SUP Yoga

Though vastly different practices Stand Up Paddling and Yoga have a lot in common. Both with an emphasis on balance and core strength the two disciplines encourage good posture and a calm mind. When combined they offer practitioners an expression of movement that is fluid and powerful lending benefits to each that make SUP and Yoga easier and infinitely more fun.

In Madison a new class in SUP/Yoga is taking hold on the Near West Side just off Monroe Street. The calm and peaceful water on Lake Wingra is perfect for Stand Up Paddling. With powerboat traffic restricted to trolling motors it’s so quiet you can hear bird sounds and the rustling of leaves in the trees on shore. And on clear mornings with few waves or even ripples an SUP board is an excellent platform upon which to practice Yoga.

“It’s a lot easier than I though it was going to be,” said Shannon Flaten, a first time paddler but experienced yogi. “There’s definitely a lot of core involved.”

With a light flow series of sun salutations on the dock Flaten and three other beginning students set their intentions for the class. Then one by one their instructor Erin Birk, an assistant manager at LuluLemon Athletica in Madison, helps them into the water with their boards. First in a kneeling position each student learns the basics of paddling as they slowly transition into standing. After just a few minutes the group gathers in a shallow cove of lily pads near the shore and the class begins.

The boards are equipped with a small anchor that each student drops into the lake. This way no one drifts away and the class can stay in position. As Birk stands in the water to mid-thigh she leads her class in course of standard flow poses. Downward facing dog, plank, cobra, cat, cow, seated twists, lunges and standing forward folds are possible on an SUP board. But the shifting surface underneath requires much more attention to balance.

“You really have to stay focused,” said Janet Wanamaker, “Your mind doesn’t wonder quite so much and you’re not thinking about other things like what you’re doing later.”

Much less forgiving than a yoga mat on a wooden floor, an SUP board requires practitioners to constantly check in on body position and stance stability. “I know I’m constantly checking to see if my hips are level, are my feet firmly planted. It helps to brake our poses down,” said Birk. “Someone who has been practicing yoga for 10 years has a lot of habits. When you’re working in that less forgiving environment you have to go back to the basics, which is really good for all of us to do.”

The act of paddling itself builds strength in the upper arms and abdominal muscles. The repetitive motion of each stroke in concert with steady even breathing creates a rhythm of flow that blends perfectly with the most basic principles of yoga.

“I know that I’m getting stronger,” Birk said. “When you can do a plank on your board you know you’re doing pretty good. It let’s you know that your yoga practices is taking off.”

Classes for SUP Yoga are held every Thursday at the Wingra Boathouse at 7AM. The cost is $25. That includes a board rental, one hour of instruction and one hour free paddling afterward. Additional and more advanced classes will be scheduled shortly. Visit for details.

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I’m a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.