Observer on Sunday: Balance, pose and breathe

(Published in the Observer on Sunday, 24, June 2012),-pose-and-breathe/

Yoga enthusiasts are always looking for new and creative ways in which to do a sun salutation, so it really was only a matter of time until yoga found its way on to a paddleboard.

And, so it is with some trepidation, that I find myself precariously balancing on a paddleboard one sunny afternoon off Seven Mile Beach with yoga devotees Janelle Kroon and Rachel Whitfield from Bliss Living and Yoga studio.

Paddleboarding is one of the fastest growing sports. Not only is it fun and pretty easy to get the hang of – so I’m told – but it also offers a fantastic all over body workout. I’ve wanted to give it a whirl ever since I first laid eyes on the paddleboarders who elegantly paddle up and down Seven Mile Beach.

Before I try out some yoga, I first need to master balancing on the board. Cayman is the perfect place to learn, thanks to its calm waters, which are warm and welcoming for times that you fall off the board, or just want to jump in to cool off.

After a quick briefing on dry land the three of us wade into the water with our paddleboards. We start off just belly down on the board and paddle away from shore, and then wobbling away I attempt to kneel. First step mastered. The next step was to stand. As per Janelle’s instructions, I fix my gaze on the horizon and keep my knees soft and slowly come up to a standing position.

We spend the next 15 minutes or so gently paddling around while I get my sea legs. I wobble around, but somehow – miraculously – manage to stay upright on the board. I couldn’t look more different than the paddleboard pros that make it look all so effortless, but Janelle and Rachel promise me that it just takes a little bit of practice.

It was time to try out some yoga. Incorporating yoga adds a new twist to the sport and also works muscles far harder than on dry land, Janelle explains.

Indeed, she says that paddleboard yoga is all about taking yoga outdoors, while connecting mind, body and spirit with nature.

“It’s great to experience activities in the outdoor and with the ocean at our doorstep, why not? Right off the bat we get a feeling and attitude of gratitude, acknowledging where we live. The natural beauty of our outdoor environment allows us to become more sensitive to a feeling of good state of mind and body.”

We anchor up the paddleboards so as we don’t float off with the current and start with an easy child’s pose. Then, Janelle and Rachel lead me through a series of poses.

While they seamlessly transition from downward dog into plank, cobra and up to an effortless balancing pose, I wobble my way rather un-elegantly from one pose to the next, trying my best not to fall off my board.

Not only does this take concentration, but balance and strength too, none of which I possess in abundance. Janelle reminds me to just relax and go with the flow. “Remember, if you fall off the board, you just get wet.”

I try my best to stay focused on the horizon to help keep my balance while I go into a low lunge, and much to my delight I manage to stay on the board, albeit with a lot of wobbling and flailing of arms.

“When you get on the board to practice yoga you have to concentrate otherwise you will fall off,” Janelle explains. “This is one of the key elements of a yoga practice – concentration. You have to be engaged, both mentally and physically.

“Learning how to breathe with this engagement will help to strengthen the nervous system, your awareness, tones the cardio vascular system and cleanses the blood through the breath and sweat,” she says. “And if you get too hot or need a rest, you can sit in child’s pose – or just fall in to cool off. Abs, quads, gluteus and shoulders are just some of the muscles that get a workout.”

Indeed, after just a short series of poses I’m already feeling the effects in my muscles.

After a brief cool down in the water, we get back on the boards and go into a corpse pose. This is my favourite pose, probably because it requires just lying back and doing not much else except relaxing– although I’m sure yogis will tell me there’s a whole lot more to it than that.

To end our session we go into a meditative pose. It couldn’t be more relaxing, watching the sun set, with the water gently lapping around us. I let my body sink into the board and relax. Utter bliss.

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