Thursday, 30 July 2015

SUP, doc?

Bugs Bunny, the symbole of Warner Bros. cartoons

 Did you know it was dear old Bugs' 75th birthday this week? Me either, but let me take this as an opportunity to dole out a huge load of congratulations to various Bears before I get on to the topic of this post:

- to Sarah, who is both a newly-graduated doctor AND completed Castle Howard Tri (you see what I did there?)

- to Cathy on completing her very first triathlon at Salford despite the horrible weather (bells and whistles much in evidence as me and the kids made some noise for her!)

- to the incredible and redoubtable Sid Sidowski & family who not only completed the full Outlaw Tri on a bloody BMX and in a morph suit!!!! but has, at my last check, raised over £3.5k for Birmingham Children's Hospital. I salute you, sir, you are AMAZEBALLS.

- to our very own Team Bear relay squad at Outlaw (including Rach doing the swim of her life in an incredible 1.02hr) and all of you guys who competed individually and as teams at Outlaw, ThunderRun, Castle Howard and oh god, so many places I've lost count.You're all ace and I'm privileged to know you and cheer you.

Right, ok. Now the reason for the terrible pun in the title.

On the way home from Salford Tri on Sunday, it occured to me that the kids were heading up to stay at Grandma's this week, and that whilst I have more than enough work to be going on with, it's all office hours work. That leaves my evenings footloose and fancy-free, as it were. You know me, if I can get near water, I will do. But I didn't want to "just" swim. And I didn't want to "just" do yoga, much as I'm loving having a more regular practice at the moment. And I wanted to do something more fun than run, though I've just started training again and it's going ok. Maybe I could go kayaking again. I wondered if Cathy or Rach were around for some kind of adventure.

Then it hit me: there's a very interesting little flyer attached to my fridge, from a very interesting and sweet lady we met at Trafford Water Park a couple of months ago.

It means I can get on the water (I do love to paddle!) and I can do yoga. On Tuesday night.

Some very excited emails and texts and Twitter messages flew around, and suddenly Cathy and I were booked onto a class with Magda at loveanddo YOGA to do...

Stand Up Paddleboard Yoga.


Yes. You paddle out into the middle of the lake on an oversized surfboard and then do yoga. On the board. Whilst it's bobbling about in the wind and waves. Need I explain this activity appeared first in nice warm places like Hawaii and California? Not in the North West of England?

I'd never paddleboarded before, but I am getting quite good at standing balance poses - I've been practicing hard after a disastrous session of mawashi geri (round kick) drills a couple of weeks ago, and it does seem to be helping. Eh, I figured, how different can standing up to paddle be to sitting in a 2-man canoe trying to make sure your 9yo doesn't have you spinning in circles? And my Warrior 3 pose is really coming along. It'll be grand.

So Tuesday rolled around and it threw it down. Not quite in IronMan proportions, but enough to be seriously worried that the whole thing would be cancelled. Magda, magician that she is, had assured us the weather would clear after 5pm and blow me down if she wasn't absolutely right. The rain stopped just as I turned off the M60 and pulled into the Water Park. It was still quite breezy - again, not up to Bala standards but at least a Force 3; trees constantly moving, flags out, occasional scattered whitecaps.

Yes, I realise I'm slightly obsessed with wind speeds at the moment, it's a useful skill. Bite me. And make sure you read Loneswimmer's How To Understand The Beaufort Scale.

Just about ready to push the board off and climb on. 
The orange ropes have anchors on for the actual yoga session.
I dithered a great deal about what to wear, having packed my wetsuit, Dryrobe, kayaking gear and my running kit in case I had chance for a lap of the lake afterwards. In the end  I plumped for my UV-protective kayaking top and a pair of running tights. A rather sausagey effect, but who cares: I could move easily and I'd dry out fast if I went in. I like as little clothing bulk under a life jacket as possible, and I would say that was the only niggle about the whole experience - it was quite annoying and next time I'd take it off. But if you're not a strong swimmer and confident paddler, leave it on. In addition, the lake at Trafford does get beautifully warm; I'd guess at at least 22oC in places. But again, it's what you're used to and if you've little open water experience be guided by your teacher and put on a wetsuit if necessary. Cathy rocked up in her brand new Salford Triathlon t-shirt and a great big grin - no wetsuit required to keep her warm!

I actually look quite competent in this picture...
Cathy and I were joined by another two women, and we had about 15mins practice on the paddleboards. The paddles were a bit too short for standing up and it really was quite windy, so mostly we knelt, and when that got too much for me I sat cross-legged like a happy little Buddha. We got blown right down the lake when we all tried standing up and almost had a run-in with the same fisherman we'd upset the second time we went kayaking, but Magda got us all turned around and headed back up near to the main building. It was a little wobbly, standing up, but I quickly found my balance and got to know the board's centre. At this point we really struggled to get anchored - the bottom of the lake is thick with weed and mud and fairly shallow just there - but eventually the five of us were settled and ready to begin.

We started with calming and centreing our breath, just like any yoga practice. Then some cat-and-cow poses, which were a great way to get a feel as to how the board moves as you move. Some waves did splash over a little, which made lying down poses a bit damp, but I also picked up a tiny caterpillar who did some rather good poses of his own!

 We even got some sunshine!

Downward Dog felt great straightaway and within a few of these transitions I felt very much at home on the board and in no danger of falling off. Then we moved on to Sun Salutations, which I'm familiar with but aren't part of my usual practice. They involved quite a bit of standing up and getting back down again. This was no problem in terms of balance, but it did take some concentration to make sure my hands and feet were going back onto the board in a centred way, especially since the boards appeared to be actually windsurf boards and you had to be careful not to sit on the slightly sticking-up bit for the sail!

 Not sure why my board had drifted so far forwards there, but don't we look good!

One of the huge selling points for SUP yoga is that you're forced to be absolutely in the moment all of the time you're out there. There's no space for your mind to wander off into making shopping lists or wondering what you're going to have for tea, and there's definitely no room for fretting about whether your bum looks big in this. So if you have trouble switching off from daily life whenever you try yoga, this is one way to stop that. A little extreme, perhaps, but a superb way of breaking out of a rut.

Taking a Child's Pose and feeling peaceful

So is it hard? Well, everyone will vary depending on their experience, but I can honestly say that once I'd made peace with having slightly slower, more deliberate transitions (no bad thing), I really didn't find it any more difficult than land-based yoga, only having trouble with Half Lord Of The Fishes because seated twists are hard enough for me anyway without a life jacket on (and the irony of that pose name in the face of Trafford's giant catfish myths is not lost, believe me). In fact both Cathy and I agreed that there were points where we both completely forgot we were on a paddleboard. The wind and the waves, and the sound of the trees (and ok, the sound of traffic on the M60); the blue sky and scudding clouds above (and yes, the pylons and cables); the sunshine and the scent of the warm water, plus the odd honking goose...these added a completely different dimension to my practice. Especially from upside down! I honestly can't think of a better way to finish a session in savasana than lying with your fingers and toes trailing in the water, looking up at a blue evening sky. It may not be Hawaii, but it's still beautiful.

I definitely want to go again. It's expensive for a session (or at least for me, who earns very little!), but if you're an "experiences over things" person, this is one to savour.

SUP Yoga class was provided by Magda at loveanddo YOGA (@loveanddoyoga on Twitter and on Facebook) at Trafford Water Park. Sessions cost £25 and run at Trafford, Salford Watersports Centre and in Liverpool. I was not paid to write this post or given any written content to add; many thanks to Cathy and to Magda for the photos which were shared freely.