For athletes, the benefits go beyond the studio
By Pete Gauvin
It wasn’t until I met Leigh Claxton that I understood why yoga on stand-up paddleboards is not just some contrived, photogenic exercise fad having its 15 minutes.
True, SUP yoga is the convergence of the hottest sport on water and the ever-popular big tent of yoga, but together they offer tangible and spiritual benefits that neither can offer in isolation.
Claxton, owner and chief instructor of OnBoard SUP, a stand-up paddle yoga outfit based in Sausalito, expressed why floating on water is the perfect medium for reluctant and experienced yogis alike, and why outdoor athletes in particular should give it a try.
“Balancing on a constantly moving object improves proprioception,” says Claxton. “When your floor, your surface is constantly moving around you, your body is constantly centering itself. The more your body automatically does that when you’re out mountain biking or skiing or trail running, the better your balance will be.”
Claxton was first exposed to the potential of SUP yoga a few years ago in Tahoe while working as an exercise physiologist specializing in head injury rehabilitation. A longtime yoga instructor, Claxton found that using paddleboards in rehab aided the recovery process.
It’s the same reason why SUP yoga offers benefits beyond those of studio yoga.
“A lot of time in a studio class people will rely on a strong side to get into a pose,” Claxton says. “On the water, it’s about staying centered rather than strength. The likelihood of pulling anything is a lot less and the slight movement of the board makes it easier to get into some poses. Splits are easier, for instance, because you can use the rocking motion of the board to help ease you into the pose.”
Claxton runs her classes six, seven days a week, weather allowing, out of the Sea Trek kayak and paddleboard center on Richardson Bay, and is looking to establish another more protected location in Larkspur as well. If the water is calm, classes begin with a 10-minute paddle out across the bay that serves as a nice warm-up. If it’s breezy and choppy they’ll stay in the protection of the harbor docks.
Wind and low tides can play havoc. “If it’s windy and choppy people can get wet and cold,” she says. “But we learn to adapt with nature.”
What are the toughest poses (asanas) on an SUP board?
“Anything that’s not vertically centered,” says Claxton, like a side-angle plank (Vasisthasana) or a triangle pose (Trikonasana). “Anything that throws the centerline off the board is going to be more difficult.”
While Claxton’s classes are about 80 percent women, she has seen growing interest among men. “A lot of guys will do this kind of yoga rather than going to a studio,” she says.
Her classes have become so popular that she now has six instructors working with her. Since she teaches a training and certification program for SUP yoga instructors she has a good pool to pick from.
Claxton has spent a lot of time figuring out which boards to use. She currently uses two different boards in her program depending on a person’s size and skill: a 10’6” Surftech and the 11’4” Boga Yoga, a board specifically designed for yoga with a soft flat top, a place to stow the paddle, and plenty of volume for stability and buoyancy.
Down the coast, the SUP Shack at the Santa Cruz Harbor is expanding its SUP yoga class offerings this summer (an introductory class is offered Monday evenings at 5:30 for $19) and uses the Boga Yoga boards as well.
“It’s not just about striking a pose on a board. It’s about getting in tune with the water,” says owner Trudie Ransom. “We keep our classes pretty small (no more than six) and mix it up with plenty of paddling to stay warm and incorporate the elements of nature. Isn’t that the spirit of yoga?”
If the idea of balancing on a board in cold water is still intimidating, Covewater Paddle Surf in Santa Cruz offers SUP yoga classes in a 78-degree pool ever Friday evening at the Simkins Swim Center. The one-hour classes begin at 6 pm and cost $12.
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