, most classes will have the standard yoga format of a gentle warm up, sun salutations, warrior poses and then perhaps some inversions or hip opening stretches followed by shavasana (meditation). If you’re confused, terminology is covered below. The challenge of SUP yoga is moving between poses while keeping your centre of gravity, or you’ll topple into the water!
Before you leave home
As with a traditional yoga class, it’s best not to eat for at least an hour beforehand or you may get an upset stomach. If you must have something, keep it small and energy-dense such as half a banana, a handful of nuts or my favourite – a raw ball. Ladies, you’ll be in swimwear so make sure you’re happy with your hair removal situation. Put on suncream, bring a towel and a water bottle. Consider a hat but it’ll likely get wet. It’s best to leave valuables at home unless you know there are lockers available (unlikely at river or beach locations).
What to wear
I had no idea whether I should wear a swimsuit, yoga clothes or both but thankfully I got an email before our class. It said to wear swimwear underneath yoga clothes in case we got wet. As the pool was chlorinated, I wore my oldest gym shorts and tank rather than damage my latest Lululemon, with a bikini underneath. I’d regrettably tossed my old one-piece out in a recent clean-out, but thankfully my bikini top had a high neck. As for footwear, I wore sneakers for the 20 minute walk from my apartment to the pool but flip-flops are a better idea.
Ideally you’ve been given a good description of the class location, whether it be a public pool, lake or at the beach. It shouldn’t be too hard to spot the boards and cluster of people. Find the instructor and if it’s not specifically a beginner class, let them know your experience with SUP or yoga so they can give guidance throughout.
Your paddle board will probably be supplied, otherwise you may need to collect a hire board. Inquire beforehand! Yoga paddle boards are wider than regular boards, giving you more space and stability. Getting onto the board can be difficult but look for a handle (a deep groove) in the centre. Then you’re set!
Your instructor will guide you through a range of poses. If you’ve done yoga before, you’ll be familiar with them. If not, here are some basics:
- Child’s pose: A resting pose with knees and toes on your mat, chest on your thighs and arms stretched in front. A great option to do anytime during the class.
- Downward dog: One of the foundation poses in yoga. Hands and feet on the mat at least one metre apart, with your bottom in the air like an upside down “V.” Over time, your heels will touch the ground.
- Shavasana or “corpse pose”: Meditation. Five minutes at the end where you lay down and relax your mind, letting your body absorb the work you’ve just done.
- Sun salutations: A flowing sequence involving downward dog, lunges, some planking, upward dog and mountain poses. Usually repeated at least four times (twice on each leg).
- Warrior poses: A set of strengthening poses, with Warrior 1 facing frontwards, Warrior 2 your chest and hips face the side, and Warrior 3 a bit like a one-legged aeroplane.
During the class
I quickly realised I’d be doing the class in my bikini, as we needed to swim a short distance to reach our boards! It’d been years since I’d been to a public swimming pool and the water was mild and refreshing. I felt genuinely excited I’d made this experience happen. I got on the board without any grace, and our class began.
Your main focus will be staying on the board, but honestly, it was much sturdier than I expected. From the first minute, I felt my legs and core instantly engage as if I was balancing on a beam. But I moved through child’s pose, cat-cow pose and to downward dog without any problems. It was 20 minutes later during a Warrior 2 pose that I toppled into the water! It resulted in lots of laughter and others fell off later too. Apart from being a little cold when the sun went behind clouds, I felt peaceful and lucky to have such a unique experience in my hometown’s warm climate.
Our instructor Claudia was fantastic, guiding us through poses with a headset microphone as she stood on the edge of the pool. She had a great teaching style, moving around the pool so our class could still see her when we were facing the side and demonstrating moves where needed. Throughout the class she congratulated us on accepting a challenge, getting out of our comfort zone and choosing to start our day with yoga. As a regular yogi, I was comfortable with the poses but I did regret throwing out my one-piece when my stomach sagged while planking. I told myself it’s just a body – and any onlookers were probably more interested in our unusual activity rather than critiquing my lack of tone.
The highlights were doing ‘wild thing’ pose and flipping into the pool – what a sense of freedom! I also enjoyed bridge pose and hope to make it to wheel pose by the end of the three week course. I’d earlier joked with my mum that I couldn’t possibly imagine doing ‘happy baby’ pose in a bikini. Well, I did it – until I realised the school group next to us probably didn’t need to see that view!
The next day & beyond
Forget the next day, my quads were stiff when I stood up after breakfast that morning! I woke up with stiff quads the next day as well as well, and my mum text me she had the same feeling. We must’ve worked harder than we realised. If you’re not a regular yogi, you may also find your hamstrings a little tight. Go for a gentle walk or try repeat some of the poses to loosen your muscles.
In subsequent classes, have fun exploring and developing your practice. Maybe you lunge deeper, twist further or challenge your balance by closing your eyes. While I was slightly hesitant SUP yoga may be a fad, it was actually a perfect union of two different workouts. The flow of yoga and the movement of the water was calming and they absolutely complimented each other. The feeling must be heightened in natural water! If you get the chance, take your practice outside the studio – and get on board SUP yoga!
QUESTION: When did you last take your fitness out of your comfort zone?