By Vanessa Fleming, Summersalt Yoga teacher
“Feel each and every fibre in your muscles, root to top. Move with integrity, and feel each and every single step, down to your bones.”
I’ve said this approximately 1000 times over the last few weeks since we started the SUP Yoga retreats. Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. Point being, I’m so fascinated with how much attention you are almost forced to pay to your yoga practice on the SUP board. Feeling each muscle fire, feeling every single step forward and backwards, feeling the core and energy…all working harmoniously and simultaneously to create the connection between you, your board, and your movement.
When we practice on land, we do not have the added challenge of wavy waters underneath our feet. We reach, we stretch, and if we move a little too fast, we may stumble a little, but we regroup and keep going. When we move a little too fast on the SUP board, we tumble into the water.
The slow and steady movement to keep us firmly planted is the key to not tumbling into the water. But what is really happening through these slow and mindful movements is creating a deeper connection to the body and how the mind reacts, focuses, and adapts.
Each week, I’ve watched each student take these measures of mindfulness into account. I’ve seen them flourish of understanding of what the different asanas are about. What I find the most interesting, however, is how slowing these movements down on the boards brings a deeper understanding of the functional aspects of the poses to each student. When you have a chance to feel down to the bones, to the fibre of muscles, you have a chance to bear witness to the essential core of stimulating the Parasympathetic Nervous System.
That’s your calm, cool, and collected state. It’s the opposite of your “Fight or Flight” mode, also known as your Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS). Over time, too much exposure to SNS has the possibility to bring on ailments such as adrenal fatigue, chronic illness, prolonged tension, and can go as far as chronic or autoimmune diseases.
But here’s the irony about SUP yoga…Fight or Flight can quickly be engaged, if we lose our balance or sense of mindfulness. Once those are gone, in the water we go. The suddenness can fire up adrenaline or anxiety pretty quickly.
But the benefits I’ve seen from everyone far outweigh the little bit of risk of getting a little wet. (Or a lot of wet). Even when people have fallen in, surprise and anxiety is fleeting. The pure joy on their faces as they emerge from underwater is such a moment of presence, a moment of connection for all of us, and a moment of congratulations. Because falling in isn’t bad! It’s good! It is here, right now. It’s not the fact that you fall, it’s how you handle it and recover from it.
Besides, there’s a beer waiting for you, from me, if you’re the first one to fall in.