SUP Yoga: Breath, Balance, Fear

warrior one on the shore. cheating? maybe.

To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily.  To not dare is to lose oneself. 
~ Kierkegaard

Stepping onto a stand up paddleboard (SUP) didn’t change me, and neither did taking my yoga practice onto the wobbly surfboard shaped mat. I didn’t leave the two hours on the SUP thinking that this was going to be my yoga practice from now on. I didn’t have some miraculous experience of complete balance on the water with a life changing awareness of myself as a yogi (quite the opposite, in face).  But I loved every minute of the practice. I would even go so far to say that because of my SUP yoga experience, I understand more keenly the importance of taking risks rather than staying in stagnancy- now that’s a pretty big deal.

Back story: I purchased a deal on Living Social several months ago for 3 sessions of SUP yoga for a nominal fee. I couldn’t seem to find a friend to go with me, and I was considering not going because of my nervousness of trying something new/ scary/ different. I finally decided that I had a very narrow window of warm weather in Seattle, and I was being un-adventurous (which is unacceptable). If I didn’t go I was not only wasting money, but I was possibly missing out on something really great. So I registered for a class online and ventured down to Washington Surf Academy just south of Shilshole Marina on a gorgeous day in mid September. I rented a wetsuit and sat in a chair waiting nervously for the others to arrive for class (I’m nearly always unfashionably early).

After sitting awkwardly on a bench  in the wetsuit, I finally decided to forego it for the comfort of my own yoga clothes (the first of many risky moves). This was partially prompted by the fact that nobody else had a wetsuit on. I made my way with the group of very fit yogis to the beach where we set off for our practice space.  We paddled along shore and across a main waterway where boats set off waves and sea lions jumped in their search for migrating salmon. My sea legs were barely forming and there I was, teetering on a skinny little board in the Puget Sound alongside seven other people. We had all hooked our SUP’s to a rope that was connected between two buoys, but even still we drifted with the current and bobbed with the waves. I loved the sun on my skin and the sounds of water, birds and boats around me, but I struggled with keeping myself steady as we moved our practice from standing to sitting to actually attempting poses that require balance and attention to the breath. Every breath felt like I could pitch myself into the water. Every movement felt like a dangerous experiment. For the first time in years, I was petrified of yoga postures. It was lovely.

Something happens with fear that isn’t life threatening; it makes the body come alive to the senses. I felt my heart in my chest and could hear pulsing in my ears. I could see with a bit more clarity and I tasted the salty quality of the air on my lips. When we closed our eyes to begin our practice, my ears perked up to sounds around me. I tried relaxing and realized that the best I could do was to surrender to the fact that I was in this predicament and I just had to try; another opportunity to practice surrendering. Thanks, Universe.

I listened attentively to the instructor, Hasna Altry (who is truly blessed at teaching SUP yoga- or any type of yoga, for that matter), and I attempted nearly every pose (aside from wheel or headstand, which just felt like asking for a swim). I pushed my hands and feet into the board in downward dog, working to point my tailbone to the sky as if my life depended on me forming the perfect V. I balanced on my board with my arms and legs spread in a wide warrior pose and I worked hard to settle the chatter in my mind. I moved slowly through the asana noticing details that I rarely pay attention to when I’m on dry land; like what happens when I focus more on listening for approaching waves than on my body and breath (answer: complete loss of balance).

We have come into this exquisite world to experience ever and ever more deeply our divine courage, freedom and light.
~Hafiz

What I learned in SUP yoga more than anything is that I need to experience little bits of fear from time to time, just to feel my pulse and remind myself that I’m alive. I need to slow down enough to notice the details of what’s going on in my body when I’m scared and to observe the ways I hold panic when it’s not about life and death but more about taking a risk.  I’ve lived through some pretty big ordeals, and I’ve made it through relatively unscathed (scars aside, I’m pretty fortunate). I need to remind myself that I’m courageous. And SUP yoga helped me to realize that it’s not only important to confront my fears, but that it’s an act of bravery to admit them.

I confess openly that SUP yoga was scary, but I can also say that I’ve never experienced a better savasana (corpse pose- final relaxation) than the one in SUP yoga- envision the sounds of water lapping underneath, sea birds overhead and sunshine pouring over your entire body. It’s magical. And it was the perfect way to end an act of courage- to connect to the universe in complete and utter relaxation. This is all there is. I am in control of my body and mind. And if I fall in, I get wet. So what?

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