SUP-Posing, Yoga on the Stand-up Paddleboard
How many people do you know who can do a headstand… while on a paddleboard… in the water? I’ll guess that your answer, like mine, is “None.” However, yoga on a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) is gaining in popularity on lakes, bays, and oceans, so don’t be surprised if your best friend’s girlfriend’s sister-in-law soon starts posing on top of a Long Island waterway.
Jessica Bellofatto of Amagansett teaches “SUP DOG Yoga” on the North and South Forks. She praises the combination of location and activity. “When you practice [regular] yoga, you are on the stable surface on land. You still have to negotiate your balance and stabilize your core muscles and really use your legs,” she says. “But on a paddleboard, depending on the conditions, especially if it’s more of a windy or choppy day on the water, it’s hard! A lunge pose and other seemingly easy poses can be really challenging.”
Within that challenge is an opportunity, as SUP yoga offers practitioners the chance to truly focus on the task and to let go of all other distractions and preoccupations. Yoga on a paddleboard requires more from your mind and body; there’s more concentration on focus and breathing than on a stable-surfaced counterpart.
Bellofatto observes that “a lot of people practice yoga and are still really stressed out. Their cell phones, on vibrate, are next to them on the mat; people can’t seem to turn them off. But on the water, no one is checking their phone or their email!” She enthuses, “I love taking people out of their element and calming them; giving them the experience of being peaceful and to have the ability to just check out and have that time for themselves. And I love seeing women especially get psyched and feel empowered.”
Since the boards float high on the water (you don’t sink down into them), you generally don’t get wet when performing SUP yoga poses. However, if you climb aboard and start thinking about the stock market or your to-do list, you may lose your balance and go ker-plunk. Bellofatto says that there’s always someone who falls in the water during class, though some drop-offs depend on the level of difficulty and what a participant is willing to try.
Whether or not you stay on the board is secondary, however. Yogi Bellofatto has taught students who were yoga novices or newbies to SUP, and she feels that it is the overall experience of being outdoors and getting exercise below the sun and above the salt water that is “liberating.”
Bellofatto started paddling five years ago during a difficult time in her life; she found refuge and solace on a paddle board, out in the ocean, gazing at the horizon, feeling strong, empowered and grateful for the beauty all around her.
“I loved being on the water, and I loved the vantage point of standing up and being able to see everything,” she shares. Now Bellofatto’s taken the sport of SUP to the next level. She’s started doing long distance ocean paddles— an hour out and an hour back— with a friend. During these strenuous paddles, the two women would stop and rest on the board, stretching out and twisting their tense muscles, and so the inspiration for SUP yoga was born.
“I love anything that challenges me physically, and love being outside and in nature. I love being on the water in the summertime, especially living out here on the East End where you get the feeling you are away and not surrounded by people,” says Bellofatto, who adds, “I love paddling and I love yoga, and the fact that I can combine them is awesome.”
The Yogi hopes to inspire and empower other women, helping them find grounding in this fun and challenging activity. She teaches on retreats in tropical climates, and through the East Hampton-based “Paddle Diva” and the Southold-based “Giving Room.” Local class attendance is growing as people discover the SUP-yoga benefits. While it is possible to perform yoga poses on a stand-up paddleboard yoga throughout the year, classes are generally held from April through October, to avoid wearing a movement-restricting wetsuit.
By Kara Jackson