What is SUP Yoga?

What is SUP Yoga?

By now, most of us have seen those impressive images of yogis doing headstands atop paddle boards in open water. While it can take some time to work up to that feat, SUP yoga itself is a deeply rewarding activity that’s accessible to anyone with basic paddleboarding skills.

Origins of SUP Yoga

While both stand up paddleboarding and yoga have been around for decades (and much longer, in yoga’s case), SUP Yoga has really only been considered a sport since around 2009. Recognized as an early adapter and public enthusiast of the sport, yogi Rachel Brathen started offering regular classes at that time in the blue waters around Aruba and sharing images, information, and enthusiasm on social media.

Due to the timing and concurrent expansion of social media’s influence, awareness of this new take on stand-up paddleboarding spread quickly, and is now popular everywhere paddle boards themselves are! While the sport started mostly on rigid boards, it’s now often recommended to start with an inflatable stand up paddle board (or iSUP) instead, as they are typically wider, more stable, and more forgiving to all the movement SUP yoga requires. 

Getting Out There

Most all paddle board rental companies or outfitters will offer either in-house staff-led SUP yoga classes along with the needed equipment, or be able to refer you to another qualified local instructor who can safely take you out. 

However, it’s strongly advised to become comfortable with the fundamentals of paddleboarding before signing up for a SUP yoga class. It will ensure your safety, help you have more fun, and not detract from others’ enjoyment of the class if you should need rescuing!

Before signing up for a SUP yoga class, make sure you feel confident with the following:

  • Launching your paddle board into the water
  • Paddling on your belly, paddling while kneeling, stand-up paddling, and transitioning smoothly between all
  • Safely falling off your board into the water and efficiently getting back on
  • Easily finding your center of gravity and balance in changing conditions

Keep in mind the type of water near where you live. If you’re local to St. Augustine, FL, you can certainly expect different conditions, weather, and currents than you would experience while taking a SUP yoga class on Lake Tahoe.

Many classes will start off on shore with a few sun salutations to warm and loosen up your body, or will start with some prone paddling with the same intent. A skilled instructor will offer different variations for different skill levels and will be familiar with the geography and expected currents of the class location, incorporating that into the class. 

Gear Required for SUP Yoga

When getting ready to head out for your SUP yoga class, you may want to consider bringing along the following for your comfort and convenience:

  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Watertight gear bag for your keys/phone/essentials (if going out on the water alone)
  • Waterproof Bluetooth speaker (to quietly play music if practicing alone- but remember that noise carries far on open water, be considerate of others nearby!) 
  • Paddle board anchor, so you don’t accidentally float out to sea while relaxing in savasana

Other standard gear may be a valuable addition depending on your personal preferences and the circumstances, such as a waist belt or other PFD, water shoes, or surf apparel, but essentially, you just need yourself, your board, and the water. 

Common Postures / Differences from “Ground” Yoga

Because of the undulating surface beneath your feet, a yoga class on a SUP is structured differently from a studio class. SUP yoga practices won’t typically fall under the modern and trendy “power yoga” umbrella- though that’s not to say you don’t work hard! 

Instead, SUP yoga focuses on technique and fundamentals; a work in instead of a work out. You have to be very focused and in tune with both your mind and body to maintain stability while transitioning between postures and keeping your board from tipping. Remember to choose a drishti - a Sanskrit term for an unmoving point for your gaze to rest upon while your body does the work. It’s a common method for aiding in balance for studio yoga classes and is even more helpful and relevant on a SUP. 

What to Expect from SUP Yoga

SUP yoga is very core-focused, activating everything between your hips and shoulders, and balance is everything. You’ll find that you may be sore afterward in your ankles and calves, as they work overtime to keep you stable. You’ll become stronger over time, as you work areas of your body that otherwise wouldn’t be targeted on solid ground.

Mostly, SUP yoga classes are Hatha-based with light vinyasa sequences. This means that you’ll likely spend five breaths or more in each posture, adjusting your muscles and technique as needed while the wind blows and the water laps at your board’s edge. You won’t be quickly flowing from one asana to the next, as this is an obvious recipe for tipping! 

Common beginner SUP yoga asanas include the cat/cow postures, down dog, three-legged dog, upward facing dog, cobra, pigeon, mountain, yogi squat, child’s pose, and savasana. 

As you develop more skills and hone your balance, advanced postures can include tree, dancers pose, warrior 1, warrior 2, warrior 3, and other lunges and standing postures. Though there aren’t necessarily any rules about which postures are only possible on land, some are certainly harder out on the rolling, open water than others! 

Benefits of Sup Yoga

Those venturing into the world of SUP Yoga will notice a host of benefits. Any practice of Yoga naturally invokes a sense of calm; alleviating tension, reducing stress, and refreshing or resetting the mind.

Adding any natural element to your practice will only enhance this experience as you can connect more deeply with the world around you. It is common to see folks with their yoga mats rolled out on beaches, in forests, in backyards, and in gardens around the world. SUP yoga is no different!

Whether it’s the cool water lapping at your fingertips that heightens your senses or the gently rolling waves rocking you as you rest in savasana, the appeal is clear. SUP yoga will provide an opportunity to improve your strength and balance, deepen your mind-body connection, and perhaps push outside your comfort zone with a rewarding and renewing new activity. 

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