By Angela Cordell
I’ve always been drawn to yoga. Everything about its physical, mental and spiritual benefits attracts me. I’ve had the opportunity to participate in many different classes and practices, and the quality of my experience was always directly related to the teacher and environment. This was no different when I tried my first Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) yoga class. Of course, as I often do on my mini adventures, I coerced a friend into joining me.
In true adventure form, it was cold, windy and rainy as we drove out to Whiskeytown Lake. We thought that class would surely be canceled, but when we arrived our instructor had no intention of letting us off that easy.
Audrey Delong, owner of On Water Yoga, started her yoga practice 13 years ago. As a cancer survivor, her yoga is not just a hobby. It is an intricate piece of her healthful lifestyle. Her passion for sharing her practice is evident in every piece of her class, and she doesn’t let a little bit of chilly weather stop her.
My friend and I were apprehensive, but we launched our paddleboards on the water after asking for the largest and most stable that Audrey had on hand, and her instruction was flawless. I had no intention of falling in, and wasn’t even sure that I would make it off my hands and knees once I started moving away from shore. But Audrey coaxed all seven class members off the bank out into the water and helped us anchor without missing a beat. In those first few minutes I questioned my decision to leave dry land, but Audrey’s smile and reassuring words charmed me into the next step.
If you’ve practiced yoga before, you know that environment is everything. The temperature, the sounds, the smells – it all makes a difference. Practicing yoga outside on a lake takes things to a whole new level. It’s as if your every sense is heightened. The stretches feel deeper, the oxygen seems more plentiful, and the water makes everything feel simple, clean and healing.
Audrey has a magical way of incorporating the unexpected sights and sounds around the lake into the yoga practice. When the sun broke through the clouds shining directly on us the moment that we stretched into a lunge, she took the time to point it out. She laughed at the baby geese that swam through the cluster of paddleboards as if they wanted to join in on the fun. There was no rushing or sense of urgency. There was simply the sound of Audrey’s soothing voice leading us into each pose, while the water rocked us side-to-side.
Audrey began the class by asking us to set our intention for the hour. My intention was simple – don’t fall off the board. Practicing yoga while on a SUP is not easy. As you might expect, it takes constant balance and core strength. Seventy percent of the poses I had to modify, partially because of my paralyzing fear of falling in and being cold, and partially because I was forced to admit that I hadn’t done yoga in a very long time. But Audrey talked us through the modifications and when I got a chance to cautiously look at the classmates around me, I realized that we were all practicing at our own level.
When class ended, Audrey encouraged us to play around on the boards for a bit instead of heading straight for shore. It reminded me of being a kid at the lake with my siblings, trying to float around on the large logs that sometimes washed ashore. It was fun in a way that we don’t always get to experience as grown ups, who sometimes forget to stop and play. I’m not sure if it was peer pressure or a euphoria that made me do it, but right before heading back in I managed to stand up. I even paddled around for about 30 seconds before realizing what I was doing and promptly sitting back down. I got a picture to prove it.
Everyone needs to treat themselves to a SUP yoga class. It is the ultimate break from all the negativity that surrounds us every day; the perfect setting to remind yourself what it means to savor the simple, sweet moments of life. And let’s be honest, it’s a great workout.
At the end of the day, I think my friend put it perfectly when she listed things you DON’T get to do in a SUP class: You don’t get to think about work or life because you have to concentrate on staying on the board. You don’t get to feel stressed out. You only feel gentle waves rocking you back and forth. You don’t get to pretend that you “stretch” regularly. In SUP class, you do yoga poses that make you remember what real stretching actually looks and feels like. You don’t get to tell yourself you “love nature” from the comfort of your living room. You are in nature. And if you’re lucky, there are baby geese.
For a list of Audrey’s classes and to learn more about On Water Yoga, visit www.onwateryoga.com or call (530) 710-8870. Check out what it’s like with this video: