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This is what it’s like to try paddle yoga for the first time

Neko Catanzaro

My competitive nature is by far my biggest failure as a yogi. Yoga is supposed to be a practice, but when I am surrounded by mirrored walls, my eyes wander to my fellow yogis. I push myself to lift my leg a little higher, stretch a little further, I want to be the one with the perfect pose. But perfection is unattainable in yoga. There are always new ways to deepen one’s practice.

As an athlete, I have always had trouble letting go of my competitiveness when on my yoga mat. It was not until I tried yoga on a paddleboard that I was truly humbled. Out on a lake surrounded by the beautiful mountains of Vail, I finally discovered what it means to fully immerse myself in my practice. During my 90-minute session, I rediscovered yoga poses I thought I knew inside out.

paddle yoga

Because paddle yoga takes place on the water, there are many uncontrolled elements. The breeze, the current, the natural buzz of the outdoors, are all unpredictable components that make it a revitalizing experience. Despite having several years of yoga under my mat, unsteadiness on the board was inescapable. It was a challenge that I embraced, and it was a challenge in no way triggered by my fellow yogis. This was a personal journey.

“The added dimension of the water, the sun, all the elements amplifies the yoga experience,” said my yoga instructor, Julie Circo, “Paddle yoga takes you back to the beginner’s mind.”

Julie, who has been a yoga teacher since 2011, is in no way a beginner. As the owner of Paddle Yoga Colorado, she offers weekly classes, private instruction, and guided tours out on the lakes and rivers of the Vail Valley. For Julie, paddle yoga is about having an open mind and a sense of humor.

Downward Dog, a pose I have done a thousand times, had a completely different feeling. On my mat, I rush through the inversion, without fully inhabiting the pose. But when I was on the lake with Julie, I noticed how my body was trembling, finally fully engaged. Every yoga pose, even the “easy” ones, must be performed differently out on the water.

During our warm-up, we moved through a Sun Salutation, and I noticed the many micro movements it took to navigate the flowing current successfully. The gentle rocking of the water prodded me to focus on a steady breath flow and fine-tune my alignment. I will never look at Downward Dog in the same way again.

paddle yoga

Not only are the physical benefits immeasurable, paddle yoga’s aquatic environment adds a bevy of mental perks. I gained a new appreciation with each moment out on the board. The tranquil, open ambiance promotes a calmness that I don’t believe is attainable in the confines of a studio. In my forward fold, I was greeted with unexpected, delightful views of the alpine wilderness, instead of someone else’s back. It is a welcome escape (and a demanding workout) for both beginners and advanced students.

If you’ve ever felt hindered by a competitive studio environment, it’s time to dip your toes into something new. Paddle yoga creates positive waves long after class ends, leaving you mentally and physically nourished.

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