When Alexa moved to Dublin (back in 2004) she knew little about Ireland – other than it was green and it rained a lot. But, feeling a bit misplaced and in need of a change of scenery, she made her way to the Emerald Ireland where she’s been living since.
It didn’t take long for Alexa to get sucked into Irish watersports culture: kitesurfing became a bit of a passion for a while and then she’s switched to SUP. So much so, that she’s decided to leave her office job and turn her obsession into a career
How easy was it giving up your office job and switching to teaching?
In 2008 I went to south-east Asia for a while to do a 2nd level massage therapist course, some kitesurfing and some yoga – the best time of my life.
Unfortunately, during my month abroad the Recession hit home. Far away in Thailand I was blissfully unaware and literally learned what had happened on my arrival home.
Ireland had gone up in flames and so had my plans to do my own thing far away from any office desk. I was lucky enough thanks to Colm from Dublin Yoga Studios who gave me a very enjoyable part time job. But times were tough. I managed to get by with the little I made and the remainder of my savings but it was clear I couldn’t live of it for long.
So the recession really knocked down my first attempt to get out of the office.
Then came the ‘waiting for the wind’ period only kite/windsurfers will relate.
It really seemed to be ages where it got impossible for me to get on the water and kitesurf. The wind was always off when I was off and teased me while I was working. That was just the way it was for a while. I couldn’t even call myself a Kite Chick anymore because I had not been on the water in like forever.
That was when I bought myself an inflatable standup paddle board. Very much to the amusement of all my friends, because back then everyone thought it was boring and a sport for losers.
Well, I enjoyed it!
Slowly but surely more and more people joined in the SUP club. Most of them with nicer, fancier boards than mine, but also so much harder to get around with because they were hardboards; big and heavy. Again no one believed in a future for inflatable boards.
I think my first Downward Dog was at Achill Island with my friend Kasia. It didn’t go too well, and we laughed our asses off, but I kept doing Yoga/Pilates and Fitness moves on the board, because I enjoyed it. Again very much to the amusement of bystanders.
And I kept on trying. A little wobbly to be fair, because my first SUP was not suitable for Yoga at all but that didn’t stop me. At the end of the day, the falling part is the fun part. I mean, really why are we doing watersports in the first place? To get wet!
So, how different is SUP yoga to the one on the mat?
It’s more playful and explorative but at the same time more focused and challenging. You, literally, throw alignment over board at first and just try to stay on the board. That means you have to engage your core and the deeper muscle tissue much more to stay balanced. Once you figured that out you bring your alignment back and probably go into the water a lot on the way.
With SUP yoga it’s a lot easier to challenge yourself in the most basic poses.
It’s not only you on the mat. It’s you on a mat on a wobbly board on floating water.
And, sometimes, depending where you are, waves and wind play some tricks on you too. You grow an awareness of what exactly and how you do poses. There is less room for sloppiness or (bad) habits. But your inner child will have the time of your life. And you get patient. Even if you’re a rather impatient person. Your body just screams at you “if you move too fast or too far I will just throw you in the water!”
Can anyone do it then? Or do you have to be a hardcore yogi?
Total beginners try to balance and move around the board into the poses, improvers and experienced yogis will feel their deep muscles and core shaking and if you are really advanced or just very experimental go for some real balancing poses. Standing balances or arm balances and inverts are quite challenging on solid ground. Try them on water.
The real beauty of SUP Yoga, however, lies somewhere else, I find. Once you step on the board and leave the solid ground you literally detach yourself from life for a little while. Like your stepping on another planet. All your problems, responsibilities and duties get left behind, you are alone on your little ‘Yoga Island’ and your mind goes floating around just like the board you are standing on.
How does one become an SUP yoga teacher?
Becoming a SUP yoga Instructor (and in fact I think I might still be the only certified one in Ireland) happened only kind of by chance. Being single can be challenging when it comes to holidays. I wanted a holiday ideally consisting of stand up paddling, yoga, sun, warm weather and maybe some nice people around to meet. Not easy when your budget doesn’t cover the Caribbean Islands!
