Stand Up Paddle Board Yoga – A Detailed Guide

Woman practicing Lord of the Dance

Even though yoga and paddleboards have been around for quite some time now, the combination between those two is just now gaining popularity. The calming feel of water splashing on your board combined with your favorite yoga pose is an experience everyone should go through at least once. This is why more and more people are getting into paddle board yoga and enjoying the many benefits this activity presents.

Stand up paddle board yoga is an activity that will not only fine-tune your body and mind but will also greatly improve your conditioning. While it takes some time to adjust to the whole nature of the process, it generally is a very beginner-friendly activity. With few dry-land practices, you will be able to start getting into the pool, the lake, or even the ocean. Once you get to that stage it will be time to practice and perfect some typical SUP yoga poses, such as the Child’s pose, Downward dog, and finish things off in the Savasana pose. 

Before we dive deeper into this topic and check out some of my favorite poses, let’s first answer a few important questions…

What is stand up paddle board yoga?

The answer to that question might be simpler than you think. SUP yoga is basically what it sounds – yoga performed on top of a paddle board. Compared to traditional yoga, this type of practicing it is quite new, even though evidence of yoga practiced on top of paddle boards can be traced back to the beginning of the 20th century.

Usually, it is practiced in calm waters, such as in a lake. Waves aren’t desirable since you will need a lot of board stability. This type of yoga can combine vinyasa yoga asanas, hatha yoga, or other poses that are combined with surfing the paddle board.

Beginners usually start training on the ground or in shallow swimming pools before they build up confidence and take their SUP to a larger body of water. With the improvement of balance, many people opt for trying it out in fluid waters, such as the ocean.

Even though a good inflatable SUP will get the job done, there are other specially designed models for this purpose. They are wider, more stable, and therefore harder to tip over when you move about. Now, let’s check out which are the most notable benefits of this activity…

What are the benefits of paddle board yoga?

Woman doing yoga

There are many reasons why you should at least try doing SUP yoga. There are many advantages and little to no disadvantages, except if you are afraid of getting wet every once in a while. Some of the main reasons and benefits of this activity:

  • It helps you focus

One major benefit of SUP yoga is that it really helps you focus on your breath. In fact, a very famous yoga method (Ujjayi Pranayama, also called “Ocean Breath”) is based on the sound of the ocean which is believed to calm down your mind. There is extensive research stemming from that claim which has proven that the sound of the ocean in fact makes us more relaxed and focused. And what better way to hear the sound of the ocean than be in the middle of it while practicing yoga? Exactly. Having the gentle ocean move its way around your paddle board will tune you to one of the most crucial aspects of yoga – your own breath.

  • It improves mindfulness

Mindfulness is becoming harder and harder with the involvement of more distractions in our lives. It is now surprisingly easy to veer from the matter at hand and not pay full attention to what is happening at this exact moment. Your thoughts can steer you away from your body and create an unhealthy environment which often results in anxiety.

Doing yoga on top of a paddle board is challenging. There is no way around this. But that is exactly why it helps you keep your mind in the present moment since it requires your full attention and concentration in order to keep a steady pose and control your movements.

  • It is empowering

Ask every paddle board beginner what was their first feeling when they stepped on that SUP and paddled away. Now, ask someone who tried SUP yoga for the first time what was their first feeling. Both groups of people will probably tell you that it felt as close as possible like walking on water or simply that it was empowering. The fact that you have to focus on yourself and your pose, and on not falling really teaches you to “let go of the fear”. When you first step on land after that you will feel like you’ve conquered new highs and very often you will simply hear the person say that it felt… you guessed it – empowered.

  • It will improve and refine your yoga techniques

Doing yoga on an unstable surface such as an SUP is tricky. For that reason, most of the techniques you practice there will require a little more attention, as I already mentioned a few times. That is why you will have to pretty much start perfecting your craft once you are in the water. One example of that theory is the following: Imagine doing a downward dog and you accidentally put more weight to either side, what do you think will happen? You will get wet, that’s what. Your board lets you know every time you do a pose incorrectly and that is the prime reason SUP yoga takes it to the next level.

  • It gives you a different kind of workout

This one is pretty simple. One of the main benefits of paddle boarding is that it engages more muscles than normal exercises. This is particularly valid for paddle boarding yoga, as it tends to work on the muscle you typically neglect during your on-land session.

I also want to mention one other very important aspect of SUP yoga and a tremendous benefit…

  • It is fun!

