Doing your yoga practice on a stand up paddle board, or “SUP” as it’s often called, can be quite challenging.
The poses are the same, and so is your body, but the way we perceive and practice changes because the brain focus changes. Not from left to right, but from solid to floating, in addition to other elements like wind and current that make your environment changeable at all moments.
If you thought balancing on a yoga mat on a hardwood floor was difficult, try your balance on a SUP board. This tends to humble the most practiced of yogis. Yoga on a SUP board for experienced, or even novice yogis, could either sound odd, or be a way to find a new challenge in a practice.
The Keys to Balance Are Mindfulness and the Breath
SUP yoga is great for developing more mindfulness, focus, balance, and breath skills because it takes all these things to be present during this practice. The best part is that the consequences of losing focus or balance only ends up as a refreshing splash in the water, rather than a fall on a hard floor.
The key is really is mindfulness of everything around you (wind, current, waves), as well as paying close attention to your breath to stay calm and let go of your fear of falling off the board. Here is a simple Sun Salutation sequence to get you started in your “floating practice.”
1. Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
The best place to stand on a paddleboard is right around the handwell. Be sure the feet are hip distance apart for stability. Feel all four corners of the feet on the board, spine tall, shoulders back, knees soft.
2. Chair Pose (Utkatasana)
Use your paddle to keep arms level, and hold it with both hands, parallel to the water. Inhale, lift the paddle overhead, exhale, bend your knees, keeping the arms extended. Keep feeling the heels and toes on the board.
3. Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
Inhale in Utkatasana, and exhale fold forward, taking the extended arms toward the board. Place your paddle on the board, and your hands on either the board or your shins. Roll your shoulders away from your ears, inhale, and extend the spine forward with your back parallel to the board.
Exhale, fold forward.
From Uttanasana, place your hands wide on the board (for stability in the rest of the sequence) and step the right foot back to lunge. Move slowly and notice your balance.
5. Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
From Lunge, step your left foot back and raise your hips coming into Adho Mukha Svanasana. Again, move slowly and notice your balance. (Bonus, try lifting one leg at a time to experience One-Legged Downward-Facing Dog.
6. Plank Pose
From Down Dog, hinge the hips and arms forward so the hips are parallel to the board and the shoulders are over the wrists, then slowly lower down—with either knees up or bent onto the board—with your elbows hugging the sides of your body.
7. Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
With both hands on the board, press the hands down, elbows and shoulders back, and raise the chest up, looking forward.
8. Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
From Cobra, curl the toes under and, two options based on your balance: 1. Press back slowly to Child’s Pose first (for better balance), then up to Down Dog, or 2. Move directly into Down Dog.
From Down Dog, bend your knees and bring them to the board, coming on onto your hands and knees, then bring your right foot between your hands, slowly. The come up to High Lunge on your left foot.
10. Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
From High Lunge, make sure that your hands are still wide and flat on the board. Slowly bring the left foot forward to meet the right foot, and keep the knees soft or bent.
11. Chair Pose (Utkatasana)
From Uttanasana, grab your paddle with both hands again, bend your knees, inhale, and come up into Utkatasana with your arms raised straight forward and next to the ears. Once again, feel all four corners of the feet on the board. Feel the steadiness and movement of the water below you.
12. Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
From Utkatasana, root your feet into the board and slowly come up to standing, raising your paddle and arms to the sky—perhaps taking a slight backbend—then lower the paddle in front of you. After this simple Sun Salutation sequence, notice any shift in perception about balance or fear of falling.
Has it changed? Chances are, you will surprise yourself in how easy the sequence is, yet how much more mindfulness and focus it brought to your practice.
“Be calmly active and actively calm. Be intensely aware of everything you are doing.” These words of Yogananda pretty much define efforts of yoga practice on a stand up paddle board.
So next time you find yourself on a SUP board, take a few moments to explore this sequence, or a few yoga poses that are familiar to you that will help you realize the mindfulness and steadiness required here. Perhaps you will be able to take this practice off the board and onto your mat.
Image credit: NBCLA