And that’s how I found Tim and Vie from Florida. They run several yoga studios and teacher trainings over there and have a wast knowledge about stand up paddling, yoga, SUP yoga but also the equipment. As Vie is originally from Greece they just happened to run yoga teacher trainings and SUP yoga teacher trainings there, which I both did and absolutely loved. Aside from the usual yoga philosophy and techniques you also need to be a SUP guide or SUP instructor. Safety first! Especially, when you deal with (or in) the water. Do’s, don’t’s, hazards, rescues, etc. I’m under 5’2 and relatively slim. Try to rescue a 6’0 broad guy and you know where problems begin. Thankfully I also know how to solve them.
I hold classes at the Grand Canal Docklands with Surfdock. Classes are very small as the set up is limited. We usually don’t have more than 5 or 6 people in one class and unless there is no wind, which rarely happens in Ireland, we are anchored and tied together.
After a short paddle to the anchor we start with a little warm up, also to test the balance on the board for newbies. Then some sun salutations and a series of yoga asanas with some pilates moves thrown in, depending on level and conditions. It’s usually more of a flow. At the end we can play around with some of the more challenging stuff if the class is up for it, before we finish with savasana and a paddle back to the station.
Conditions permitting we also hold some classes on the beach, which is absolutely amazing, but very difficult to set up and we’re also still in a learning process ourselves. This year we hope to be able to offer a lot more beach sessions.
Do you need a special board for SUP yoga?
No, you don’t.
But, I personally have a specific fitness board for my yoga and a small allrounder for pleasure. The yoga board behaves like an awkward tanker in any ripple or wave on coastal waters while my other board is pretty useless for any serious yoga workout on flat water.
What yoga poses should we try out at our next SUP session?
Great beginner poses would be downward dog or table top with all its variations. It’s easy to do for a complete beginner up to all levels. A bit of stretching, balancing and strengthening.
Plank with all its variations is building up great core and shoulder strength. Boat pose is so simple and can get so challenging on the board.
And of course savasana. You have not experienced the full joy of savasana if you haven’t done it floating on a board yet: to be gently rocked by the water like a child with the soothing sound of the water around your body is the most peaceful and relaxing thing you can do.
And, if you’re lucky, the Irish sun kisses your cheeks and you can let your hands and feet dip into the refreshing water. It’s like heaven on earth.
Apart from savasana, headstands are my favourite poses on the board. Well, for everyone who knows me, everything upside down makes me happy.
Headstand might sound very hard, but it isn’t at all. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never tried or already mastered it on the mat. Water is the most forgiving playground for it. That applies for a lot of things by the way. If you tumble out of it – you only fall into water. People love to try. And most of them succeed after a couple of attempts. And if not, they had the best laugh while trying and usually chat about it for days. It makes people happy and giddy.
What’s your own practice like right now?
On my own, I work mostly on my ankle injury at the moment. I had a bad injury last year, which took me off the water for a couple of weeks. The ankle can be a tricky thing and I’m struggling to get my full range of motion back. Standup paddle yoga is actually quite good for it – also for knee instabilities because it requires motion and muscle tissue you would naturally not use that much on land. But it’s still very gentle work on the joints.
Plus I always try to challenge my general balance. Believe it or not, but my balance is not great at all. I struggle with all boardsports, especially surfing and need forever to get comfortable on them. A lot of surfers use standup paddling to further improve their balancing skills.
So, what’s your next big step?Hopefully – my own studio, where I can offer pilates, yoga, workshops and SUP yoga. Even though the SUP yoga will obviously stay located where it is with Surfdock.
A dream would definitely be making enough with the SUP yoga, so I can get a van or trailer to offer beach sessions every time and go to different locations in Ireland. There are so many amazing beaches and magical places like lakes and rivers that would make amazing locations for some yoga. Maybe even a retreat somewhere with yoga, SUP yoga, hikes, BBQs and other cool stuff. But little steps at a time.
Nama’stay on the Water.