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What Happens When You Do Yoga While Attempting to Float on Open Water

For gym bunnies who are sick of dry land, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) yoga offers a new way to get sweaty. We surfed over to give it a try.
July 6, 2016, 3:26pm

"OK," says Sophy Aykroyd, a smiley woman in brightly coloured leggings. "Now stand up."

Standing up is one of the few instructions I'd normally be able to handle in a yoga class, but at this particular yoga class, I'm sat on a foam board and floating on open water. If I stand up, I will fall in. About 15 minutes ago I'd waved away the suggestion that I wear a wetsuit despite not having brought a change of clothes.

Read more: Stretching the Limits at Reformer Pilates With a Movable Torture Rack

Thinking of the train home, dripping wet and covered in bits of Paddington Basin (a lovely canal-like area in central London, but still not something you want to be covered in while sat on a train), I get to my feet as my board wobbles and my legs shake violently. The photographer gives me a bit of encouragement. Then I remember I'm standing on a surfboard. I feel like a hero.

"Now we're going to do a brief sun salutation," Aykroyd beams. "Raise your hands above your head and—" I lift one arm about two inches, lurch to the right, panic, and revert to a position known as "girl lying on a paddleboard because she is frightened."

Stand-up paddleboarding (known as SUP) is the fastest growing water sport in the UK, with around 50,000 participants and a 60-40 gender split in favour of women. There are other purveyors of paddleboards in the country, but Active360, who are running the class I'm attempting, is the most popular. While SUP is stand-up paddling in open water, SUP yoga is an offshoot that is, well, sort of self-explanatory.

"Not only are you getting the benefit of the yoga," explains Aykroyd, who has been a yoga and Pilates teacher for 17 years and an SUP convert since 2013. "But you're getting the added benefit of stand-up paddleboarding, which is just so excellent for toning. Your body is constantly engaging muscles to prevent yourself from falling in, meaning it's a much more intense core workout than if you were stood on the ground."

Thing is, I'm really awful at yoga. We start off alternating between table pose, child's pose and cobra—the latter essentially being the easy "get down on all fours and lie on your front" pose. Still, my entire body and my core muscles vibrate to such a degree that I'm surprised Dan the photographer manages to get a shot of me that isn't motion-blurred.

Despite this, it's way more enjoyable than your average beginners class on solid ground—where very lean people wind their legs twice around their face and up through their lungs—because you're on water. Pretty much anything you do that isn't getting out of said water while crying becomes impressive.

On top of the self-esteem boost, once you've successfully done one of the poses, your body begins to gradually adapt as your confidence on the board spirals upwards. After a downward dog, I am flushed with pride. After a fairly simple sideways bend, I'm visualizing telling everyone in the pub later on about how great I am.

After 20 minutes I complete a backwards bend and become the change I want to see in the world. I feel like a Spider-Man Gandhi, if either of them did paddle boarding and both of them were real (I know Gandhi is real).

Bit by bit, this weird new center of gravity normalizes until 40 minutes into the hour-long session, I'm casually doing a sun salutation in front of loads of business people eating their lunch who—if I'm honest—barely look up because they probably see this sort of thing constantly. May I add that the sun salutation is constant movement and involves a lot of getting up and then getting back down again? May I also add that, in my head, everyone has thrown their sandwiches to one side and are on their feet applauding me like the champion I have become?

A champion who, during the hour-long session, has grown a few more abs. Because that's how exercise works, right?

"You're burning through a serious amount of calories doing this, because at no point is your body relaxed," Aykroyd tells me. "Even when you're just paddleboarding without the yoga, that's working your upper body, your back muscles, your abs, your legs, everything is engaging.

"When your muscles shake, that's when you're really working, and really getting the benefit—so it's good to try and work with that shaking, without straining too much."

So yes, judging by the sweat collecting in the small of my back, I'm pretty sure I grew roughly three abs. These abs are, crucially, still dry-ish (I haven't fallen into the water, but like I said, I have a lot of sweat on my back).

"With yoga and Pilates, people do fall in a lot," she laughs as we paddle back to the pavement. "I don't want to put people off though! It's still a lot of fun, and it tends to happen more when you're battling the elements—wind, rain and, if we do it on the actual Thames, there's a much stronger current."

Active360 run SUP yoga and just plain SUP all over the UK (they also organize international SUP expeditions, and this winter are going out to Sardinia), so it's worth checking what the conditions are like if you're a bit worried about the potential for waves. When I called, Aykroyd recommended Paddington Basin because it has the calmest waters—ideal for beginners.

Read more: If You Want to Hang Out in a Silk Womb-Hammock, Aerial Yoga Is for You

In fact, the sport is pretty much ideal for anyone; once you've conquered a warrior pose—or even just a nice bit of standing—on the water, I challenge you not to walk around all day with a huge smile on your face. Plus, you'll become aware of muscles you've never noticed before—which, as anyone knows, are the mark of a top workout. Five stars, would recommend to a friend. Just avoid doing it in strong winds.

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This article was presented by Danone and was created independently from Broadly's editorial staff.