I don’t like water sports. Not one bit. I developed this distaste circa age five when, during my weekly YMCA swim lesson, we learned how to put our heads underwater without holding our noses. Or rather, the rest of the class learned how to put their heads underwater without holding their noses. I, meanwhile, clung to my nose with my thumb and forefinger like it was the last Starburst on Earth—five-year olds really love Starbursts. Then, after class, I promptly informed my mother I would be taking up gymnastics.
In the nearly 20 years since that swim lesson, my relationship with water really hasn’t come very far. Proof: last summer I posted an Instagram shot of myself jumping off of cliff (it was more like a semi-large rock, but “cliff” sounds better) into the ocean and my friend commented, “Excuse me, are you holding your nose?” I never responded, but the answer was yes.
And sure, I can swim. But I only do so if I absolutely have to. Which is never. So imagine my surprise when I found a water sport that I actually really enjoy doing—a water sport that requires no goggles, no bathing suit and, most importantly, no nose-holding. This magical water sport is known as Stand Up Paddleboard Yoga, or SUP Yoga for short, and last week I took my very first class. Spoiler alert: it was freakin’ awesome.
Last Friday, I met up with the ladies of Aqua Vida, two certified SUP Yoga instructors who, through a partnership with Paddlegroove, teach SUP Yoga classes on the Schuylkill. First, Jana, the paddling enthusiast of the duo, gave me a quick tutorial on how to get on the board, how to hold my paddle and how to steer. She stressed the fact that I should always be centered on the board, directly over the handle. And when she sensed my fear, she reassured me by telling me that her three-year old daughter can do it. Then, it was time to hop on.
As I placed my knees on the board, I was pretty much positive that me and me beloved Lululemon leggings would soon be soaking wet. But after about a minute of paddling on my knees, I began to feel more steady. When we arrived at our yoga destination, just a quick paddle away, Jana helped me to anchor, and I tied my paddle to the side of the board. Now, it was time for yoga.
Michelle, Aqua Vida’s other half, began the yoga session and everything was all good until about two minutes in, when I heard her say “Now, move into downward dog.” As I repositioned myself from a cross-legged seated position to downward dog, I could feel my board shaking. I looked up at Michelle with a face that said, “Nuh uh. Not. Happening.” But she wasn’t having that: She explained to me that as long as I kept my navel over the handle of the board, I would be okay. And sure enough, as we cycled from downward dog to cow pose and cat pose, I gained more confidence and my balance improved. By the third downward dog, my fear of face-planting into the river had subsided. Well, mostly.
Throughout the hour-long class, we went through everything from planks to boat poses to leg lifts. And even though none of these poses were new to me, they felt entirely different on the board than on a mat: Because I was forced to center myself on both the board and in the pose, I engaged my core more than usual. (Six-pack abs, here I come!) In fact, in trying to maintain balance on the board, I engaged all of my muscles more than usual.
But the best part of SUP Yoga wasn’t the core workout, or the view—hello, Philadelphia Skyline—or the truly wonderful instructors. The best part was Savasana. And I know, I know: Savasana’s always the best part of yoga class. But Savasana on a paddleboard really takes the cake. The sun was shining directly onto my face as my board rocked in the river. I swear, I almost fell asleep.
But luckily, I didn’t. Because shortly after Savasana, it was time to paddle back to dry land. As I started to paddle toward the dock on my knees, Jana asked my if I wanted to try standing. I did—but did I really want to ruin this wonderful experience with a fall into the river? No.
I decided to try it anyway. Things were definitely a little rocky for the first 30 seconds or so, but as I settled into a standing position with my knees bent over the handle of the board, I began to get the hang of it. Then, I accidentally paddled directly into a fisherman’s line, and that’s when I knew class was over. As Jana and Michelle helped me off the board, I realized: I haven't felt so accomplished after a yoga class in a while.
So there you have it folks: I tried SUP Yoga and I didn’t die. And actually think I'll do it again. A water-sports hater has been converted.
And note: If you are a water lover, and you don't cringe at the thought of getting your face wet like me, Aqua Vida totally encourages jumping in the water, too. It's just not required. Thank goodness.
If you’re interested in soaking up some sun on the Schuylkill, Aqua Vida will be holding a class on the Schuylkill in Philly, out of West Fairmount Park, every Wednesday evening starting June 25th. And if you happen to be taking a trip down the shore anytime soon, they also teach out of Monmouth Beach in New Jersey. You can get more info on their class schedule here.
Like what you’re reading? Experience Be Well Philly live at Be Well Philly Boot Camp fitness fest on June 7th!