Stand-up paddleboard yoga – it sounds like something your hippy aunt would do after a month touring south-east Asia. But as I lie on my board, water lapping around my feet and a voice telling me to relax, I start to think maybe there’s something in this.
“Performing pretzel-style twists while FLOATING ON a canal full of broken shopping trolleys – surely this Wouldn’t work?”
After all, 2014 has been the year of the stand-up paddleboard. Everyone from Kelly Slater to Pierce Brosnan has been taking to these giant surfboards - or SUP boards - for a paddle.
In London, office workers are constantly looking for ways to satisfy their adventure cravings without leaving the city. But performing pretzel-style twists while floating on a canal full of broken shopping trolleys – surely this wouldn’t work? It turns out I was wrong.
Three weeks later, I found myself paddling out into Paddington Basin for my first ever SUP yoga class with Jennifer from Pure Yoga Zone.
No one falls in unless they want to, Jennifer reassures me as we lower the boards into the water. She’s been running classes in London for a few months now and it’s been surprisingly popular.
There are three of us today – some beginners, others class regulars. We start paddling around resting on our knees to get used to the board. They’re wide and stable, so even someone as spatially unaware as me can cope.
“How often do you get to see London upside down from a giant floating surfboard?”
It’s a warm sunny evening. The water is calm and shopping trolley-free. Ducks bob along the surface and an old man is quieting snoring in his camping chair on a nearby canal boat. It’s surprisingly peaceful, despite being metres away from the bustling rush hour streets.
How does it work?
The class starts off with easy positions on our knees – forward bends, crouches, gentle back stretches – before slowly progressing into standing poses.
As we move, the board spins gently across the surface of the water. Sometimes it bumps into the side. You just have to push back off again and paddle back to the group. It never seems to drift too far away.
The idea is to keep your weight centred on the board. Poses that you’d normally find easy on land are more difficult on water. But as Jennifer explains, SUP yoga really forces you to engage your core muscles.
How? Well, there’s nothing like the fear of falling into a canal to make you want to stay on a board.
I thought I was doing pretty well. So far, I’d not fallen in.
As we came to sit down, I plonked myself down on the board a little too far back. The board dipped and my bum got soaked.
“What are those crazy people doing?”
The sun was beginning to set at one end of the canal. We were midway through Warrior pose (where you stand like an ancient Chinese warrior ready to pounce) when we heard a little girl’s voice behind us. “Do you mind if I take a photo?”
She was brandishing an iPad. Jennifer hesitated and looked as me. “Yeah, it’s fine!” I said. Further down the canal, I could see two men chuckling at us.
SUP yoga is clearly still a novelty for some Londoners, but I was really beginning to enjoy it. It’s surprisingly relaxing. The combination of lapping water and Jennifer’s voice circling was quite soothing.
I felt my biceps working as we held plank and calf muscles stretching as we posed in an upward V-shape for downward-facing dog. Plus how often do you get to see London upside down from a giant floating surfboard?
When you’ve spent the day cooped up inside an office, it’s refreshing to get outside on the water and try something entirely different. “You can see why it’s addictive, right?” says Jennifer.
By the end of the class, we’re trying out headstands. Yep, headstands. An hour earlier, I’d barely been able to stand upright without (nearly) bellyflopping off the board. Now we were attempt to balance on our heads.
Long gone were visions of awkward twists and toppling over into murky water. I walked back to the station, feeling pretty pleased with myself. Next summer’s evening, if it’s a choice of sitting in front of the TV or practicing SUP yoga on the canal, I know where I’d rather be.
SUP yoga classes with Pure Yoga Zone take place weekly in Paddington Basin and Kew Bridge, London. Prices start from £20 for one hour or £25 for a 90 minute class. For more details, visit their website.
Pure Yoga Zone are also holding a Stand Up For The Cure event in Paddington Basin, London on Friday 12 September 2014. It’s a day of SUP lessons, time trials racing and yoga followed with a mass paddle in the evening, in aid of a breast cancer charity. Find out more here.