How to Survive a SUP Yoga Retreat

Reflections on my first SUP yoga vacation

One of the definitions of retreat is to flee in battle in order to escape imminent death at the hands of your enemies. When it comes to escaping the hectic, frantic, frenetic pace of being a mom raising children in the modern world, this definition is pretty accurate. So when my BFF asked me to attend a local SUP yoga retreat with her, I glanced over at my bickering kids and I waved the white flag in surrender. Yes, I said. I totally want to get out of town for the weekend, even if it means I have to do yoga.

 

My relationship status with yoga: it’s complicated.

 

I guess yoga and I have friend-zoned each other. I mean, I like yoga (yoga and I go way back together. I was an avid daily yoga practitioner and I’m even a 200-hr registered yoga teacher through the Yoga Alliance) but I completely burned myself out and it’s been slow going to rekindle the yogic flame. As for SUP, I totally dig stand up paddle boarding on calm water and occasionally going down the river, but for some reason, the combination of SUP and Yoga made me cringe. Maybe because the previous yoga retreats I’ve attended have been, well, intense.

 

I’ve endured yoga before sunrise, yoga in a cabin so cold I could see my breath, passing the Talking Stick to open up about our innermost fears and insecurities, deep meditation, pranayama, chakra releasing and of course, hours upon hours of yoga. So I approached this SUP yoga retreat with trepidation. I wasn’t sure I was up for this. I’m older now and quite frankly, I’m tired. I didn’t want to come home more emotionally drained and exhausted than I left. I needed an actual vacation.

But in the spirit of adventure, the spirit of honoring my commitments, and most importantly, the spirit of non-refundable payments, I packed up my car, picked up my friend and headed to the mountains.

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(A SUP yoga retreat in the mountains requires more changes of clothes and layers than simply slinging a bikini in a beach bag. Click here to grab the printable SUP yoga packing list that I made for you.)

 

My BFF insisted we listen to the new musical Hamilton for the entire 2 1/2 hour drive to the lake. (Yes, she was right. Hamilton is amazing. Listen on Spotify, buy the recording for everyone you know, and then go see it on Broadway.) When we arrived at the cabin and pulled into the long driveway, I took a good long look at our surroundings and sighed. In a good way. The backyard unfolded into stone steps descending onto a private sandy beach, where the lake lapped at the sand. A very pissed off squirrel chittered in the pine trees above us reminding us that we weren’t in the city anymore.

So if you’re thinking about a SUP Yoga Retreat (or a Yoga Retreat), how will you survive it if you’re new to stand up paddle boarding, new to yoga and you don’t know anybody there? A few simple guidelines will make it smooth sailing and soul filling. You’ll not only survive, you’ll thrive.

Make New Friends

We were greeted at our SUP Yoga Girls Camp with warm hellos and delicious, lovingly prepared vegan appetizers. We introduced ourselves and picked out our beds, as we were all staying together in one rustic cabin. And by rustic, I mean a giant taxidermied moose head on the wall was being used at a hat rack and eight women would be sharing two bathrooms.


Most of the women didn’t know each other beforehand but were brave enough to sign up for the retreat on their own. One of the women confided that she was nervous about not knowing anyone and her confident 5-year old told her, “Mommy, you’re going to camp and you’re going to make so many new friends!” And you know what? That clever 5-year old was right.

 

Be Willing To “Fail”

After our appetizers and introduction, one of our retreat hosts told us the story that when she was growing up, each night at the dinner table her father would ask her, “what did you fail at today?” Because of course, if you don’t put yourself out there, don’t try new things, are unwilling to risk, you’re missing out on the full experience of life. If she would recount a “failure”, he would high-five her at the table.

 

Many of the retreat attendees had even never been on a SUP board before, much less practiced yoga on one, but they were reasonably athletic and definitely willing to try.

 

Make an Effort

First up, we had to pump up the inflatable boards, which was followed by safety rules and basic instructions. (By the way, I tried hardboard and inflatable and much preferred hardboard. Others liked their inflatables just as much as the hardboards, so this might come down to personal preference. We used boards from Isle SUP, Glide and Saturn and we all swapped to try out the different brands.)

