SUP Yoga: it's easier than it looks

If you've ever watched someone doing yoga poses while on a paddle board, you probably figured that they were a professional teacher or an influencer. You're probably right. But they could also be a regular student, looking to spice up their yoga practice. Routine gym-based or even outdoor yoga seem hard enough, right? Well, while it might seem like paddle board yoga is a master-level move, you don't need to be an expert at yoga OR paddle boarding to pull off this fun activity.

SUP Yoga: it's easier than it looks

If you've ever watched someone doing yoga poses while on a paddle board, you probably figured that they were a professional teacher or an influencer. You're probably right. But they could also be a regular student, looking to spice up their yoga practice. Routine gym-based or even outdoor yoga seem hard enough, right? Well, while it might seem like paddle board yoga is a master-level move, you don't need to be an expert at yoga OR paddle boarding to pull off this fun activity.


Why paddle board yoga?

First, it isn't as difficult as it looks. Once you're comfortable enough on a paddle board to get from A to B with minimal flailing, you can manage some basic poses. SUP yoga gets you out of the sweaty gym and opens up new ways to enhance your yoga practice. Second, besides adding a small anchor, you shouldn't need any new gear or clothing. And finally, it's fun: practicing yoga and mindfulness/meditation on the water is challenging, but worth the effort.

SUP Yoga benefits

Whether you're having fun practicing yoga with friends or finding a quiet, isolated spot on the water to clear your head, paddle boards add new dimensions to yoga that are impossible to experience on land.

Instability gives you a full-body/core workout:

Practicing yoga on land only engages specific muscles. There are a limited number of variations of yoga poses to bring other muscle groups into play. By getting on a paddle board, you're adding (mild) instability to the mix. Even a pose as routine as downward dog is invigorated by the simple rocking motion of an anchored yoga paddle board. That minor instability is enough to engage every muscle group as you are making constant body adjustments to maintain the pose and your balance on the paddle board. A routine that would normally bore an experienced yoga enthusiast becomes fresh again simply by getting on the water with a yoga board.

Instability encourages mindfulness:

The challenge of doing even simple poses in paddle board yoga demands your full presence. Each movement becomes intentional. SUP yoga makes it much harder to go on autopilot during your yoga session.

Gearing up for SUP yoga

Stand up paddle board:

While there are a few companies making yoga SUPs, a dedicated yoga board isn't necessary to get started. Look for wide, stable boards without a lot of rocker (flat shaped deck). The pad should be as large as possible so that you're comfortable holding poses. A full-length deck pad is ideal.

If you're new to SUP, then you may be wondering about whether hard paddle boards or inflatable paddle boards are better for yoga. For SUP yoga, the difference isn't really as important as for other types of paddleboarding. Width and stability and a full length deck pad are far more important considerations. Purpose built yoga boards are usually you're best option.

Taking a class from a paddle board yoga instructor who can provide you with a yoga board can help you decide if getting a dedicated SUP yoga board is worth it to you. If you find yourself loving SUP yoga, you'll definitely want to start looking at yoga SUPs. See more about finding the best yoga paddle board for you.

PFD (Personal Flotation Device):

It's usually required by law to have a PFD with you at all times when using paddle boards. Oddly, wearing them is usually optional (check local regulations); the US Coast Guard requires that adults have a PFD on their paddle board. If your yoga board has a bungee cord cargo holder, that's usually the best place to keep it. An emergency whistle is usually mandatory; keep it attached to the PFD. If you have to/want to wear your PFD while doing SUP yoga, look for a low profile type that won't restrict your range of motion. There are also self-inflating PFD's that eliminate the bulk of traditional PFDs- you'll hardly notice wearing them.

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Leash:

A leash keeps you connected to the SUP so that if you happen to fall off of your yoga board, it will always be nearby. Most people tether the leash to their ankle and then remove it once they're anchored in position and ready to begin doing your yoga session. If not using an anchor, keep the leash on, they don't get in the way much, and for most yoga poses you'll barely notice it.

