As someone who’s always enjoyed adventurous activities, I’ve had my fair share of broken bones, pulls and strains. The most significant of these being a broken shoulder about 8 years ago (dumped on a sand bar at Praar Sands after failing to commit/pop in a double overhead situation), and a broken neck when I was 18.
As a result of these injuries, Yoga should be a core part of my daily routine to delay the onset of, or reduce the risk arthritis. In fact, core strength, flexibility, and breathing control are integral to success in SUP (and all watersports) no matter what your performance goals are. Therefore Yoga should be an integral part of any watersports enthusiasts daily routine.
Despite this, the integration of yoga into my exercise route and daily life comes and goes. And the reason for this is as much to do with convenience and cost as it is with motivation. I’m really not one for sweating in a hot studio with 10 others doing Hot Yoga, or for choreographed routines to music. And so when yoga has been more prevalent in my life, it’s been when a really good yoga teacher has been running small sessions at a convenient time. And finding the right Yoga teacher for you is also difficult. Yoga means many different things to different people, and with such a difference in yoga types, styles and emphasis, then whilst it is very easy to find a yoga class, it’s not so easy to find one that matches your aspirations or goals.
For that reason, there’s always a temptation to go it alone and just follow a video/youtube of some random poses (asanas) or sequences from an unknown Yogi/teacher. And surely if you pick one which has lots of likes/stars you’ll be right?
Well not really. If you’re a seasoned practitioner, then you’re unlikely to do yourself harm from an online sequence. You’ve already got the basic positions, your proprioception is already good and you can ‘feel’ when your body is in position, and can massage your position to improve the position or posture. But you lose the eagle eye of the coach spotting minute imperfections, or their ability to spot your weakness and tailor the asana or sequence to build up strength to overcome those weaknesses. And if you’re not a seasoned practitioner, you can do yourself some real damage. If you cannot instinctively ‘feel’ when you’re out of position, you can injure yourself.
This is especially true for dynamic sequences where you move from one position to another. And if you keep repeating that exercise without an experienced teacher correcting you, you can cause long term aches and pains that can severely impact your mobility and performance.
So where does SUP yoga come into this?
Well one of the causes of potential injury is removed with a board. The floor or mat of a gym/living room is hard and unyielding. And resistance from the floor when you’re out of position is the cause of many of the injuries. This problem goes away with paddleboard yoga. If you’re out of position, if you’re unbalanced, then the board moves with you.
This has three benefits:
The first is that you get more immediate feedback on your balance and position. If your board is tipping from side to side, front to back, then you know you’ve got problems. If your board is nice and stable as you transition through your Sun Salutations then you know you’ve nailed it. So the feedback from the board helps to develop your proprioception and ‘feel’ for positions.
The second is that it works your balance and core strength more thoroughly than standing on terra firma. So if you want a flat tummy and toned abs, SUP yoga is not to be sniffed at. And for people like me who need to work on their core strength to improve posture to delay the onset of arthritis, SUP yoga is the way forward.
And the third benefit is protection from injury. Specifically with an iSUP, the board is not an unforgiving as a hard floor with a yoga mat. And on any SUP, the water is much more forgiving than the floor. But this isn’t the real benefit. The real benefit is the in-built protection you get from putting yourself in damaging positions. Although this is not infallible, the board will typically throw you off before you’ve caused long term damage.
We’ve put together a description of some of the positions and routines that you can put yourself through on a SUP board below. But, just to repeat, you can do yourself damage if you self-manage your yoga routine. Unless you’ve already got some experience, start off with a few sessions with an instructor.
The Sun Salutation or ‘Surya Namaskar’ is a great way to get into Yoga. In fact, the ‘Surya Namaskar’ is the traditional way to warm up all muscle groups for a yoga practice, and a core component of Vinyasa yoga warmups.
The sun is the giver of all life. Without the sun there would be no life as we know it on earth, and the Hindu tradition has revered the sun or Surya as the physical and spiritual heart of our world for thousands of years. And they believe that the sun is the ‘eye of the world’ seeing and uniting all unto itself; a pathway to the divine and enlightment. And even if you don’t believe this, the sun salutation is the perfect asana to stretchA core component of the Sun Salutation is linking your breathing with the movement and rhythm of the asana, bringing you to a more meditative state. And the asana is perfect for every level. For total beginners it helps to build flexibility, control and strength, and as you become more experienced, there are adjustments and options that increase the difficulty.
There are just eight basic postures to learn to practice the sun salutation, and the image below shows you each of the poses in a complete sun salutation.
Mountain pose is all about finding your connection with the earth and being planted, stable, firm but relaxed. It’s a powerful stance, you should be able to imagine a line of energy running all the way from you inner thighs up through your groin and out through the crown of your head. Your shoulders should be relaxed with your shoulder blades being pulled to the floor as if by weights, and your tailbone should point to the floor. Breathe in and try to make your belly button touch your spine, and soften your eyes as you relax into the pose.
As you breathe in, turn your palms and arms outwards and then swing your arms up towards to the sky. Keeping your shoulders open touch your palms together and extend your elbows and fingers upwards as if you were saluting the sky (upward salute pose). Keeping your belly button tucked in to your spine, tilt your head back and if you’re comfortable, tilt backwards into a soft back bend.
As you exhale, sweep your arms out to the sides and hinge at the hips to drop into a standing forward bend. Keep your knees straight, but soft. Breathe into the pose, lengthening your front torso as you breathe in. And with every breath out, deepen the fold. If your hands don’t reach the floor fold your arms over your torso.
With a deep breath raise slightly, step one foot back, and plant your hands either side of your front foot in low lunge. There are numerous variations you can insert into your sun salutation at this point, including the various Warrior I and Warrior II. Or you can transition straight into plank pose.
With both feet back your hands should be shoulder width apart and your feet are hip distance apart. There should be a straight line up your body from your toes to your head. Do not let your body sag, and pull your belly button towards your spine. As you breathe out bend your elbows so that your body is parallel with the floor. This is staff pose and if you’ve got weak wrists you might find this pose difficult to hold.
An alternative to staff pose is sideways plank. Lift out of plank pose by rotating around your core, raising one arm to the sky and opening your heart.
For those more advanced practitioners you can insert a one handed peacock into your asana. But this one is not for the faint hearted.
From staff pose, gently lower your knees to the board and raise your hips and chest to the sky in cobra pose. With straight arms but soft elbows tilt your head slightly back and raise your eyes to the sky.
From here step your feet forward into downward facing dog pose.
This is one of the most famous restorative and healing poses in Yoga. As you breathe out push your top thighs back and stretch your heels onto or down toward the floor. Straighten your knees but keep them soft. Firm your shoulder blades against your back, then widen them and draw them toward the tailbone. Keep the head between the upper arms; don’t let it hang.
From downward facing dog step forward into a low lunge on the opposite leg to your previous lunge and reverse the start of the sequence back through the forward bend, upward salute before returning to mountain pose.
And relax…let your breath return to normal. And bask in the inner glow of your first completed Sun Salutation on a SUP.