Paddleboard Yoga: ‘S’up?’ and Namaste

    Sometimes the universe speaks in mysterious ways—like stand-up paddleboard yoga.

    Illustration by Kevin Reed

    I’m perpetually worried about disappointing the cashiers at Trader Joe’s. Mostly I don’t know what to say when the guy bagging my groceries asks me how my day’s going.

    “OK, I guess,” I told him.

    “Just OK?”

    This was a Thursday, just after 8 in the morning. For a moment, I thought about not replying. But the guy had been so cheerful, and then stood there in his bright Hawaiian shirt looking at me expectantly. “What about the rest of the day? Anything great planned?”

    I shook my head.

    “This weekend?”

    The answer was still no.

    “This year?”

    A look of despair must have crossed my face. “Hey,” he said, not knowing what to say, “you should try SUP yoga.”

    I nodded in a way that said: “Those words mean nothing to me.”

    “It’s like yoga,” he explained, “but on a surfboard.”

    I heard myself vow, then and there, to give it a try. The 15 people waiting in line behind me witnessed it. Driving home, I wondered if this constituted a serious obligation. On the one hand, a vow made in Trader Joe’s was probably not binding; on the other hand, the universe might be speaking to me—and the universe, as most everyone knows, is a notoriously poor communicator.

    Long story short, I signed up. Two weeks later I found myself on the shores of Monument Lake ready to try SUP yoga.

    For the uninitiated, SUP stands for Stand-Up Paddleboard. Those are like surfboards, but longer and wider, and more stable—supposedly. It’s the coolest acronym ever because it sounds like “S’up?”—a greeting used with alarming frequency by the sort of hipsters who conclude yoga on terra firma is not yoga enough for them. There were 10 of us in the group that day. “S’up?” they said to each other and then laughed as they lathered themselves with SPF 50 sunscreen.

    Our instructor was a diminutive blond woman of indeterminate age—we’ll call her Rayne—who congratulated us on our decision to try SUP yoga, and thanked us for our online payment. She then instructed us to start by trying a few basic poses on the board before going out on the water. The first was something called Child’s Pose, which is like kneeling, but with your hands out in front of you.

    Rayne came over and got down on the ground beside me. “Focus on the breath,” she said.
    I breathed in and out. “How’s that?” I said.

    “Let it center you,” she said. “Are you centered?”

    “Yes,” I said, though I wasn’t entirely sure. “I’m totally centered.”

    There were a number of other poses. I can’t remember their names exactly: Downward Dog and Upward Dog, maybe a Sideways Dog, a Sleeping Pigeon, and something called a Modified Camel, which Rayne seemed to think I did extremely well.

    “Look,” she said, pointing to me. “Everyone look at this Modified Camel.”

    It was the weirdest name I had ever been called.

    Eventually, it was time to head out on the water. We pushed our boards away from shore, paddled near the center of the lake and dropped our tiny anchors in.

    Our first pose involved sitting cross-legged on the board. “Just get the feel of it,” Rayne said. She pulled her legs up over the sides of the board and crossed them in the center of it.

    I’m not sure if it was the pulling of my legs up out of the water, or the attempt to cross them, but before I knew it, I was underwater—which was colder than I thought possible. My breath was not centered. In fact, my breath was nowhere near me. It was knocked completely out of my body. I totally forgot how to swim, somehow, and began to feel the stirrings of real panic before the hipsters swiftly pulled me up to the surface and reunited me with my board.

    One had grabbed me, another had grabbed my hat, and a third, somehow, had managed to catch my glasses as they cascaded off my face and fell toward the bottom of the lake. I think I may have created a new pose trying to claw my way back onto the board: Panicked Shivering Bear.

    “All right,” said Rayne, after I’d caught my breath, “let’s do something different.” She pulled herself up on her board into a kneeling position and announced we were going to do the back-bending Modified Camel pose that I had so excelled at on land.

    Each of the yogis got into position. So did I, and for three of the most glorious seconds of my life, I executed a perfect Modified Camel pose in the middle of Monument Lake.
    Before entirely crashing into the water.

    This time I, and somehow all my possessions, were saved by a nearby pregnant millennial. I just sat on my board after that, focusing intermittently on my breath and feeling grateful to be alive. There was the sun, and the water below me, and without thinking about it too much, near the end of the class I managed to actually stand up on my board and perform a Warrior pose.

    I was dripping wet, but Rayne said I looked like a still, silver surfer in the middle of a tranquil lake. It was then that I finally got what the universe was trying to tell me.

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