SUP ocean

I spent some time on the water this week. I was on my SUP (stand-up paddleboard.) I’m a yoga teacher. “Is this SUP Yoga?” people asked. They’d seen advertisements. Yogis on boards in warrior and dog poses. I’ll tell you about my experience and let you decide for yourself.

On the first day, in between trips to the studio and the dining hall, I unpacked, inflated, and assembled the board. I was pleased that it was easy to transport and arrived undamaged. I started to watch the water, differently. I observed with intent.

The next day, I stuffed my skin into SPF swim tights, slathered my neck and ears with sunscreen, and pulled my ponytail through a hole I’d ripped in my cap, just for this purpose. I tucked the unwieldy board under my arm and felt it bounce against my hip where a bruise would later form. I leaned to find some cushion on my flank and set a course for the surf.

I swung my hips and swiveled the board across the grass, onto the cobblestone, and through the weathered wooden gate to the sand. It was saturated and I sunk in. We launched, again and again on that first day. The water was wild. Eventually, I made it through with “GO” on my mind. I stood. She swelled beneath my feet, my legs shook and then we began to sway. 

I often use the metaphor of the anchor when I teach meditation and mindfulness. Out there, with the tall masts of sailboats in sight, I realized, this was not that. I am not anchored, not by a chain and a hunk of metal anyway.

I am oriented. I am aware. I know which way the current is (mostly) going and that it will bring me back to shore. I can feel the strength of the wind as it picks up. It pushes me and the water both. It makes white caps that lick the side of the SUP and pitches my weight forward to my toes and then back to my heels. I am aware of the possibility that my strength, driving down to meet the force of the waves through my feet on the SUP and hands gripping my paddle, may not be sufficient to keep me on course. I reconsider my options. Once again, I hear “GO” and rise to her challenge. 

Just the right amount of intensity, that is what we need. To find focus and still the fluctuations that would knock us over otherwise, we need to feel. 

We need to feel. I feel with my feet and fingers… the surge of the tide as it pushes me, and everything else, towards the shore; the sturdiness of the paddle (once I got the screws tightened) and the power of its curve. I use it to pull a personal current up alongside my SUP. It tells her where I want to go. 

I am oriented towards the shore, where my husband, teacher, friends, food, and safety seem assured. I know just how far away I am going and how long it might take to get back. Once I stop trying to move away I will be carried back and deposited on the shore. 

It turns out to be a quick return. The wind is strong and at my back once I turn. It delivers me quickly enough that I want to turn right back around. I wasn’t missed, I wasn’t gone for long. Yet, I found a whole world within during that short time.

It doesn’t take long. What it takes is the right amount of intensity… This is where the elements of experience are dynamic (and interesting) enough to demand our presence (lest we fall,) yet not so strong to evoke fear.

This is where courage, confidence, clarity, and calm can arise most easily. These efforts satisfy an urge to explore, grow, build, learn, and “do.” They also can allow for an easier transition to rest. It, we know, is equally essential for integration. 

It is no mistake that rest is usually located at the end of posture practice. We need to feel the difference between activation and relaxation. It is in the dynamic, in the midst of it all, that we, settle. That is where we are… blissfully bobbing along… 

I stood, in a trembling mountain pose, with my weight centered and my gaze steady. My board wasn’t anchored (as they are in the SUP Yoga classes that you might see advertised.) I was inexorably connected… to my body, my spirit, my world of experience. This is yoga.

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