The rush from not falling in the water is quite spectacular even when you gather some experience. When you go into deep waters it still takes a little bit of courage to stand with one leg in the air on your paddle board. The peculiar feel of adrenaline mixed with tranquility really gets you wanting more and more of this and is the reason why so many people make it a goal to do SUP yoga at least once a day/week.

As conclusion, there are many arguments that can be made for practicing yoga out in the waters. Still, what really sets this apart from any other similar activity is the combination between the connection with nature, the fresh air, the sound of the waves, the vitamin D, and the beautiful scenery you get to enjoy all the time.

If you’ve gotten so far down, you have probably already made up your mind that you should try doing yoga on top of your paddle board. So, here are some of my favorite poses that are beginner-friendly and are a great introduction to this type of yoga.

10 SUP yoga poses that you have to try

woman yoga

There are undoubtedly countless poses one can learn to practice on an SUP. I like to start things off simple, though, and this is why I will give you some of my favorite poses which are quite well-known and easy enough to try out on your first trip out in the water.

There are four major tips I like to give people when it comes to SUP yoga. Those are:

  • Keep your eyes set on one point (either the horizon or a point on a nearby ground). That will help you keep your balance better.
  • The handle of the paddle board is usually its center of mass. Try to position yourself around it.
  • Make slow, even breaths
  • Move with half the speed with which you move on land

Now, let’s go through the 10 poses I got prepared for you…

Child’s Pose

Start with your navel point right above the middle of the board (or the handle). Keep your knees wide and touch your feet with your toes. Sink the hip into your heels and rest your body forward until your forehead touches the board. Extend your arms as much as you want in front of you or put them to the site gently feeling the water.

Easy Seated Pose

Face the front part of your board. Sit by placing your hips in the middle of the board and rest your hands on your knees. After that sit straight and take deep long abdominal breaths. While you are in this pose try to feel your surroundings. Notice how the water rocks your paddle board. Hear the waves.

Downward-Facing Dog

Get into a table top pose first. Then slowly send the hips back and up while trying to straighten your legs. Pick a point behind you in which you can concentrate and stick with it. Take a few deep breaths and settle in the pose.

Pro Tip: In order to protect your wrists from unnecessary strain, make sure you are pressing down on your thumb and index finger.

Upward-Facing Dog

Upward-Facing Dog

For either upward dog or cobra, lay on your belly and place your body in the middle of the SUP. Put your hands underneath your shoulders and draw the elbows closer together. Take a breath and lift your chest, head, and shoulders up. The difference for the upward dog pose is that you need to place the hands a bit further back, near your ribs. When you start pressing against the paddle board, engage your quad muscles. If you can, try lifting your knees as well.

Plank

From the downward dog pose, move forward and place your shoulders right above your wrists. Create a non-interrupted straight line from the top of your head to your heels and engage your core muscles. You can make this pose harder by lifting one leg after the other. If you want it to be a notch easier, put your knees on the paddle board.

Wide-Legged Standing Forward Fold

This pose starts from a low lunge. Place both your hands inside your front knee and move to the side of the board. Keep the pressure on your hands even as you rotate on your the ball of your feet. Once you are done rotating, place your heels down reaching the other site of the board, while keeping balance. The distance between your feet and your hands should be the same as you have it on land. Keep the hands under the shoulders, the legs wider than your hip and have your toes turned in slightly.

Half Camel

Kneel around the center of your board and place one of your hands on your feet to support your backward arch. Lift the hips as you lift your other hand up. Tuck your toes and try to keep a good balance on the board. Don’t forget to switch sides!

Bridge Pose

This pose starts with you laying on your back. For orientation, your sacrum should be around the middle point of the paddle board. Bend your knees and plant your feet flat on the board as close to your body so that you can touch your heels with your hands. The feet should be wider than your hip but not by too much. Now lift the hip. If you want more height out of this pose, use your hands and straighten them up beneath your head slightly wider than your shoulders. If you want to challenge yourself, lift one of your legs.

Sleeping Pigeon

This is one of my favorite poses, especially when done over a paddle board in the water. Start by having your groin area over the handle of your SUP. Put one of your legs in front of your body in a 90-degree angle, while keeping the other leg straight on the board (knee down). Reach forward with both your hands and lay on your front leg. Place your palms on the board and take a few breaths. Change up the legs and repeat.

Savasana

Lastly, I always do the Savasana pose at the end of my session. It brings me serenity and joy just to relax and focus on everything around me in this very moment. The sun is shining on my skin, my hands are touching the water, I am hearing the waves. Life is beautiful.

