It showed up last summer in Seattle on Shilshole Bay courtesy of Wasup Yoga.
THE FIRST time I went out on the water for stand-up paddleboard yoga, the current turned my board sideways. I couldn’t see the teacher. My board was hooked to a line of other boards; I also couldn’t do anything to turn my board in the right direction to see her.
“Breathe, Nicole,” I muttered.
I showed up with a deeply entrenched fear of falling in and getting wet; it turns out the bigger issue was facing the wrong direction.
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Stand-up paddleboard yoga has popped up all over the country, with classes on lakes in Texas, Utah and upstate New York. It showed up last summer in Seattle on Shilshole Bay courtesy of Wasup Yoga. (Full disclosure: I now teach stand-up paddleboard yoga for Wasup Yoga.) Yogis stampeded toward Ballard to try it out.
Stand-up paddleboard (affectionately known as SUP) yoga was the answer to every yogi’s prayers. For once, we didn’t have to choose between practicing yoga in a studio or being outside when the Seattle sun was at its best and brightest.
SUP yoga also has the added benefit of upper-body work from paddling, sometimes against strong currents or brisk winds. The practice offers a new definition of balance and, in my case, an incredible lesson in letting go of how things are supposed to work, yoga or otherwise.
The paddling alone is worth it. I love the power of propelling myself forward with a paddle, the feeling of standing on water and taking rejuvenating, deep breaths of salty ocean air. I used to wonder why people chose such an awkward-looking way to move across water, but vistas somehow feel grander when you’re standing on a paddleboard.
A lot of yoga givens also disappear on the water. Stand with your feet together, even at the most stable part of the board, and you may find yourself en route to chilly Puget Sound. Just when you have found your balance in a lunge and even dared to take your arms to the sky, a wave might knock you to your knees. Hop up toward a handstand as long as you don’t mind if your floor moves, too.
A new soundtrack also replaces the usual playlists — the rumble of trains, floatplanes buzzing overhead, water lapping at the board. The view during downward facing dog is breathtaking; the view upside down during a wheel backbend can be epic. The board rocks gently during final rest.
During a regular yoga class, I often need reminders from the teacher to breathe and stay present. On a paddleboard, all I need is the breeze and sound of water.
I still worry occasionally about falling in. Puget Sound is cold. But I keep going back. I discovered what many others before me already knew: The glories of paddleboard yoga are worth the possibility of a chilly swim.