Thursday, May 24, 2018
Health

Paddleboard yoga mixes fitness with pleasure

I'm not exactly what you would call athletic. Don't get me wrong, I'm no couch potato, but I guess when it comes to exercising, I may have commitment issues.

Some people wake up every day at the crack of dawn to run five miles, others hit the gym religiously to lift weights. Me? I've tried both — and zumba, kickboxing, pilates and more — and the closest I've come to that kind of devotion was skipping out of a night class early to watch The Biggest Loser finale. At some point, they all became too repetitive, too expensive or, let's be honest, too hard. But I'm always searching for something new.

That's how I found myself on a pier in Clearwater Beach a recent Wednesday night, ready to do yoga on a paddleboard nearly 12 feet long and 33 inches wide. The idea is a core workout double whammy, with yoga poses that lengthen and strengthen the muscles while the paddleboard forces you to contract your abdominals for balance.

The dilemma started the day before. What do I wear? A swimsuit? Workout clothes? I opted for a sports bra and lycra shorts with a bikini bottom underneath because, let's face it, the odds of me ending up in the water were pretty high considering I had never even touched a paddleboard before.

As it turns out, that was the right choice. There were seven women signed up for class that day. I was relieved to find out most had no clue what they were doing either. Instructor Karen Mirlenbrink, a member of the competitive YOLO Board Elite Team, helped each of us get onto the board on our knees and told us to start paddling.

"How do I stand up on this thing?" I asked.

"Just be confident," said Courtney King, a veteran paddler. "Just believe you can do it and go one foot after another."

Seems a little too inspirational quote-like for me, but I had no choice but to try. Deep breath, here goes nothing … and she was right! All of us were paddling and ready to start.

The first few deep breaths and forward bends were a little tricky as I was still focused on balancing and keeping dry, but before I knew it, I was in the middle of a sun salutation, and did I just jump forward from downward facing dog?

As we moved on to warrior positions and hip stretches, however, things got a little trickier.

"She's in the water! Baptized!" screamed Mirlenbrink as the first of our group fell with a splash. "See? She fell and she's alive. Let's go!"

It wasn't long before I got wet too, but instead of public humiliation, it was more of a bonding moment, all of us laughing and hopping right back up on our boards with Mirlenbrink as our cheerleader. This wasn't the most technical class, but it sure was fun.

Every few positions we had to paddle our way back to the group as the current drifted us apart. The sunset was coming down as we reached our back stretches and a few baby dolphins and their mothers swam by at just enough of distance for us to know they wouldn't knock us over. Then came the end-of-class meditation: lay down on your back on your board, close your eyes and focus on the sounds. I could feel the water under me in soft waves, birds chirping right above me and a light breeze. This is a workout? That was the most relaxed I ever felt.

An hour after we started it was over. We paddled in unison and looking surprisingly at ease back to the docks and hopped off our boards, with each of us thinking about doing it again or paddleboarding in the summer. I was even more sold on the idea the next day, when I woke up to sore shoulders, abs and arms. So it was a hard workout after all.

But for $30 per class, once a week, I can deal with it.

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