Take your yoga off the mat with this fun new fitness trend

Water-based fitness trends aren't often on the top of most Canadians' lists, but stand-up paddle board yoga is one activity we recommend you try!

Woman practicing yoga on a paddle board.

Warrior pose takes on a whole new level of effort when done on a paddle board (Photo by iStock).

Picture yourself in a meditative state, warm breeze across your face, your fingertips trailing gently in the water, as you float like a sun-kissed Buddha. If this sounds too good to be true, believe it. This scene is becoming a more popular one given the growing popularity of the stand-up paddle board (SUP) yoga classes making a splash all over the country.

In fact, Wsup Toronto co-founder, Gudran Hardes, likes to tell the story of a student who was so deep in meditation during a class, that when she opened her eyes to see a large group of fish swim by she was so startled, “she screamed and frantically started paddling for shore, leaving behind the remaining students rolling off their boards in a fit of laughter.”

The fact that you can even reach this level of tranquility while working out in the middle of Lake Ontario helps explain, in part, the rising popularity of this new fitness trend.

SUP yoga is just like traditional yoga but it’s done using a board in the water instead of a mat in the studio. The paddle is used to help you move around easily (it can also be used during class as a prop for stretching and lengthening your spine). It’s a total body workout that typically includes an on-land warm up portion followed by a brisk paddle to a calm spot on the water. Once there, regular poses are practised (think sun salutations, standing postures, back bends like cobra and bridge — for the more advanced) followed by a relaxing paddle back to land. Like other aqua-therapy sports, SUP yoga offers a thorough, low-impact workout that aims to improve your core and other stabilizing muscles (your glutes, quads and ankles will thank you).

Nadia Bonenfant, founder of Juna Yoga isn’t surprised by the amount of people smitten with SUP yoga. “Our bodies are made up of 80 percent water so there’s this amazing cellular recognition in movements done on a floating ‘mat’,” she explains. The attraction deepens, “as the lapping water under our boards starts to relax us and the breeze allows us to deepen our breathing.”

SUP yoga can be enjoyed by all. Hardes is confident that anyone can do it (provided you know how to swim). “Beginners are sometimes nervous but once they realize it’s not that difficult, they learn to relax and have fun” she explains. They’ve had students of all ages and fitness levels join the class.

Bonefant’s advice? Gaze at the horizon, relax, breathe deeply and trust your board.

And don’t fret if you do fall in.

Montrealer Carrie MacPherson recently tried her first class and explains that falling in is surprisingly refreshing, “You say to yourself, well that part I was afraid of happening just did and it wasn’t scary or embarrassing after all. Then you just get right back up and finish the session.”

Here are a few things to consider before stepping out onto the water:

  • For safety and comfort, basic swimming skills are required.
  • Drink up. As tranquil as this class may seem, it is challenging and your body needs to stay hydrated.
  • Protect yourself. Be sure to wear a waterproof sunscreen.
  • Dress for comfort. Quick-dry items like bathing suits or wetsuits are fine but for added sun protection, consider pieces with built-in sun protection.

Fees fluctuate, but you can expect to pay anywhere from $20-$30 per class, and many offer reduced rates for season passes. If you’re feeling ambitious and want to dive right into your downward dog, consider an intensive retreat.

Cross-Canada locations
While we may not have the balmy climate of Hawaii (the birthplace of SUP yoga) Canadians have no shortage of experienced instructors offering classes on our waterways. Follow these links for classes in Vancouver, Toronto, Halifax, Montreal, Mont Tremblant, Calgary and Ottawa.

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