My name is Jessica Bellofatto and I have been living and teaching Yoga on the east end of Long Island for (gulp!) twenty years and stand up paddleboarding for the last eight. I initially came to Yoga as an undergrad majoring in Dance at NYU. I walked into this funky studio in the East Village called Jivamukti Yoga with purple walls and lots of incense burning and pictures of gods and goddesses (and the Beatles!) hanging on the walls and I was completely intrigued (if not also a little weirded out). But from my very first downward dog, I knew that this was a practice that would alter the course of my life, and it did. Fast forward 15 years, when another passion was born- the sport of stand up paddleboarding. I started paddling on a whim at a friend’s house when I saw a board in their yard and was curious about it. From that very first paddle, as I enjoyed that unique feeling of ‘walking on water’ I was hooked. For me, practicing yoga postures on a paddleboard seemed like the natural next step. SUP YOGA as it is referred to (or Stand Up Paddleboard Yoga) started when I was doing a lot of long distance paddling in the ocean with a friend of mine. At the time, I was going through a divorce and had also split with my business partner who I owned a yoga studio with so was starting from the ground up in that area as well. It was an emotional time for me, and as much as I have always relied on my yoga practice to get me through difficult times, I needed something more. Being on the water that summer was an absolute lifesaver. The ocean provided refuge, as well as perspective, and for that I am forever grateful. My friend and I often paddled for at least 1.5- 2 hours, and it was exhausting at times! We would take breaks, and sit on our boards, drifting…. It was during these breaks that SUP YOGA was born.
SUP YOGA is now super popular and is cropping up across the country, in oceans, bays, lakes, and even pools! It is an amazing way to combine the healing and soothing effects of being in nature, on the water, with the transformational effects of yoga! The one thing I find though, is that I often have to talk people into trying it. Many of my students are intimidated and what I hear a lot is, “I have a hard enough time doing yoga on solid ground, why would I try it on a paddleboard?” All I can say is, trust me.
Here are some tips and things to know before your first liquid yoga experience.
- You don’t necessarily need to get wet and you may not fall in. The boards that I teach sup yoga on are called Boga Yoga Boards. (www.bogaboards.com) There are many paddle board companies that now make a yoga/fitness board, but Boga was the first and I stand behind these boards 100 percent. They are wide, fat, floaty, and stable. The thickness of them means that the surface of the board sits high above the water (so that the deck pad stays completely dry or relatively dry). The deck pad is also cushy and comfortable, and acts as your yoga mat surface. Unless you are VERY tall, the 11ft yoga board is plenty long (most yoga mats are 6 ft long) and the 30 inches of width (most yoga mats are 24 inches) provide an awesome surface on which to practice a full, comprehensive yoga sequence. Depending on the conditions, and how daring you get, it is totally possible to go through an entire practice and stay completely dry. With that being said, falling in is fun, as well as refreshing on a hot day, and generally the first person to fall in breaks the ice for everyone else, so don’t be afraid to get wet!
- Dress in either synthetic (non cotton) clothing or a bathing suit, be sure to hydrate well and bring hydration with you, wear sunscreen and prepare as you would for any other hot weather activity. Be mindful not to wear oily sunscreen as you don’t want to slip on the board, and unless you have a way to keep your hat and sunglasses on (floating croakies, etc) it is best to leave them behind. I have been witness to hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of nice sunglasses getting lost, never to be found again!
- If you are not a strong swimmer, TELL your instructor! It doesn’t mean that you can’t be on the water, but it does mean that you will have to wear a life jacket even during the yoga portion of the session.
- Seek out a qualified instructor. I would think this goes without saying, but it is amazing to me how many people out there are taking people stand up paddling and/or teaching paddleboard yoga without the proper training. Your instructor should be both a certified SUP instructor as well as a certified yoga teacher. They should hold current CPR and First Aid, and be trained in water safety/rescue and/or lifeguard certified. This may seem like a lot for a flat water SUP YOGA class, but it means they take what they do seriously, and have gone through the proper avenues to be able to guide you safely and effectively and be prepared in case of emergencies.
- Come with an open mind, a sense of humor, and again, a willingness to get wet! Don’t be surprised if there are poses that you can do easily on land that you struggle with on the board. That is all part of the fun and challenge of it. Sup Yoga requires steady breath, steady gaze (drishti) and concentration. It is truly a meditation in action. It can require so much more focus than a land based practice, and can highlight our weaknesses and instabilities. Because of this, we approach it playfully, with a sense of humor, but also a deeper mindfulness.
I hope you get a chance to try SUP YOGA this summer season… although once you do, you may be running out to buy a board because it is addictive!
You can find me spring through fall teaching on the water on the beautiful east end of Long Island, New York from Southampton to Montauk as well on land at my yoga studio www.kamadevayoga.com I also lead SUP and YOGA retreats in the winter months- I actually have an AMAZING SUP and Yoga Retreat to the island of Ithaca, Greece coming up May 21.
Visit www.jbyoga.com for a full schedule of classes and retreats!