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Paddle:

There are no paddles specifically for yoga boards, so use whatever paddle you're comfortable with. When doing SUP yoga, you can either attach your paddle to your paddle board leash by the ankle strap- just be sure to make it tight enough that the paddle can't slip out. If you're using an inflatable paddle board, you can use velcro straps in the D-rings along the side to secure your paddle. How to properly size your paddle.

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Anchor:

While not mandatory, doing SUP yoga without an anchor can be a problem, especially if you're in a group. Drifting around on your paddle board while doing yoga poses can interrupt your flow if you have to keep paddling to get away from shore, other people, etc.


Anchors are inexpensive and easy to use; a three-pound grapnel anchor is usually sufficient to keep a paddle board in place. Get at least ten feet of nylon rope and secure it to the leash plug on your board. Coil the rope neatly on the tail of your yoga paddle board and place the anchor on top of it to keep it in place while you paddle to your yoga spot.


Once you find a spot that's as deep or shallower than your rope is long, lower the anchor overboard until it bottoms out, then secure the excess slack by wrapping it around itself.
Now you're ready to begin your SUP yoga session. If you're in a group, you can tether your yoga paddle boards together, but it's easier to just have everyone anchor off close to one another. Anchors simply make yoga SUPs easier to use.

What to wear

This really comes down to swimwear or yoga/workout clothes as you can wear either. Swimsuits are a safer bet if you think you might fall in.
Sunscreen! Never SUP without it.

Yoga clothing: The nice thing about yoga or workout-specific clothing is that it's designed to wick moisture away, so falling in isn't going to ruin anything; you're usually sweating by the end of a session anyway and SUP yoga is no different.

Rash guards: These are nice in that they're designed to get wet and are usually comfortable to move in. They also provide needed UV protection. The downside is that even though they're designed to get wet, some fabrics will feel "muggy" in that they tend to trap moisture.

Swimwear: Most swimwear is fine for paddle board yoga. For men, board shorts are OK, just make sure they're not too baggy and that they allow a full range of motion. Men will also want to wear something on top to avoid prolonged UV exposure and it makes getting back onto a paddle board a little more comfortable.

For women, either bikinis or one-piece will work, just practice beforehand to make sure that your moves don't cause any embarrassing wardrobe slips. It's also important to wear something that fits well and doesn't bunch up and won't have you constantly making adjustments as you work through your poses.

Footwear: Wear sandals or water shoes if you must, but paddle board yoga is best experienced with bare feet. Going barefoot will help you feel more connected to the paddle board and keeping your feet relaxed to avoid "gripping" the deck pad becomes yet another act of mindfulness.

Sunglasses: Look for glasses with full UV protection and "CHUMS" or a similar product attached to the sunglass stems to tether them to you. Nothing worse than watching a nice pair of sunnies disappear into the water.

SUP Yoga pointers

Seek shelter- nobody likes paddling in the wind and choppy water makes yoga much harder. Look for spots that are protected from winds and preferrably in a no-wake zone for boats.

Away from the madding crowds- SUP yoga usually draws attention and onlookers, so unless that's what you're going for, find a semi-secluded spot for your paddle board yoga. Paddle far from shore or a nice cove to get some privacy.

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Change your stance- Instead of keeping your feet together, avoid narrow alignments. Adopt a wider stance on your yoga board, about the width of your hips, for more stability. For example, warrior poses are well suited to SUP, but plant your feet on the deck pad hip-width apart instead of keeping them in line as you would on land.

Engage your inner sloth- when starting out on yoga boards, move slowly and intentionally through your poses for maximum stability and mindfulness.

Maintain at least two points of contact with your yoga board- Poses like eagle or tree are very difficult but may come with practice. Use poses with two or more points of contact. Stay perpendicular to the board- poses like warrior or side planks that align parallel to the board are less stable.

Getting started

Hopefully, this has helped you get a sense of what to expect when you begin trying yoga on a paddle board. It's a great idea to take a SUP yoga class if they're available in your area, but short of that, there are numerous tutorials online complete with beginner routines. Just remember that SUP yoga is inherently unstable and there are as many ways to lose your balance as there are poses. You're going to get wet (at first). Embrace it and celebrate the unexpected.