SUP is an acronym for Stand Up Paddling, and it’s a peaceful way to enjoy your time on the water. Don’t be fooled, though. This sport requires increased proprioception in the feet, strong back and shoulder muscles, and good balance to remain upright on the board. The good news is that this perfect post-paddle session is a great way to rejuvenate the body after engaging in this sport.
I just returned from a month-long trip through the wilderness. Most of our time camping was spent near lakes, which is one of the most ideal places to stand up paddle. Many mornings I would rise while the water was glassy and the surroundings quiet. I’d grab my board, paddle, hat, and camera and get started as soon as I could.
The image you see at the top of this post was taken on Lake MacDonald, located on the south-west side of Glacier National Park. The other images in the remainder of this article are on a small lake in northern Idaho. Both excursions provided new perspectives of the shoreline. Plus, there were very few others on the water at this time so I used the rhythm of paddling as a moving meditation.
This post-paddling yin yoga session can be done on the board (as I’ve pictured here). Or you can put your gear away and take each asana on your yoga mat. You could even use these postures as a way to work with clients who regularly use these same muscle groups in their own sports (such as rowing, kayaking, or surfing).
Use your creativity to apply this sequence in ways that work best for you, and enjoy!
WHICH PARTS OF THE BODY ARE USED ON A SUP?
Just like when you cue a yoga pose for your students, you start from the foundation up. When you stand up paddle, your feet do an incredible amount of work. So whether you paddle with bare feet or wearing shoes, your feet relay information to your brain and body while you’re on the board. That’s proprioception. The feet are also constantly making micro-adjustments to keep you upright.
As you work up the body, you notice the calves also help stabilize you when on water. And while this diagram doesn’t highlight quads and outer hips, I would say both can be used to keep you balanced on the board. I bend my knees generously at times to generate power with my whole body. And, glute medius is a key player in helping your hips remain steady (whether walking or paddling).
The upper body is where many first-time paddlers experience the most sensation. All muscles in the arms come on board to displace water and propel you forward. But instead of burning out these smaller muscles and those of the deltoids, you want to engage the lats and rhomboids. These larger muscles of the back are what really give you the strength and stamina over time. Plus, a strong core will allow these elements of the upper body, and those of the lower body, to work in harmony with each stroke.
Each of these areas will be addressed in the post-paddle yin yoga sequence below. And no additional props will be needed for this practice.
Illustration Credit: Todd Detwiler
Purpose: First off, child’s pose is a resting posture. It’s a great way to induce the parasympathetic nervous system and shift gears from a paddling mindset into a yoga one. This pose also lengthens the entire back of the torso which did so much work when on the water.
Length: 2-3 minutes
Additional Notes: I suggest moving into a side stretch from here. Reach the arms forward and then off to the left side of the board or mat. This will lengthen the right side lats that worked when paddling. After 2 minutes on this side, walk the hands through center and over to the right. Then stretch the left side for 2 minutes as well.
Purpose: Cat / cow is an active yoga pose in the middle of this yin sequence to mobilize the spine. Said another way, it’s a counterpose to the previous posture. And, from this tabletop position, you can add in wrist or forearm stretches very easily.
Length: 2 minutes
- Invite students to move organically here (barrel rolls, side stretches, etc)
- Flip the direction of the fingers, pointing them toward the knees, to stretch the forearms and wrists.
(3) THREAD THE NEEDLE
Purpose: Thread the needle is an ideal post-paddle yin yoga stretch. You elongate the back side of the shoulder girdle, as well as the lats and outer hip. It’s also a stable posture that’s easy to do when on a SUP board or on a yoga mat.
Length: 2-3 minutes each side
Additional Notes: Start with an inhale to lift your left arm to the sky. Then use the exhale to weave that left arm behind the right wrist. The right arm, which now becomes the top arm, has lots of options from this point forward. You can keep the right hand on the floor or lift it to the sky. Or, you can invite students to wrap that right arm behind the back and grab on to the sacrum or left hip crease to deepen the stretch. Then, on the second side, the left arm will weave through and the right arm becomes the top arm.
(4) ANAHATASANA (PUPPY POSE)
Purpose: Puppy pose is a backbend that targets the upper and middle back–two areas of the body that are highly used when stand up paddling. This includes a deeper lat stretch with the arms overhead. It’s also a slight inversion, where the head is lower than the heart, enhances the relaxation response even more in the body.
Length: 1 minute
- Start with the hands shoulder-distance apart.
- Keep the hips over the knees.
- The toes can be tucked or untucked.
- You can also do this pose with one arm extended at a time to make it easier.
- Elbows can rest on the ground, and the hands can come to prayer behind the head to deepen the stretch.
Purpose: Named Dragon in the yin world and low lunge in the yang practice, this pose is a deep hip and groin opener. The hip flexor and quadriceps on the back leg elongate and the hamstrings on the front leg can also receive a stretch. The best part is that this posture becomes a gateway to create even more space in the body with the various options to follow.
- 5A: Dragon, with the right foot forward and both hands to the inside of the right foot.
- 5B: Twisted Dragon (option to keep the hand on the front thigh, or bend the back knee and reach for the foot on the back leg)
Length: 2-3 minutes in each variation
Additional Notes: You can get another wrist stretch here in the first version by adjusting the hands position. Simply turn the fingertips toward the hips to target the wrists and forearms.
(6) DOWNWARD FACING DOG
Purpose: The goal of placing adho mukha svanasana in this post-paddle yin session is to create symmetry in the body. At this point in time, only one side has been addressed via Dragon, so there will be contrast within the tissue. This provides an invitation to greater awareness of the inner landscape. And, it’s a wonderful way to re-lengthen the entire back line of the body.
