Article by Natasha King
Downward facing dog on water, anyone? Well if striking that well known yoga pose, while on water seems like an impossible feat, allow me to introduce you to SUP yoga. SUP yoga (stand up paddle board yoga) is the practice of yoga in the middle of a body of water. Ok, so now that you know you are not being asked to call on your superpowers to levitate on water while going through vinyasa poses, giving it a try is something you just might want to consider.
When I contacted the effervescent Steff Lemieux, owner of Santosha Yoga, who is the only certified SUP yoga instructor on the island, to sign up for her Saturday morning class, I was sure to make it clear that I had only done about 2 yoga classes in my life and was a novice at stand up paddle boarding. Steff quickly put my anxiety to rest and said all I needed was to be able to swim and be at ease in the water. “The class is a full Vinyasa class on the water and I adapt it for the level of those who are in the class. It’s easier to make a class very basic and add pieces instead of trying to do a hard class and breaking it down. The foundation is super simple, and you add modifications and variations. As you become more advanced, I then add more difficult poses. You decide where you want to go.” Steff is an experienced yogi who has been practicing for 25 years but only began teaching about 10 years ago here on the island. “I started Santosha (which means the practice of happiness) with SUP yoga because the sea, sunshine and yoga are three of my favorite things, and also because it’s amazing and it wasn’t offered here. I partnered with Paddle Barbados the best SUP school on the island, to be the yoga teacher.”
So, with the assurance that I did not have to be a yogi guru I headed off to Pebbles Beach in St. Michael on Saturday morning, where Steff conducts her Sup yoga classes. Before giving a brief intro of the class on the beach, Steff makes sure to adhere to all of the COVID-19 safety protocols. Hands are sanitized, masks are worn, boards are wiped down and interaction is limited. The width of the board depends on your skill level, narrower boards are for the advanced but for newbies like me a wider board is used, and I might add definitely appreciated.
As we paddled out, I start to have thoughts like, “ok, so how am I gonna stay on this thing while doing sun salutations? Am I really going to be able to plank on water?” I then remembered what Steff said to me which was “what’s the worst that can happen? You fall in the Caribbean sea and you get back on the board.” So, with that pearl of wisdom I push those thoughts aside, and paddled on. We got to our spots and clipped our boards onto our individual buoys. While in the water you can’t help but be socially distanced. We began with sitting on our boards, legs crossed facing our instructor and took a minute to settle our thoughts before getting started. I began to relax and take in my surroundings. I could not have asked for a prettier morning on what I consider one of the best beaches in Barbados. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the turquoise waters were pristine, and the breeze was sweet.
To begin, we started close to the board in the seated pose and then moved slowly to tabletop pose. I was really doing well holding the poses while listening to Steff’s voice as she guided us and was surprised at how I had really hung in there with the plank. Then things began to get a little tricky as we went into the kneeling pose. For some reason a random thought came across my mind and just like that, oops in the water I went! I climbed back on and probably fell off about two more times as I tried to transition to other poses, but I didn’t let that stop me. I focused on my breathing and my balance with the goal of being able to achieve a standing pose. And miracle of miracles I did, along with doing a few repetitions of sun salutations! Once I began to feel comfortable with moving on the board in the water and stopped thinking I would fall off every minute, that was when things clicked, breath is what connected the movement and balance kicked in. The beauty of SUP yoga, I discovered, is that it not only requires focus on breathing and balance, it forces you to stay in the moment and to be present.
Steff was a great instructor, she kept it fun and allowed us to go at our pace, it’s probably why prior to the pandemic visitors would book her months in advance for private individual or group classes. In the current environment SUP yoga is a fantastic activity to participate in because it’s an outdoor activity and one that you can book privately to do with members within your bubble.
So, if you like the sea and you like yoga and want to enjoy them together on one of the most beautiful places on earth the SUP yoga with Santosha is a must try.