 

We had to get up early. We had to follow safety protocol in order to meet legal requirements. Most importantly, we had to make an effort on the board. Try the poses, experiment and see what happens.

 

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No, I don’t need any help, girl. I got this. How hard can pumping up an inflatable board be?
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Hey, this isn’t as easy as it looks!

Enjoy the Present Moment

As I lay in bed, looking out the window onto the trees and water, a fellow yogini brought me a mug of coffee in bed. We had to hit the water before the boaters and jet skiers powered up for the day or the water was too choppy for yoga. This meant that we had to hit the water early in the morning, in bathing suits on a paddle board by 8 am.


After our morning sessions of SUP and delicious breakfast, we had play time on the boards. As I paddled along the shoreline, an otter swam through the lake to the sand. Osprey and hawks circled above the water as they fished for their morning meal. Fish occasionally jumped out of the lake with small splashes that echoed across the quiet. (Why do fish jump? Are they jumping for joy?)


The afternoons were our own and filled with peace and quiet. Most of us catnapped on the beach. NOTE: remember to put sunscreen on the BACK of your legs too…

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SUP yoga as a class requires quite a bit of setup for the teacher to get the boards aligned in a way that students can hear her and see her, plus she needs the added ability to navigate around the class on her board. There’s no hands on adjusting involved, just vocal cues. You’re not looking at anyone else, you can’t. You have to focus on your hand/foot placement and your balance. The occasional yelp and splash is common place.


But it’s fun. You test your limits. You reach new levels.

 

Take a Nap

Self-care is often at the bottom of the list (if it even makes it on to the To Do List). We need rest, connection and meaning. And naps…did I mention naps?

Things I learned at my yoga retreat:

  • Paddle boarding is even more fun than it looks.
  • Stand up paddle board yoga is even harder than it looks.
  • You’re going to fall in anyway, so you might as well reach for it.
  • Vegan food can be astonishingly delicious.
  • Beach yoga is the bomb.
  • A SUP Yoga Retreat is like Girls Camp, except you’re not an awkward tween anymore and there’s the possibility of adult beverages.
  • American women are exhausted and need to retreat to restore their vitality. You need this in your life.

 

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Do you hear that? I asked my friend. The squirrels? The wind? (When the wind rushes through pine and aspen, it sounds like water.)? No, it’s the sound of no one saying “Mom! Mom! Mom!” every thirty seconds. It’s the sound of respite and the sound of relief.

I continually brought my attention back to the present moment.

Gentle indian yoga music poured over us from a portable speaker as we practiced hatha yoga on the beach in the lazy warmth of the afternoon. The occasional drunken powerboater would whoop and holler at us and we laughed. The experience of the sun on my back, sand on my mat and wind through my hair was incomparable. Beach yoga takes yoga to a whole other level.

Beach Yoga is the Best Yoga
You're gonna fall in anyway, so you might as well reach for it.
You’re gonna fall in anyway, so you might as well reach for it.
I have a love/hate relationship with yoga because yoga is a reflection of our relationship with ourselves and life. It’s challenging. It requires discipline. It requires attention on when to push ourselves and when to pull back. I find that SUP yoga is a gentler, more lighthearted form of asana. That’s not to say it isn’t hard, yeah of course it’s hard. You’re balancing on a wobbly board in the water. Falling in is inevitable. Balance, concentration and mindset are paramount. But hey, it’s also just yoga on a surf board. So it’s a reminder to lighten up and quite literally, get into the flow.

 

A yoga retreat is as varied as yoga teachers. Amsha Yoga Vacations based in Boise, Idaho worked hard to strike the balance between relaxation and rejuvenation along with inner and outer work of meditation, yoga and SUP yoga. This was truly a yoga vacation, not a yoga intensive. For more info on SUP Yoga, check out the Yoga Journal’s resources and be sure to check out Amber and Natasha’Amsha Yoga Vacations, who hosted this retreat at Lake Cascade, Idaho.

 

Namaste and keep paddling!

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