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July 23, 2011

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Latest in yoga: Doing it on paddle boards

ADRIFT on a Seattle waterway, personal trainer Vicki Wilson and about a dozen women are following their yoga instructor's directions, hoisting their bodies up in a pyramid shape as they strike the downward-facing dog pose. They do this while balancing on an oversized surfboard.

Around them, boats sound their horns, a train chugs away, and seagulls fly about. But never mind the noises, the ebb and flow of the water is what Wilson likes best.

"It's very different than the in-studio feel," Wilson says. "You might hear a clock ticking, something artificial happening, and yes, there's the distraction of trains and boats, but with the water you have this flowing harmony."

Paddle board yoga has arrived in Seattle. For about two months now, WASUP Yoga, which operates out of Surf Ballard, a surf shop in Seattle, has been offering yoga classes on the cool waters of the Puget Sound, drawing attention to the unusual sight of yoga poses on the water. Neighborhood blogs and a local TV station have featured stories about the class, and after a deal on a coupon website, classes have been filling up.

"Just like regular yoga is for everyone, so too is yoga on a paddle board. It's nice to have a little smidgen of awareness of where your body is in space. But that's not totally necessary because you can gain that in 2.2 seconds after jumping on board," says WASUP yoga instructor Hasna Atry.

This new way of finding your inner chakra stems from the growing popularity of paddle boarding. Followers of paddle boarding point to Hawaii as the source of the activity, in which a person stands or kneels on an oversized surfboard and uses long paddles to move through the water. It's not uncommon to see people on boards paddling the Puget Sound or area lakes, even in the dead of a Seattle winter, donning full body wet suits.

Someone, somewhere, figured out that paddle boards are big enough to hold a person doing the cobra pose. And the practice has spread. There are now paddle board yoga classes in at least Florida, California, Hawaii and Washington.

In Atry's two-hour class, participants get a quick lesson on paddle boarding before they head to the water, where they tie to a buoy. She leads the class from her board, floating in front of them. Participants line their boards up next to each other.

She starts slow, with breathing exercises before moving on to the more difficult stretches.

Atry says she has modified some of the yoga postures to account for the added challenge of balancing on a board.

"When you're on the paddle board and trying to do the same postures as on land, you have completely different feedback because if you don't have your footing right, you will feel the board move around and if you aren't focusing, you will fall in the water," Wilson says.

Wet suits are optional, but recommended on the days it's not hot enough to warm the cool waters. Prices for the classes range from US$23 for a single class to US$325 for a month of unlimited classes. Atry says the surf shop plans to continue classes until early fall, and take a break once winter arrives.

There have been many people new to yoga and paddle boarding trying out her class, Atry says.

"Often times they'll go into the water tentatively, especially if it's their first time on a board, but it's so neat to see them jump on the board and paddle back without problem at all, having been through inversions, balancing and stretching on the board."


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