The Ultimate Beginners’ Guide to SUP yoga

The ultimate guide to Bluefin SUP yoga

I bet you’ve noticed it, maybe you’ve even thought you’d like to try it but you just can’t quite bring yourself to do it. SUP yoga is everywhere these days. If you have access to water and a paddleboard, you too can become a credible water-bound yogi. You don’t have to be an expert or have any experience at at all to give this a try. If you’re not in shape no worries, everybody has to start somewhere. The only thing you need is the willingness to try and something stretchy to wear, even your favourite speedo will do!

If you don’t have a class in your area and you’d still like to give it a go that is fine.  All you really need is a little gusto, the interwebs, a paddle board and water. But what if I fall in you say? Well, what if you do? Climbing back on is easy because your base will be so low to the water, just 4 to 6 inches in most cases. You’ll have a refreshing dip and carry on like the bold trail blazer you are.

What do I need?

1. The board

An actual SUP is, of course, essential to this journey.  As a rule, paddleboards with wider decks are more stable and therefore will make it easier for you to balance.  Look for one with a deck of 30” or more for the most comfortable base to practice. You can also buy an extra-wide specialty board if this is something you think you’ll be doing a lot of. These are definitely nice to have but not necessary, you can still do yoga on a standard width SUP.

2. A flow or sequence

The first thing to consider is whether you’ll sequence your own class, follow a sequence you find online, or take a class with an instructor. As Julie Phillips Turner of DoYouYoga says

Less is more on a stand up paddle board. Simple yoga poses are all you need to develop body awareness – taking them on the board just enhances that awareness.

3. Something stretchy to wear

For safety reasons we recommend wearing something that won’t make swimming difficult in the event you do fall in. Spandex workout clothing is fine and if you’re feeling sporty, go ahead and wear your bikini. This is not, however, the best occasion for your baggy Thai fisherman pants. Board shorts and a rashguard like you’d use for surfing are also a great choice, just be sure the shorts let your hips move freely.

4. Shoes you don’t mind getting wet

Unless you’re doing this in the pool, you’ll probably need to take your shoes with you. Stow them in your handy cargo net. We recommend flip flops or tevas, something you don’t mind getting wet.

5. Basic SUP yoga flow

Imagine all the poses you know and love, now imagine them seated. That is still yoga!  Highly modifiable by nature, the beginner versions of many asana are often unrecognisable from their most advanced expressions. This is great news for creating your own flow, even if you aren’t an expert or familiar with the word “sequencing”. If you are fortunate enough to have an instructor nearby, they’ll be able to create a class that is suitable for your fitness level.

For a beginners’ flow that will not put you in peril, try this

Firstly, make your way onto your deck however you are comfortable.  The majority of your first foray into on-the-water-asana will be seated, so don’t worry about standing up immediately.

Seated mountain pose

Why start standing when you can sit down? Center yourself roughly on the midline of the deck and take a seat. Work your way into a straddle and relax your feet into the water on either side.  Don’t get too comfortable, this pose is still challenging if you stay aware of your posture.

Sit tall and breath deeply while engaging your core. Don’t flinch as if you were about to take a punch, remember this is not jiu jitsu. Just be sure to keep your abs firm, but comfortable. Take 10 deep breaths here, and think about them. As you breathe, feel your stomach drawing in with inhalation and allow it to expand with each exhale.

Seated Cat and Cow

These poses are normally done on all 4’s but since we are just getting to grips with our balance, let’s take it slow.  In the same seated position that you’ve been in, take a deep breath and arch your back. Let your head follow the motion but don’t stress your neck.  

Extend your arms forward at shoulder height while bringing your shoulder blades close together behind you. Imagine that you are trying to make them pop out more visibly from the back.  You could also imagine the position of a soldier’s shoulders while standing at attention.

Now, exhale as you do the opposite motion. Flex your spine forward, bringing your shoulders and head with them. Make a C-shape with your torso and extend your arms as far as you can in front of you at shoulder height.  

Keep breathing rhythmically in sequence with the motion. Do this for 10 breaths which will be 5 cows and 5 Cats.

Wide Angle Seated forward fold

Are you getting the hang of things yet? It’s not so frightening after all! The next pose we’ll do will give you a gentle hamstring stretch. Place your hands in front of you  and walk them forward. As with before, imagine you are hinging from the hips rather than curling with your spine. No hunching now, you’ll want to keep a straight back the whole time. If this means you can only walk your hands forward an inch or 2, that’s just fine. If it means that you have to keep your hands behind you or to the side with you torso leaning slightly back, that is also fine.

The floppier among us may be able to get their chest all the way to the deck, just be sure you’ve got the abdominal strength to come back up again. Once you are in your own personal forward fold, take 5 deep breaths and walk yourself back up again.

Seated Revolved Triangle Pose 

Let’s think of this as a seated triangle pose or Trikonasana, to the purists out there; don’t skewer me! For most people, lateral or sideways movement is almost totally absent from daily life so this pose will feel great.

