Stand Up Paddle Yoga

by Jessica Bellofatto 45

The sport of Stand Up Paddling (SUP) has really taken off.  It seems everyone these days is enjoying, or would like to experience, the feeling of  “walking on water.” I just finished reading Suzie Cooney’s enlightening and informative blog on SUP, my boyfriend Adam Kelinson (author of The Athlete’s Plate – Real Food for High Performance), also just wrote a piece on SUP for Triathlete Magazine, and I just returned from another awesome Yoga/SUP Retreat with best friend and owner of Paddle Diva, Gina Bradley. Paddle Diva is the first, and only, stand up paddling business for women on the eastern end of Long Island, where we live.

SUP is all the rage, and for good reason. As Suzie Cooney mentioned in her article, it is an amazing cross-training sport, as it is low impact on all joints and is also being used to improve balance and core strength for people recovering from serious injuries.  She goes on to say that she has also witnessed this sport transform people’s lives overnight, by instilling a newfound level of confidence and achievement, making them feel invincible.  So true!

For me, being a yoga teacher first and foremost, as soon as I got on a paddleboard three years ago, I was inspired to start playing with yoga postures while floating on the water.  The deck of the board was the perfect non-slip yoga mat, just begging to be explored!  Downward Facing Dog, Plank, Chataranga, Up Dog, ah… and the upside down view as I dropped my head into Downward Dog was magical.  More and more that first summer on my board, I was inspired to try lots of different poses, including headstand and wheel, and other more challenging balancing postures.   Adding a whole new element of core strength, intense focus, and single-pointed concentration, SUP yoga takes the practice to an entirely new level.  Add to that being outside, in nature, on the water, and it is truly like heaven on earth.

Anyone can begin practicing yoga postures on a paddleboard, especially in flat water.  If you are new to SUP in general, begin to play around (don’t be afraid to fall in!) with the distribution of weight in your feet.  Begin to feel your board, and all boards are different.  Shift your weight from foot to foot and allow the board to rock a little from side to side.  We are told as we are learning to find that sweet spot on the board (usually right around the handle of the board, or if there is a logo on the rails) and that is the best place to stand to balance on the board.  But begin to also feel how you can walk the board a bit more, moving more towards the nose, or more towards the back.

The easiest poses to start with will be sitting or kneeling.  From there, you can start to transition to some symmetrical poses such as plank, downward dog, camel pose, and others.  Try the sequence below on land first, then take it out onto your board!  Remember — have fun, be creative, and don’t be afraid to get wet!

If you are unsure about trying this on your own, there are some actual yoga SUP classes beginning to take off around the country.  If you are in the area of NYC or Long Island, check out my website JessicaBellofattoYoga.com for upcoming SUP yoga classes this spring and summer in East Hampton.  Or, join me on one of our yoga SUP retreats in Rincon, Puerto Rico — the next one is April 26!

Stand Up Paddle Yoga Sequence

Virasana Twist

Sit on your board in VIRASANA (hero’s pose) around the ‘sweet spot.’  Place the right hand on the left knee and the left hand behind you and twist to the right, gazing over your right shoulder. Rotate the belly, ribs, chest and head… breathe! Inhale and return to center, exhale to the second side.

Downward Facing Dog

Come to all fours and begin to press back to ADHO MUKHA SVANASANA (downward facing dog).

Sukhasana Stretch

Walk your feet through your hands and sit on your butt.  Cross the right shin in front of the left in a simple seated position, SUKHASANA.  Begin to walk the fingertips forward into a forward bend, releasing the neck and head and beginning to open the whole back body, as well as the hips, pelvis, and external rotators. Inhale and rise up from here, stretch the legs out straight, and then re-cross your legs with the left leg in front and repeat on the second side.

Cobra Pose

Swing back around onto your belly.  Place your hands in line with your chest and begin to press up to BHUJANGASANA (cobra).

Upward Facing Dog

From here, you can also begin to pull your chest further through your arms, press the tops of your feet into the board and begin to lift your thighs, straighten your arms and come into UURDHVA MUKHA SVANASANA (upward facing dog). Exhale and press yourself back into ADHO MUKHA SVANASANA (downward facing dog).

Pigeon Pose

Bring your right knee behind your right wrist and your right foot behind your left wrist into EKA PADA RAJA KAPOTASANA (pigeon pose). Fold forward here and breathe deeply for up to a minute. Exhale back to DOWNWARD FACING DOG.

Crescent Lunge

Step the right foot forward in between your hands, and bring the back knee down to the board.  You might keep your hands on the rails as shown here, or, place your hands up on your front knee, or (carefully!) reach the arms up overhead and begin to gaze up in a ANJANEYASANA (crescent lunge). Press back to DOWNWARD DOG, and repeat second side. Inhale to PLANK POSE, exhale lower down to your belly.

Bow Pose

Bend your knees and reach back with your hands for your ankles or feet.  Begin to lift your thighs and chest off the floor, keeping the arms straight into DHANURASANA (bow pose). Release the pose, relax on your belly, and turn the face to one side. Breathe into the back of your body.

Forearm Plank

Press back to your knees and then set up on your forearms, hands interlaced.  Stretch both legs back straight and strong in FOREARM PLANK — great for the belly!  Stay a while here… :-)

Headstand Prep

On your next exhalation, press your hips up and back to a HEADSTAND PREP — forearms still on the floor, hips high in the air, head dangling but not touching the board.

Headstand

Move into HEADSTAND slowly, mindfully, carefully!  Feel it out, begin to walk the feet closer to the elbows, breathe, focus…  ONLY attempt this if you are a strong headstander on land!

Child's Pose

Exhaling, come down and rest your buttocks on your heels, arms stretched overhead, head resting on the board in BALASANA (child’s pose).

Bridge Pose

Lie down on your back now, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor.  Begin to press your feet and upper arm bones down into the board, as you lift your hips and chest to SETU BANDHA SARVANGASANA (bridge pose).

Bridge Pose

As a variation here, hold the rails of he board, and lift one leg up.

Supta Baddha Konasana

Exhaling, come down.  Lying on your back, bring the soles of your feet together and let your knees drop open.  Relax the arms alongside the body, with the palms face up, in SUPTA BADDHA KONASANA (reclining bound angle pose).  (Better yet, allow your hands to trail in the water!)  Close the eyes here.  Tune into the feeling of floating on water, allow your senses to be wide open, but without any grasping or attachment to what you are experiencing in this moment.   Let yourself drift (but maintain some awareness of your surroundings!), thoughts coming and going, physical sensations coming and going… as you drop deeply and deeply relax.

Namaste!

Photos Credit: Just Love Photography by Evelyn O’Doherty

Jessica Bellofatto is not only a certified yoga teacher, but is a burgeoning triathlete, soon-to-be cycling coach, doula, business owner, and mother of two children. Known for her easy laughter, radiant energy and matchless knowledge of the body... more»