First published in August 2020 at Paddle Your State.
With so many health activities becoming mainstream, or at least gaining notoriety, stand up paddleboarding (SUP) has truly come to the forefront, as has meditation. SUP Meditation is the combination of both the physical activity of getting out on a paddle board and the practice of meditation and being present. It’s different from SUP Yoga, but just as beneficial.
I meditate. Every day. I teach meditation as I know firsthand the importance of this practice. Benefits ranging from relaxing the nervous system, improving sleep, increasing focus to decreasing anxiety.
I also really enjoy meditating outdoors: at the beach, in the mountains, in a forest. Or simply sitting or lying in the grass under a tree. There is something profound as nature as a teacher. The quality of energy is completely different than sitting indoors. It invites our attention and curiosity. There is this experiential connection with the environment that reconnects us to our senses and increases self-awareness.
SUP Meditation: an ideal balance
The nature of Stand Up Paddle boarding, SUP is meditative in itself. Whether sitting or standing, you gently pull the paddle through the water, moving your arms from one side to the other. It’s an opportunity to attend to absolutely nothing except the moment you are in. Nature is a magnet for our presence. The beauty, the sounds, the light, the different shades of colors, the sensory neurons on your skin alert to temperature. It’s easy to be present outdoors. SUP makes the abiding in awareness much easier.
Why Meditation and SUP?
SUP Meditation combines my love of meditation and SUP with the outdoors. It is nothing less than magical. There is a richer connection to the water and the earth. SUP Meditation is a beautiful gateway into the much-needed practice. I find it is much easier to guide new meditators when the only sound derives from nature. It’s a wonderful way to share meditation in a practical, tangible way.
If you’re interested in guided meditation prior to trying paddleboard yoga or meditation, check out these downloadable tracks.
SUP Meditation for Beginners
I often have people tell me, “I’ve tried to meditate a few times, but I cannot stop my thoughts.” This is the biggest fallacy about the practice. It’s not about eliminating or even stopping the thoughts. We are human after all! In general, people are often unaware of their constant stream of thoughts. Meditation is about observing them without judgement.
I like to think of it as eavesdropping: listening and observing the sounds around you, your breath, your bodily sensations, and thoughts. You become the witness without getting involved. This, of course, takes practice. Some days are easier than others, but it’s important to know that nothing in particular needs to happen while in meditation for it to work. Sometimes we can fall into these moments or even nano-seconds of stillness or feel a sense of clarity and it feels absolutely heavenly. But there are also times when our entire practice feels laborious, as if all you’re doing is starting over again and again and again, bringing your awareness back to your breath. Whatever happens is perfect!
I advise my students to not have any expectations. The benefit of your meditation will reveal itself to you off of the “cushion.” The meditation, at least with me guiding you, I hope will be relaxing, but the reason you are meditating is not for THAT particular moment. That’s not where the benefits show up in your life. The changes are often super subtle, but consistently meditating, much can shift. (Better sleep, less stress, decrease in anxiety.)
Benefits of Meditation Outdoors
I do find, though, meditating in Mother Nature makes it easier to practice. The outdoor environment wakes up our senses and entices us to eavesdrop in the moment. SUP Mediation is a powerful way to increase your awareness off of the board.
Buddhist meditation teacher, Mark Coleman says, “Unlike being indoors, meditating in the wild allows you to utilize all of your senses and the sensory environment as a support for being present. From that intimate connection, you can develop insight, clarity and a visceral understanding of knowing one’s place in the web of life. By doing so, the wisdom of nature is easily revealed.”
We are overstimulated, and even though COVID has allowed many of us to slow down, it may not be a quality stillness. Especially if you have been indoors, Mother Nature has this ability to relax, soothe, and settle our nervous system. It’s as if the body has been given a chance to deeply exhale and sigh.
What to expect with SUP Meditation
Now, 6 months into this new way of life, people covet the opportunity to slow down and savor nature. When I guide a SUP Meditation class, we paddle together to a secluded area and anchor down.
The art of paddling in silence is to learn to be aware, to use the natural movement of the paddle dipping into the water to cultivate mindfulness and presence. I even suggest to find a place to pause the paddling for a few moments, to stand still on the SUP and take in your surroundings: Look all around you and see what there is to see. Smell the smells. Feel the breeze, the temperature of the air on your skin. Ignite all your senses and be in the moment.
Flow of Guided SUP Meditation
We begin with some gentle, asana, physical Yoga postures focusing on the neck, shoulders and lower back so that we are less likely to be fidgety when the meditation begins.
I offer the option to practice seated, but the simplicity of corpse pose, shavasana, laying on your back or even conscious resting pose, on your back with knees bent, seems to be the most popular. It truly allows surrender.
Then we move to pranayama, breath work, the perfect entry into mediation. I like to think of breath-work as a signal to our nervous system to relax and settle down. Offering simple to follow practices such as samma vritti (balanced breath) or kumbakha (breath retention) allows you to find the natural curves of your spine to soften and prepares you to surrender.
The progression of breath-work subtly morphs into a guided meditation which then leads to quiet.
Gently inviting you out of your seated (or laying down) meditation, we then paddle back in silence. Like a walking mediation, paddling in silence is a simple practice for developing calm, connectedness, and embodied awareness.
Our nervous system is hungry for this depth of release and SUP meditation offers us this gift to come into the presence with the earth, water, trees, clouds, who are aren’t worrying about the future…they are just resting in being. Being what they are.
Each one of us is deeply connected to the natural world. The body feels more at ease outdoors as it is here that our hearts open so we can resonate with the peace, stillness, and silence of the air, the trees, the water. It washes over us and begins to influence us. We often don’t realize how restless we are until we take this time to get outside and meditate in nature.
Stress reduction needs to be part of our everyday routine and meditation, especially outdoors, even SUP Meditation, can be a tool to support our overall health.
Where can I do SUP Yoga and Meditation?
The easiest way to find a SUP Meditation or yoga class is simply to use Google Maps and search for “SUP Yoga.” You may need to visit individual studio or SUP rental websites, but it’s worth reading through the different instructor profiles to find the right SUP experience.
If you’re in south Florida, Soul Garden Yoga does both types of SUP sessions. Visit the website for a complete schedule, including non-SUP yoga and meditation opportunities.
SUP Yoga and Meditation on Your Own
While the most complete and easy SUP meditation or yoga session tends to come with being guided by an instructor, practicing on your own is also an option, particularly if you are far from a city or traveling. If you are doing your own thing, a wide stand up paddle board is ideal for yoga poses. The added stability of a broad board will provide a bit of comfort and confidence.
We really like the BIC Wing series of inflatable SUPs and actually have two in our fleet.
BIC Wing Air – order here through LL Bean