What is drawing more and more Asheville yogis to take their downward dog to the French Broad River? Those of you who attended LEAF or the Mountain Sports Festival in the spring may have taken part in or witnessed a stand-up paddleboard yoga class. Although at first glance stand-up paddleboard yoga, also known as SUP yoga, might be viewed as another gimmick to feed the Asheville tourists, there are benefits to be found in bringing the “flowing river” imagery to life within your yoga practice.
So what makes stand-up paddleboarding and yoga natural companions? SUP yoga instructor Anna Levesque filled me in on the dynamics that are at play during a typical session. “What’s cool about being on the board is that because it is a little bit less stable, it enhances your focus in the present moment. Poses that are simple in a regular studio, even standing up for some people, at first can be difficult, so it brings more mindfulness into the moment,” says Levesque. “Part of yoga is putting ourselves in more stressful poses and teaching ourselves how to breath and calm down so that we have a steady mind, a steady body, and a steady heart in stressful situations. So the stand-up yoga just takes that to the next level by challenging ourselves to see what comes up from a spiritual perspective when we do something that’s outside our comfort zone. Are we afraid? Do we get angry? Do we get frustrated? Are we accepting? Can we enjoy the moment?”
In addition to improving balance, practicing yoga encourages relaxation and an increased awareness of one’s self and surroundings. Spending time in nature can enhance these elements. “Nature is very healing, and we’ve come as a society more and more away from nature with all of the technology. Just being in nature in a mindful way I think can help us uncover our true selves, which is part of why we practice yoga. We are nature. We tend to think that nature is out there, outside of the house or office, but we are nature. We’re made up of the same stuff as stars and trees. Really being out there and connecting in that way I believe is really powerful. The sounds of nature are also very healing — so [are] the water, the wind in the trees, the birds…” says Levesque.
Savasana, the final relaxation pose that is entered into at the end of every Hatha yoga class, provides a gentle transition back into everyday life. Imagine adding to that experience the tender rocking of the river beneath your body and the serene feeling of cool water on your fingertips as you stare up at the clouds passing overhead. “As adults we don’t really take the time to lie on our back and stare at the sky, and in savasana on the board I find that there is a very profound effect,” says Levesque.
Early morning and dusk are the best times for performing yoga on the paddleboard. “It’s important with stand-up yoga that we don’t do it in the middle of the day, because the heat of the sun is too much. It is much better in the morning or the evening. In the evening it is beautiful, the sun is setting, and it’s that golden light. Sunrise SUP yoga is also amazing.”
When people hear about SUP yoga for the first time, they tend to imagine some of the most challenging asanas performed on a board that is free-floating down the river, but the classes are structured so that every level can participate. The boards are anchored or floating over water that is only a few feet deep. A soft, sandy river bottom awaits anyone who might fall in. Even if just the thought of attempting a child’s pose while balancing on a board still makes you nervous, Levesque encourages giving it a try. “Being afraid of falling or not having good balance is common but I think it’s worth coming out and trying it once — because you will probably surprise yourself. It’s not as hard or difficult as people think it is.”
Anna Levesque offers SUP yoga classes at Hominy Creek Park. Classes are $35, including rental equipment, or $15 if you bring your own equipment. Pre-registration is required and can be completed online at mindbodypaddle.com or over the phone 333-4482. Classes are seasonal and run from May through September. Visit mindbodypaddle.com to view current offerings.