Necessary gear for your first SUP yoga experience

Set of stand-up

Obviously one of the first things you need is a paddle board. There are a lot of models out there that are specifically designed for yoga. They are usually wider and shorter than normal SUPs. They also have a very flat deck compared to traditional models like the Isle Airtech Inflatable Paddle Board.

Look for boards that have a soft deck padding which goes all the way to the tail and nose of your board. That will allow you to hold poses while maintaining a good level of comfort. Choosing the right paddle board size can be tricky, especially if you are only looking for a yoga one, so always keep that in mind. Head over to my detailed article if you want to read up more on the subject!

Another obvious item you will need is the paddle. Once you reach your destination the paddle will become obsolete so you will need a find a place for it. Typically, I put it on the nose of the board beneath some strap cord. That keeps it in check and doesn’t disrupt my session.

If you are new to yoga or to paddleboarding, in general, you will need a leash. It is what will keep you and the paddle board tethered at all times.

One thing that is an absolute must here is your PFD (personal flotation device). I always wear one, although different states have different requirements. Another thing that will help you in a bad situation is an emergency whistle. It won’t take up any space but has the potential to save a life in a hairy situation.

Do you need an anchor?

Typically, you don’t have to use an anchor, although most people don’t like drifting in some direction while they are doing yoga. That is why they get anchors, especially if they are practicing group yoga. You can use a fishing anchor that is specifically designed for small boats, SUPs, and kayaks. Here is how to use it:

  • Attach it to the leash attachment point of your board
  • Paddle to a place where the water is deep enough (10-15 ft)
  • Roll it down
  • Once it hits the bottom roll down a few more feet
  • Wrap the excess rope around the nose of your paddle board

What to wear?

Young surfer in life jacket

Apart from your personal flotation device (if mandatory), you can wear any type of top or t-shirt. A top that you would typically wear on a run or in the gym is going to be perfect for the occasion, since it is light and breathable, as well as quick-drying.

One of the best bottom options for SUP yoga is leggings. They are good for the same reasons as the running top. If you don’t like wearing leggings, though, any type of shorts or bottoms is going to be fine, as long as you feel good in it.

Most people wear slip-on shoes or neoprene socks, although I personally prefer wearing nothing, as that allows me to feel the board better with my feet. Bonus points – it feels especially nice when I dip my toes in the water.

One yoga session can get you all steamed up so it is also important to get a hoodie to keep your muscles warm during the warm up and warm down parts. They also double as a “Savasana blanket”, aka nap time.

Additional Items

Some additional items that you can bring along are:

  • A real blanket
  • A dry (waterproof) bag for all your stuff.
  • Water bottle
  • A towel

A few extra tips

For anyone who is truly new to all this, I have prepared some more tips, that can really improve your experience. Here they are:

  • Try finding a sheltered water spot – Waves can really ruin your experience and make it almost impossible for you to practice your yoga poses. Find a place that is sheltered from the wind and doesn’t have a ton of boat traffic.
  • Stay away from crowds – If you don’t like everyone staring at you, make sure you find a place where you will be alone with yourself and your paddle board. typically, the further from the beach, the better.
  • Don’t move as fast as you normally do – if you are doing SUP yoga for the first time, take your time with your movements and use half the speed with which you do your poses on the ground.
  • Keep your stance wide – when on your paddle board it is hard to keep poses that need your feet to stay together. The optimal pose for balance is when you keep your feet at least at shoulder width.
  • Always keep at least two points of contact with your board – Believe me, you might learn this the hard way. Eagle pose, Tree pose, or others that need you to stay on one leg are a big no-no here. Apart from keeping at least two points of contact, try practicing poses that align your body perpendicularly to the SUP instead of parallel.
  • Embrace the experience – Just as with life, you cannot control all the possible outcomes. Every now and then your board will drift in a random direction or a way might set you off-balance. That is something you need to embrace and recognize.

If you want to check out some of my general tips for paddleboarding rookies, head over to my detailed article on the topic!

Final Words

There are a few things that you should have taken home with you from this stand up paddle board yoga guide. The first thing is that there is nothing out there quite like practicing yoga when floating on calm waters. It energizes your body, relaxes your mind, and improves your yoga poses tremendously. Another thing is to be careful what type of paddle board you choose. Typically, most people would say that any paddle board would do the job but there are certain aspects which will make it a better fit for yoga. Those are a wider body and a soft deck padding from nose to tail. What’s left is for you to learn some of the basic poses and get started!