How yoga has influenced my life
Compared to its ancient origins my personal yoga practice is in its relative infancy. I attended my first class during the winter holidays of 2013, somewhat to satisfy the pressure of a few friends who had repeatedly offered invitations to experience their world. It was an evening class of perhaps 6-8 others, conducted by candlelight in a beautiful, new studio that still smelled of fresh paint and construction adhesives. I remember being in awe as I first experienced the stillness and silence that bookends a yoga class, providing a beginning and end that allows me to empty my mind, suspend my movement and find my breath.
I didn’t practice again for several weeks, but my first experience to yoga was imprinted on me. Two months later I found my life completely out of balance, and without consideration I engaged yoga, immersing myself in a practice with the certainty that it would restore me and guide me back to a balanced existence again.
Somehow, over a short period of time I was able to find close friendships with many good people, including some of the most respected yoga teachers in Utah. My daily exposure to their example and teaching has provided an immersion into yoga that has redefined me. I acknowledge and honor them.
I am seven months into my practice. Just seeing those words typed out seems so foreign to me: I feel that yoga has been with me for most of my life. I have so much more to learn. But in this time, yoga has provided me with a method and medium to explore spirituality on an individual level, as frequently as needed. Now I calm my mind and find my breath--when anxiety, fear or excitement would normally impede my judgment or steer my actions.
My introduction to SUP
Like yoga, Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP) is dear to me. I’ve a favorite quote by Rumi, “What you seek is seeking you.” Paddleboarding found me and has completely taken me. My first experience on a paddleboard was extremely frustrating. I was on a crowded mountain reservoir, filled with powerboats that seemed to boil the water with every pass. Waves were hitting me from all directions. I couldn’t stand on the board more than 10 seconds at a time without falling in, and I seemed to strike my legs on the board with each tumble. (At the end of this frustrating day, I realized that the person who loaned me the board hadn’t attached a fin.)
I love the water. Raised from a young age as a competitive swimmer, I’ve spent thousands of hours in a pool in this lifetime. And my most found memories as a Boy Scout revolve around lake activities on a canoe or kayak. Later in life, I took to stand-up jetskis and wakeboarding at my family’s lakeside cabin. Water is my home.
Even though my first experience on a paddleboard wasn’t optimal I knew it was for me. Since that first experience, I’ve gone at least twice a week – sometimes twice a day. Earlier this summer I paddled 26 consecutive days. While traveling for work or vacation, I’ve been able to paddle many major waters in the northern hemisphere, including the Sea of Japan, Adriatic Sea, Yellow Sea, South China Sea, Mediterranean, Pacific and Atlantic.
I usually SUP alone, the way a runner attacks their favorite road with just their favorite playlist and a mind clear of thoughts or stress. I’m a speed demon at heart and I always seek to develop a faster, more efficient paddle stroke. When I train, I follow a workout that starts with a ½ mile warm-up paddle, where I’m mindful of the geometry of my body and my paddle’s arc through the air and water. Then I move to short-interval sprints, followed by a 1-mile distance at 80-percent intensity, and then a ½ mile warm-down. Twice a week I’ll throw in thirty minutes of race-turn practices and sprint starts. My workouts always end with a short yoga flow on my SUP, and ultimately end in finding shavasana “corpse pose” which is the final resting asana in most yoga flows, designed to let the effects of the practice take hold into the self.
SUP is also a mental and social outlet for me. I have so many good friends in the SUP community, and we often get together as large groups for potluck dinners, or early-morning paddles. We’ll cover 4-5 miles together while carrying on conversations and sharing laughs. But there are times when I’ll go out alone without a plan, merely to hear the repetitive sound of my paddle breaking the water’s surface and to let go of my thoughts.
How Yoga has influenced my SUP practice
(yes this is Chris as Santa)
When yoga first discovered me last winter, my first thought was taking it to the water. I’ve always had a deep spiritual connection with water, and the thought of combining the two elements (yoga and water) made my heart happy. Though I don’t practice SUP-yoga formerly in a class setting, I still find time to occasionally merge my two loves together, practicing alone and learning to find a deep breath while opening up my heart to listen to the water’s song. To me it provides an escape and bliss with no equal or comparison.
I normally practice yoga in the mornings in a heated studio. During the hour long flow, I’m mindful of my balance and am constantly making finite adjustments to my core to prevent falling out of a pose and off of my mat. On the water, my practice is compounded by the fact that my “mat” is a 14-foot long race board, designed to respond instantly to every subtle lean and adjustment. For the first few months of practicing on the water, I took extra precautions to prevent falling off my board – the same way I would avoid falling off my mat in a studio. I’ve recently learned that the only way I can really find my limits is to push them - falling and learning along the way.
By practicing yoga on the earth and on the water, I’ve found an increased balance that benefits my SUP performance. I can maintain a faster pace through unpredictable waves and chop, while maintaining efficient body geometry. I was recently in a crowded race where the turbulence generated by the start caused so many paddlers to fall off their board. It was during that chaos that I kept firm balance and dug in hard, charging out ahead and establishing a margin that I preserved for two miles to the finish line.
Perhaps yoga isn’t for you, and maybe you paddle for other reasons than merely seeking more speed. But merging my two loves has worked for me. Maybe there are ways to bring your own passions to paddleboarding. I’ve seen musicians take a guitar out on their paddleboard, sitting down in the middle of calm waters to serenade the setting sun. I’ve watched fishermen cast their lines from a SUP. And I’ve seen a family paddle out with a picnic basket to enjoy a meal on a calm pond.
Whatever it is that brings you happiness, consider bringing it to the water.