A paddleboard is sort of like a yoga mat, just longer and made of harder stuff, I told myself as I slowly inched my right foot forward to a lunge shape. So easy on land. But on a Sunday morning at the end of July, speedboats dotting the Willamette River and making little waves, I was pretty proud of myself to lunge and slowly lift my arms overhead.
“You feel that awareness that you don’t feel in your on-land practice,” yoga teacher Lauren Fields, owner of Yoga to You, says. And she’s right – in her SUP yoga class, everybody is aware that a big splash awaits minds that wander.
Our group of about eight water yogis showed up at the Sellwood Riverfront Park a little before nine to sign waivers, claim a board and don personal flotation devices. For most of us, it was our first SUP yoga class. At least one person had never been on a paddleboard. The classes are a partnership between Yoga to You, Lauren’s mobile yoga studio, and Next Adventure, Portland’s beloved outdoor shop. Strong young guys from Next Adventure hauled paddleboards out of the Next Adventure van and inserted fins. Yogis could leave their keys and other personal items inside their van.
We hauled our boards down a small boat ramp and pushed off, staying on our knees as we paddled out to the yoga area. There, we used carabiners to attach the boards to a knotted rope so that nobody would float downriver. Once anchored, Lauren said we could take our bulky PFDs off. Paddles safely strapped into the cords on the fronts of our boards, we were ready for yoga.
The morning was beautiful, about 70 degrees, the water warm. Falling in might be embarrassing, but neither cold nor scary.
We started class on our backs, getting used to the boards’ gentle rocking. Lauren led us slowly through seated poses, then cat/cow on hands and knees. As we learned to balance our weight between the four quadrants of the boards, we gained confidence in our poses. Lauren taught a modified warrior 2 and side angle pose with back knees down. When it was time to stand up, everybody did fine; not a single splash. Eventually we were doing slow sun salutations, which was fun on the board. I especially liked the feel of plank and downward facing dog. Lauren gave us five minutes to fool around on our own before savasana. We finished with a brief seated floating meditation. “My favorite part is letting people meditate out there,” Lauren told me after class. “The sounds, sights, rhythm of the water under your board, and being in the open air.”
I loved the class and can’t wait to do it again. It’s open to people with no experience in yoga or paddleboards. I think yoga experience helps more than paddleboard experience, because without prior knowledge of the poses and how they feel on land, the practice could be a bit frustrating or mysterious. But Lauren is expert at slowly and calmly progressing students from one floating pose to the next. She’s developed a SUP yoga teacher training that she offers every summer.
At $35, this is one of Portland’s more affordable SUP yoga classes. Yes, it’s pricey for a drop-in class, but it’s something special. And don’t worry about the cost of getting addicted to SUP yoga – in Portland, with our dreary months of rain, this class is definitely seasonal.