SUP Yoga Tips with Nicole Dechow

Take a quick look at Nicole Dechow of Soul and Yoga in Hamburg and you’ll see that she simply glows. It’s no surprise that she is well versed in all things mindfulness and clearly walks the walk. She also happens to be a highly experienced SUP yoga teacher, a Wanderlust Hamburg instructor, and to top it off an all around pleasant human being. Nicole made time to chat with me about her best SUP yoga tips before jetting off to Ibiza last month. When she returned, she did one better and sent us some stellar shots to salivate over.

SUP and yoga are a perfect pairing and if you’ve tried one, I bet you’ve at least thought of trying the other.  Both activities rely heavily on a combination of balance, fluid movement and core strength. Both activities also focus heavily on breathing and when all goes well, reaching a state of flow.   As with anything physical, the effects depend largely on your approach. Nicole’s approach is holistic and she squeezes every last drop of goodness out of the practice, not limited to physical exercise. That said, the cerebral side of yoga doesn’t have to be…spiritual. There aren’t many people today who wouldn’t like to do more relaxing and working out which leads me to the first tip.

SUP Yoga saves time

Most of us work 8 hours a day, commute, feed ourselves when we get home, bathe, sleep and ideally even find time to exercise and possibly relax. Personally, where I can kill 2 birds with 1 stone I do. I haven’t found a good way to eat in the shower yet but using physical exercise as a route to relaxation is totally doable.

SUP yoga saves you time by allowing you to mix periods of paddling, asana practice (which is basically static strength training) and relaxation. The relaxation portion increases with time and comfort on the water. Both SUP and yoga are great core strengtheners. When I say core strength, I don’t mean strictly the abs. Both engage large portions of the musculature in your torso and involve complex, compound movements. Combine paddling, yoga and meditation for a powerful, time saving wellness triumvirate. Phew.

“You go on the board and experience nature, you feel more relaxed. This is especially true in Hamburg in the summertime, it’s a mini vacation.”

Don’t let instagram fool you

It’s not all back bends and bikinis even though instagram may tell you otherwise. Don’t let the pictures of precarious handstands put you off, there is a lot more to SUP yoga than crazy circus tricks. In fact, inversions don’t have to play a role in your practice at all and in all honesty they probably won’t. Once you step foot on deck and try out some simpler poses you’ll see pretty quickly that yoga is well within reach. Either your good judgement or your teacher’s will guide you to a flow that is right for your ability level.

“I think most people are super scared they can’t do it. Everyone sees pictures where people are in handstands and they think SUP yoga is not something they can do. Once they are on the board trying to balance and do simpler things they lose the fear of not being good enough.”

Practice regularly

To gain the most from anything, regular practice is key.  SUP yoga may be seasonal for most people but there is no reason to leave the activities entirely for summer. You can continue stand up paddle boarding in cold weather with a wetsuit. It goes without saying that yoga can be practised year around in your house or a studio. If you continue to build a base throughout the year in at least 1 of these things, putting them together will be much easier. Try to maintain at least weekly contact with yoga. Short sessions at home are still massively beneficial, just find a teacher you like online.  Otherwise look for a studio in your area, if you’re in Hamburg we recommend looking up Nicole.

“Yoga is niche but it is also accessible.”

Start slow

Whether you are a yogi taking it to the water or a total beginner, start slowly. Nicole recommends trying out a few poses on land if you have absolutely never done yoga before.  Just a couple of minutes on the mat will help by giving you an idea of what to expect. Start with shorter classes in the 45 minute range. Longer classes are fine so long as any excess consists of paddling. If you do feel out of your depth on the water, just stand or lay until you feel at ease. Your confidence will build as you get used to having a board under foot.

“If you are really scared of even holding balance on the floor much less on a board, start outside on a mat and then transition to the board.”

Use the right board & gear

The board

The board you use will have a huge impact on the quality of your SUP yoga session. Low volume boards made for racing and will make life needlessly difficult. Choose a board with a wide enough deck to give you space, 30” at leastWider, speciality yoga SUPs are available and if yoga will be the primary application of your SUP it makes sense to get one. Inflatable paddleboards are great for yoga, just make sure the traction pad has plenty of grip the same way you’d look for it in a mat.

What to wear for SUP yoga

Wear something stretchy that covers whatever you’d like to keep that way. Stand up paddling on it’s own is fine to do in a bikini and pretty low risk. But for most beginner yogis, the best policy is to make sure that any worry of staying clothed is not on your mind. SUP yoga isn’t the place for your Thai fisherman pants because in the event you need to swim, they’ll be cumbersome. Choose stretchy materials that stay close to the skin or else wear board shorts that allow you to move. Funny enough, most MMA stores will carry clothes that are as well suited to yoga as a fight cage.

Staying put

A 2 kg folding anchor is easy to tuck in a cargo net. This will keep you from floating away and is even handy if you plan to practice in the pool.

Be prepared for a challenge

No matter what level your yoga practice, adding a SUP to the mix will make it more challenging. Strength, flexibility and balance are all put to the test on an unstable platform.  It may surprise you that of these 3, Nicole thinks flexibility is actually the most difficult on a SUP. Everyone expects balance will be harder, but flexibility is tough because you can’t take props to a SUP class. This means students need to rely on their own reach in a compromised state of balance.

“SUP yoga is 3 to 4 times more intense.”

Don’t be afraid to fall in

One of the biggest fears newcomers have is falling in. There is no shame in this and it happens to most people at some point. What might surprise you is that it doesn’t always happen to beginners. Pick a nice day and wear clothes you don’t mind getting wet. If you prepare yourself for the possibility of taking a dip, it won’t be so scary if do.

“At the wanderlust event we partnered with Adidas in Hamburg and did a sup Yoga event. Only 2 people out of 30 fell in.”

Starting alone?

There is no reason you can’t try SUP yoga on your own, especially if you’ve got basic proficiency with both SUP and yoga. I would say of the two, knowing some yoga will make this easier than knowing how to SUP.  Nicole recommends picking a simple SUP yoga flow and memorising it. Try it out on land a few times first and then take it to the water. Choose a sequence that is far less intense than what you would normally feel comfortable with. In fact, don’t “flow” at all. A Hatha based session with zero vinyasa is a far simpler way to start. There’s no shame in beginner’s mindset!

Nicole’s favourite SUP yoga poses

I couldn’t resist asking an accomplished  yogi like Nicole what her favourite SUP yoga poses are. Hallasana  or shoulder stand is uniquely stimulating on a SUP.  With the sky above you and the sense of the water below, this pose more compelling than on the mat. Savasana or corpse pose is always a crowd pleaser, and the ultimate in restoration. Allowing yourself to release your thoughts while floating only makes it more pleasant.

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