Although yoga as a practice or sport or discipline has steadily worked its way into the mainstream, its offshoot and far more difficult byproduct, sup yoga, is still obscure enough to raise a few eyebrows at its mention. It raised mine.
If you’re familiar with stand up paddleboards (SUP), you know where this is going. And no, “yogis,” as their called, did not think land-based yoga was hard enough. They set to the water on their paddleboards, essentially surfboards with an added adjustable paddle, to test their balance on a whole new scale.
So it was only natural Tera Dacus, a Russellville native and eight-year yoga devotee, should jump aboard and try SUP yoga, too. For Dacus, fitness and sports are as inseparable from her identity as the summers she’s spent floating the Big Piney Creek since age 16. She still floats the Piney, now usually on a paddleboard and accompanied by her husband and adventure partner, Jesse.
Dacus, who’s completed a half iron man, a triathlon, rock climbs and several mountain bike races, says she loves finding new ways to test herself and finding happiness in connection with nature. SUP yoga has helped help her find both.
“My friend, Tammy Hottinger, and I started going out on the water on a paddleboard and doing tricks like yoga head stands and balancing poses,” she says. “It was a challenge for me at first because balancing and focus are so much harder on a board. Even simple balancing poses like crow and tree become way more difficult because of the movement of the water.”
For someone who can manage a yoga head stand on a SUP to talk of balancing difficulties may seem trifling. But she says everyone should be forewarned of the board’s instability, whether they’re trying a simplistic crow pose (a squatting hand stand, more or less) or something more tasking. She said it’s difficult to equally distribute body weight while shifting positions, especially if only one foot is on the board.
Because a person’s center of gravity can easily get thrown off while SUP yoga-ing, she said she encourages the individuals she’s taught to use the paddle as a balancing prop. The paddle serves as a type of pseudo body limb to add weight where needed. Despite the balance complexities, Dacus said she will teach classes for people in all stages of their SUP yoga experience from beginners to the more advanced yogis looking to be challenged.
“SUP yoga is something everyone can try,” she says. “I teach common, general yoga classes focused on stretching and having that connection with the water, but I also teach power yoga classes that are more dynamic and involve harder poses. I wouldn’t want to scare anyone away from SUP yoga by trying to make them do a head stand their first time out. We’d work into it all slowly. As long as you go into it with an open mind knowing you may fall in the water you’ll be fine.”
Spreading the yoga experience with other people is what drew Dacus to teaching in 2013, and she says the feeling of reward from watching her class try a never-before-landed pose or one they never thought they could do is unrivaled. The smiles that come to their faces, she says, are irreplaceable. She focuses on teaching everything from deep breathing exercises to correct paddle usage techniques.
Boards come in all shapes and sizes for various heights and weights. Some are inflatable, like Dacus’s own board, which makes for easy transport. Dacus says the basic SUP equation is a bigger board equals more stability, which can be tough to come by when doing yoga on the water. One of her classes will run something like this:
“We’d start on land so I can give general instructions about their paddleboards, especially for those who’ve never been on one,” she says. “After I go over how to use the paddle, getting on and off the board and what to do after inevitably falling in, we’ll paddle out to a spot that’s not a high travel area and use anchors to keep us from floating away from each other while we stretch and go through our poses. The hardest part of teaching is keeping everyone together, but the anchors make everyone more stationary.”
Dacus says the SUP yoga experience evokes a simultaneous “floating feeling” and connection to the environment, creating a unique sensation of equal parts relaxation and engagement—sort of relaxed but engaged enough to do a head stand or warrior pose on a paddleboard that’s undulating beneath you, that is. It’s this total self-balancing of both body and mind through exertion that Dacus achieves practicing yoga or anything else she can do outdoors.
“Yoga helps a lot to give you peace of mind, and this reduces anxiety and stress by helping to calm down the nervous system,” she says. “You get the benefits of meditation, but there’s also the physically challenging power yoga that involves kinesthetic work, so SUP yoga can improve your mental and physical health.”
Quite a few people, Dacus says, are into it for the spiritual connection. Maybe it’s the added element of being outside in a meditative state, but I think people really just enjoy throwing a paddleboard and water into the mix with anything. Yogis are drawn to SUP-ing, she says, because they know a fall only results in getting wet, but the balance challenge is still there, and the intensity level has increased.
“To outdoor adrenaline junkies like me,” Dacus says, “taking your yoga a step farther with the paddleboard is just a fun way to adapt to the fitness world that’s always evolving and coming up with something new.”
The community of fitness, although ever-changing, is one strongly connected through stories of individual growth. When one person reaches a milestone, the whole group can share in the feeling of accomplishment—returning quickly to creating their own new milestone, of course. She says whatever people’s goals are, she wants them to get outside and have fun moving and being with others. Helping people with “personal growth through finding adventure” empathetically contributes to her own self growth.
Yoga and sports play perhaps the biggest role in Dacus’s life as stress relievers, but she says an added bonus is the help both offer in building confidence by challenging her to do new things. Although she is constantly either competing or involved in recreational sports, she says there’s no specific level of physical fitness she wants to attain because she doesn’t consider herself to be a competitive person.
“When I enter races, I’m not really focused on trying to win,” she says. “I’m just the type person who if you ask me to do something, I’ll probably say yes. That’s how I got into the half iron man—my friend asked if I would do it with her, so I did.”
Dacus first got into yoga in 2007 after a back injury. She says it restored her muscles like nothing else she tried, and practicing yoga became a necessity in countering the stress she places on her body with long-distance running and other strenuous exercise. She wasn’t taking care of her hamstrings properly after hurting her back, and yoga became her way of recovering muscle strength while still exercising. Now she’s a big proponent of “rest,” as she calls it, through yoga.
During competitions like her half iron man in 2014, when she swam 1.2 miles, biked 56 miles and ran 13.1 miles, she says her body would tell her it was maxed out. But she says she knows yoga has strengthened her mind, which contributes to her overall bodily health by increasing her endurance. Sometimes, though, she has to escape the competitiveness that can seem endemic to the fitness community. SUP yoga provides this escape.
She says her favorite yoga move is a bridge pose, which looks like a back bend requiring some extra-fancy flexibility. With her feet and hands planted, torso extended upward and head inverted, she sees the world upside down.
“Being in that position is just so different from everyday life,” she says. “Everything is upside down and outside of the normal. Then I can just let my board and the water take me places.”
Dacus refuses to accept the mundane, and says her upcoming SUP yoga class will zero in on balancing, deep stretching and paddling techniques and putting a fresh spin on yoga. She and a friend who owns SUP Outfitters in Regent Springs are hosting a one-and-a-half hour workshop in Russellville on June 14. She says she hopes the workshop will bring together people who’d normally consider themselves opposites or who might not ever get a chance to connect outside of SUP yoga.
“Having people work together and push one another creates this common bond that really gives the feeling of a community,” she says. “It’s great to see people bond over SUP yoga, and I’m happy I’m getting to teach others about something that combines so many of my passions.”
For more information on the upcoming SUP yoga workshop, contact Tera Dacus at email@example.com