Length: 30-60 seconds
- Child’s pose, taken at the beginning of class, is a great alternative to downward facing dog at this time if more rest is needed.
- Students can also take a twisted version of down dog to further lengthen the lats and entire side body.
(7) REPEAT STEPS 4-6 ON THE SECOND SIDE
Purpose: Steps 4-6 released tension in the middle and upper regions of the back. They also targeted the hip flexors and quadriceps. Even the twisted version has the potential to release any held tension in the core. Repeating these steps will balance out the body once again, especially as the asymmetrical version of Dragon done on the right side will now be done on the left.
Length: 4-7 minutes total
Additional Notes: Since this sequence ends in a symmetrical pose, you could do a different version of down-dog here… or take child’s pose the second time as a class.
(8) TOE SQUAT WITH GOMUKHASANA ARMS
Purpose: It’s time to give the feet some love in this post-paddle yin session. And instead of calling it toe torture, the yin tradition calls it a toe squat. In either case, the bottom of the foot gets elongated here. The toes also get a stretch and the ankles get strengthened. Not to mention this work stimulates all six lines of the meridians that run through the lower body.
I have paired this lower body stretch with gomukhasana arms. In this position, the shoulders go through internal and external rotation. Ideally, this will release any tension left over in this region from paddling.
Length: 1-2 minutes with each arm position
- Students can sit in virasana or vajrasana if toe squat is uncomfortable.
- Students can also stand on their knees, similar to camel, and work the arms from this position as well.
- If you cannot clasp the hands, use a belt or reach for your shirt, to get the best version of the arm position available to you at this moment. Think progress, not perfection.
Counter pose Suggestions:
- Come back to table top position and extend one leg behind you at a time. This stretches out the calves and feet.
- If you want another active pose amidst the stillness of yin, add in a table-top extension here. Or, another down dog might feel nice between sides.
(9) TOE SQUAT WITH ANOTHER BIND
Purpose: The goal with this suggested posture is to open up the shoulders symmetrically and release the anterior deltoid. While the toe squat is the lesser focus, spending a few more minutes opening up the bottom of the feet can be helpful too.
Length: 1 minute
- As before, this posture can be taken from a variety of seated positions.
- Focus more on creating space between the shoulders and the ears (elongating the upper trapezius).
- You can also fold the body forward into a version of hare (or rabbit) pose. This will lengthen the back body while opening the shoulders.
- Countering this posture with a child’s pose is nice as well.
Purpose: Even though this post-paddle yin yoga session is restorative in nature, the final sequence of it is designed to create another layer of stillness. Bridge grounds the body again with the feet and upper back on the mat. The hamstrings and glutes work just enough to open the anterior shoulders and hip flexors again. Plus, it’s another inversion to calm the mind.
Length: 2 minutes
Additional Notes: If you are in a studio, a block or bolster under the pelvis can be a great way to increase the restorative nature of this pose (and practice as a whole).
(11) RECLINED SPINAL TWIST
Purpose: It’s time to neutralize the spine with a reclined spinal twist. As you know, twists hydrate the intervertebral discs and help elongate the small muscles that support the vertebrae. Twists also invite you to turn inward and release any negative thoughts or emotions that are set on repeat.
Length: 3-5 minutes each side.
- Take a pause in savasana between sides to notice any changes in the body.
- Arms can be out in a “T” position, or in a cactus arm shape.
- Any leg position (one knee crossed over the other, or knees stacked) is fine.
(12) HAPPY BABY
Purpose: Happy baby is a symmetrical posture to open the inner groin and release any remaining tension in the low back.
Length: 1 minute
Additional Notes: You can keep the time frame short here to simply use this pose as a transition into savasana. Or, you can spend 2-3 minutes here and watch the experience change with each breath in this pose.
Purpose: Absorb the changes of your post-paddle yin practice in savasana. You can keep legs straight, take constructive rest, or even supta baddha konasana in this final portion of class. The point is to be comfortable in the body so the mind can also rest in the stillness you created with your practice. Savor it. Enjoy it! And if you’re outside, definitely take in the sounds and smells of your surroundings here.
Length: 5-7 minutes
Additional Notes: Pair any of our favorite quotes to end a yoga class with your final closing of class. This leaves your students encouraged in their practice and gives them a positive point of focus as they move into the next segment of their day.
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
Stand up paddling is a wonderful way to spend time on the water and explore your surroundings from a fresh vantage point. That being said, much of the body is engaged in order to stay balanced and move forward in this sport. That’s why a post-paddling yin yoga session can be a great way to restore balance to the body. Use this sequence any time just after paddling or even later that evening to get the most benefits from this sequence.
Take Action Now:
- Download this yin yoga sequence to use yourself, or with your water-loving students.
- Get on your mat and give yourself some TLC with this restorative sequence in the next 7 days!
- Check out bodies of water near you and see if you can rent a stand up paddle. I’ve done this at Lake Tahoe, Trying a new activity builds new neural networks in the brain and gives you a fresh perspective on life!
RECOMMENDED SUP BOARDS
I know that many of you are asking which SUP boards I recommend, and since I’ve had quite a few over the past decade, here are the ones I would suggest you look into if you’re serious getting on the water:
- The SurfTech Chameleon is a well-rounded board that is light-weight and easy to take on the road. In fact, this is the board that is pictured in this blog. It’s also the one I carry on the side of our van when we traverse the country.
- The POP 12″ Americana is another board I currently own. It’s thick, fast, and made for racing. Although I’ve never entered an event, this board is wonderful for paddling long distances and conserving energy along the way.
There are many inflatable SUPs on the market today, including the ISLE Pioneer or RedPaddle’s Ride. Despite the compact nature of these boards when traveling, I have found them far less sturdy on the water. Got other SUP questions? Send me an email and I’ll happily respond to your inquiry.