From your neutral seated position, extend your arms to the side, try to make them shoulder height. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Now, rotate from your core (stomach muscles) as far as possible to the left while maintaining a straight line from the crown of your head to the base of your seat. Extend your right hand forward, bend your elbow and place it across your knee. You’ll need to bend forward to get your elbow to your knee. Once you’re there, raise your left hand and bend it forward over your head and stretch.  

At this point you’ll be leaning forward, do so as far as you need to be comfortable but be careful not to overextend yourself and lose balance. Take 5 deep breaths here and then repeat on the other side for a total of 10 breaths.

Staff Pose

Now that you have spent some time on the water, let’s up the ante and bring your legs on deck.  Dandasana or staff pose will be very similar to your first seated pose, but is a progression nonetheless. This will be slightly more challenging because your full mass will be involved.

Bring your legs on deck one at a time and extend them in front of you.  Now sit as tall as you can without straining your lower back and place your hands at the sides of your seat. Your palms should be flat and your fingertips pointing towards your toes. You can bend your knees as much as you need to to get your back straight, you can also lean back slightly.  

The goal here is to keep as much of your weight as possible out of your hands and use your core to stay upright. You should also feel a stretch in your hamstrings.Now that you’re here, breathe deeply and relax for 10 amazing breaths. Don’t forget your abdominal muscles which should be firm but not flinched so hard that you can’t breath.

Mountain pose

For the last pose of our beginners’ flow, we’ll end on a high note. Carefully come onto your knees and find a stable position. If you feel comfortable here, go onto one knee.  If this is stable, stand up slowly. Once you are standing, be sure to center yourself over the midline of your board. Take a look at the handle in the middle of the deck and use this is a guide. Now, stand with a straight spine and your hands comfortably at your sides. Firm your abs as before, put your shoulders back and try to scoop your pelvis forward.  Don’t laugh! What i mean to say is be sure your derriere isn’t sticking out. You are now not only in mountain pose, you are standing up on your SUP and have completed your first class!

Our top 5 tips

1. Stay low

Choose poses where your center of gravity is low to start with: downward dog, upward dog or cat and cow poses.

2. Adapt and overcome 

Every single asana can be modified to your ability level.  Have you ever seen someone standing on their head and pretty well only their head? I’m serious, take a look at Mukta Hasa Sirsasana C or Free hand Headstand sometime. Did you know the first step in practising this advanced pose is friendly old downward facing dog?

3. Don’t be afraid to get wet, water is fun and it’s what we’re here for!

Step off your mat in a land-lovers class and there is no problem unless of course the floor is made of lava. Step off your board in a SUP class and splash you go.  This isn’t likely to happen if you stay within your ability range and take it slow. If you do end up in the water after a casual Scorpion pose, hey, it happens to the best of us.

4. No one is concentrating on you but you

Everyone else practising around you will be focused on the same thing as you are: their own practice!  Anyone watching from shore will be wishing they were lucky/brave enough to be out there with you.

5. Keep your eyes on the horizon

This helps with balance in any scenario, particularly where your base is in motion. If you feel a little unsteady, take a deep breath and softly rest your gaze on the horizon.  It won’t move and therefor fixing your eyes on it will help you regain your balance.

Tips for success

Without waxing too philosophical, keep in mind that yoga is a cerebral practice more so than a physical one.  You can practice with your eyes closed while laying completely still in your bed, you can do the same on your paddleboard. That said, many people practice for the physical challenges and that is also fine (and fun!).

Approach your SUP yoga practice with the knowledge that balance will be more challenging. If you are designing your own flow, keep in mind that staying low will make it easier to stay aboard. If you progress to split stance postures such as warrior 1 or warrior 2, eye up the handle in the center of your deck.

Try to keep your mass above the handle with your legs evenly spaced to either side. The idea here is to avoid ending up with drastically more of your weight on one side of the handle or the other, so keep it even steven.

What NOT to do

Don’t let nerves stop you from giving it a try.  Remember that there was a first time for absolutely every single thing you enjoy doing, and this is no different. It’s fine if you are totally new to either SUP or yoga, or new to both.  This is an accessible way to begin and your experience will depend entirely on your approach. Just don’t do what I did my first time out or you may end up “flowing” from side crow to eating crow. Take it slow and go easy on yourself, remember, this is fun!

A BIG BLUEFIN THANK YOU

Thanks to Yoga Journal for providing in depth information on the safe practice and proper alignment of yoga asana. This is incredibly useful for home practitioners and those looking to sequence their own flow.

Thank you to Kino MacGregor of Miami Life Center for the eye-popping demonstration of Mukta Hasta Sirsasana C or Free Hand Head Stand.

Thanks to Palmeira Aruanda for the fantastic inversions she demonstrated on her Bluefin Cruise!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *