3 ways to use your paddle as a SUP yoga prop
Written by Lauren J. Fields, owner of Yoga to You PDX
When practicing yoga in a studio, we typically have access to many props such as blocks, straps, bolsters, and chairs. On our paddle boards, our props are limited. But did find one hidden gem… our Werner paddle. Below are some simple ways that you can use your paddle to support you in yoga poses while on a Stand Up Paddle board.
Posture 1: Tree Pose with Paddle
Tree posture is ironically one of the trickiest balance postures to do on a board, but is one the easier ones to do on land. How to begin? Begin in table top position. Bring one foot to either side of the handle, finding balance in the center which is the most balanced part of the board. From here, slowly bring your feet closer together with a heel-toe motion until you are almost (but not totally) in mountain pose. At this point, your paddle will be used to help you the rest of the way.
Tree posture is ironically one of the trickiest balance postures to do on a board, but is one the easier ones to do on land.
Hold the middle part of the shaft with one hand and use the other hand to grab the handle (grip) and press down into the board for balance. Don’t hold back, press down as if you are pushing through the board. Once you feel strong pushing the paddle down into the board, you can challenge yourself by bringing the heel up slowly. Guide it towards the skin of the inner shin. Feel as if you are trying to pull the skin of your inner ankle and shin upwards towards your knee. Simultaneously push downward onto your paddle grip. With this combination of downward and upward motion, natural resistance will be created. Increased balance will be the result! Stay as long as you like, keeping a soft bend in the knee of the standing leg. Spread all your toes and press them into your “mat” (i.e. your board). Remember to relax and breathe naturally.
Posture 2: Low Lunge or Warrior One with a Side Bend
Open up your psoas major with these yummy side bends. Did you know that your psoas major is one of the two most powerful hip flexors in the body? With all of our driving, sitting, and Netflix watching, this muscle can become tight and shortened. Since it originates from the lumbar spine and inserts into the lesser trochanter of the femur, a tight psoas can lead to a grumpy lower back. This pose will simultaneously create strength and flexibility for this muscle, which will inspire a happier back and more flexible hips. There are two ways to do this side bend. The first option is for all levels, for those who are new to SUP yoga and aren’t as comfortable standing up yet. The second option is an intermediate pose. Remember that it’s all about what works for you! Your body, your practice, your limits!
All Levels Option: Low Lunge with a Side Bend
From a seated position, come to your hands and knees. Wait! Where’s your paddle? It’s better to not search for it once you are situated in your posture. Set yourself up for success by placing the paddle horizontally, holding the middle part of the shaft at about shoulder-width distance or slightly wider. In order to use the paddle for balance, you will be press the grip (the t-bar handle) into the board and let the blade shoot skyward (at a 90-degree angle to the board). Make sure that you have two hands in each of the upper 2 quadrants and that your knees are in the lower two quadrants of the board. Place your navel over the handle. Now you’re ready to step your leg forward. To come up to the low lunge position, imagine you are trying to pull your back knee and front heel toward one another. Lift your pubic bone upwards towards your navel by guiding the sitting bones downward (think slight tuck) and forward. Welcome to your hip flexor stretch; it feels SO good! The psoas connects all the way up to your T12, which is the lower part of your middle back. In order to really get into the full span of the muscle, a side bend needs to happen. Time to release that sassy (i.e. mom) hip! Bring your attention to your front leg and then to your hip. Begin to activate your hip muscles, no flopping into the hip joint please! This will create a unilateral contraction of the psoas major, actively shortening the spine on the right. Bring the hip and shoulder closer to one another. Press the paddle grip down into the board as if you are going to press through the board and into the water. Use this paddle support to further open your left side body, feeling the stretch all the way from the ribs, to the hip flexors, and (maybe) even into your front thigh. How do we come out of the pose? Push your front foot and back knee downward into your board like your pressing through the board or as if you were going to stand up. This movement will activate the trunk muscles and tell them to bring you back to a neutral posture. Lower the paddle while keeping the hands on the middle shaft. Transition through table top pose and enjoy on the other side!
Intermediate/Advanced Option: Warrior One with a Side Bend
For those of you who feel a bit more comfortable on the board, you may try Warrior One with a side bend. This is a great pose to test the balance! It will create the same opening in the hip flexor as well as a lovely and yummy lateral stretch to your spine.
Warrior One with Side Bend
This pose will simultaneously create strength and flexibility for this muscle, which will inspire a happier back and more flexible hips.
Place your paddle horizontally across the board below you. Begin in a standing forward fold. Step one leg back into Pyramid posture. Check your quadrants and align your pubic bone near the handle of the board, finding a strong center of gravity. While you are in pyramid posture, place both hands on the paddle shaft about shoulder-distance width or wider. Your paddle will be coming up with you into Warrior One. Now it’s time for lift off! Bend your front knee and push your feet downward into the board, as if you are pressing through the board to activate natural trunk stability. You are activating your muscles while not changing their length because they are not actually moving. This movement will float you up to your Warrior legs. Hold the paddle, hands firmly wrapped around the middle shaft (shoulder-distance or wider) and lift it slightly overhead (forward and upward). Come into your Warrior One pose. Feel your navel moving forwards and upwards towards the sky; do the same with the collarbone and your throat. Pause here and enjoy that you’ve made it this far! Give yourself time and space to connect to feeling grounded. Breathe naturally!
How do we add in the side bend? Begin to find the same sensation you created in your feet (the feeling of pushing down and apart) and recreate the same sensation with your hands on the shaft. Find a unilateral activation of the psoas on the front leg, creating a shortening of the side body,. One hip will pop out (your sassy hip or “mom hip”). Imagine your paddle is a rainbow above you; trace your rainbow with your paddle to the same side of the body that you are shortening. For instance, if the right foot is in front, you are shortening the right side of your body and taking the paddle over to the right side (see photo for reference). You are creating an active lateral side bend. This is a BIG balance shift, so counteract the balance by pushing the back foot down to create resistance. Bring your awareness to the side of the body that you are opening. Allow the sensation of your body to guide the depth of your preferred stretch. Okay...NOW WHAT?! I want out! Transitions can be scary! Most importantly, stay calm and relaxed. Make sure that you can still feel breath in the belly...not the chest. To come out, use the push of your feet to guide the paddle back to the center above you. Safely take yourself back into your Pyramid pose. Transition by coming down to your knees and then switch sides to even your body out! Wow...you made it!
Posture 3. Shoulder Stretch with Paddle
Paddling can create tight shoulders and chest muscles. We all feel this tightness if you spend your seasons paddling as we do! This posture can be done seated or standing. If you prefer to stay seated, bring your paddle behind you. Hold the middle shaft with your palms facing the board and knuckles facing the sun. Begin to pull the hands apart isometrically. We do this so we simultaneously activate the muscles of the chest while we are stretching them. This movement will help them open up more quickly. Careful not to bend from the lower back! Keep the sitting bones moving downward into the board and forward, gliding the top of the hips backwards. How to come out? Simply, let go of your paddle. What is a great counter stretch to this pose? Eagle the arms to stretch open the muscles of the upper back; the combo of these moves will give your shoulders a good rinse.
If you want to try this pose while standing, here are a few things to remember! When folding, don’t lock out the knees. Allow a soft bend to the knees and find an anterior tilt into the pelvis. Also, while coming up, keep the chin down towards the chest and let the chin be the very LAST thing to come up. This will slow down the blood flow to the head. Rapid blood flow to the head can cause you to feel lightheaded, which nobody wants to feel when they are out on the water. Be safe!
Paddling can create tight shoulders and chest muscles.
Place your paddle nearby. Begin in Mountain pose with your feet hips-distance apart on either side of the handle. Bring the paddle behind you horizontally and hold onto the shaft about shoulder-distance width or wider with the palms facing the water and the knuckles towards the sun. Bend the knees and hinge slowly from the hips. Start to lift your wrists away from your lower back and towards the sun as you allow your torso to fold forwards. Let the sensation guide your stretch; remember to stay calm and relaxed. When you are ready to come out, bend your knees and connect to your toes gripping the board. Roll up one backbone at a time allowing the chin to be the last thing to lift!
We hope that you enjoy these postures! Remember always to be safe and practice within the limits of your own body. This is YOUR practice and it’s meant to feel good in your body.
Yoga to You Crew