Seven women floated on wooden boards in the creek.
“Look up at the ceiling — I mean, the sky,” the yoga instructor, Genii Rutherford, corrected herself.
The slip wasn’t due to any lack of experience on her part — she’s been teaching yoga for four years — but points to the novelty of the class she’s teaching. Only recently has stand up paddling (typically called SUP, and pronounced like the “sup” in “ ’sup dude”) joined hands with yoga, giving way to a new fitness movement both rejuvenating and challenging.
SUP and yoga have a few obvious similarities: Both include a spiritual aspect, a shared purpose of finding tranquility by attuning yourself with nature, be it a flowing river or a beating heart.
In terms of physical strain, both are flexible. You can go as fast or as slow as you wish. Proper form, not muscle growth, is the goal.
Yet when you bluntly consider what a SUP yoga class requires of you, the idea begins to seem insane. SUP boards are about as unstable as kayaks, and even more tipsy when you’re dealing with a current. How does one achieve inner peace, exactly, when you’re afraid of your downward dog becoming a drowning dog?
Genii Rutherford splits her SUP yoga classes between Lake George and Fish Creek, an outlet of Saratoga Lake. They cost $40. Only three students had pre-registered for her 10 a.m. class on a recent Thursday, but six women were standing at the water’s edge in yellow lifejackets and spandex shorts that morning.
The signup sheet probably grew so fast because students came in twos and threes. Going to a nice yoga studio is one thing, but when you’re striking out on an Amazonian river adventure, you have to bring moral support, especially in this case: All but one student said she was trying SUP yoga for the first time.
Rutherford explained that the 90-minute class begins with 45 minutes of paddleboarding before 45 minutes of yoga. You don’t set out on the water before Rutherford teaches you the basics, pointing out the black dot that is your center of balance on the board, helping you find the correct spot to grip the paddle, reminding you to bend your knees slightly while you stroke the water.
“Paddle out on your knees, get your board moving at a good pace, then work yourself to your feet, one knee at a time,” she said.
But there’s no reason you need to stand up at all if you don’t want to, Rutherford added, bringing yoga mats from her car for anyone who wanted a softer kneeling surface.
The paddleboards were over 2 feet wide and about 10 feet long. The thickness of the board — 5 inches — felt substantial, more like a raft than a boogieboard.
It didn’t take long for the class to stand up. Whether you realize it or not, anyone who’s learned how to ride a bike already has the coordination to balance while standing up on a moving paddleboard. Gliding across the surface of the river is as close as you’ll ever come to walking on water.
“Empowering” is the word Rutherford hears from many women after their first SUP experience. The very deep-seated human fear of falling — and the entire class wobbled at the beginning — becomes a distant memory as you gain speed and confidence.
“I am not at peace with this,” one student said with a laugh, pointing at the lily pads and pond scum around us. But there was a very compelling reason for Rutherford to hold the class in the shallows: One student usually falls off her board during the yoga segment, Rutherford said, and this class was no exception. Yet the watermark didn’t even reach her waist. The class cheered for her when she re-mounted her board.
As the class moved from deep breathing into the main segment of the class, Rutherford warned the asymmetrical poses would be the hardest. The one-legged downward-facing dog gave the class the most trouble. And there were other challenges, like balancing your oar on your board. It would take at least a few classes to acclimate to the board’s swaying.
While twisting your torso to the right or the left, you see lily pads glimmering like a Monet painting. The rest of the world feels far away. In indoor yoga studios, you close your eyes to imagine yourself outside the four walls; that’s not necessary here.
The class ended with a Shavasana pose, which was not discernibly different from sleeping on your back.
“I’ll stand guard. Just close your eyes,” Rutherford said.
And it was peaceful. The water sways beneath your board. Rutherford’s steely glare kept motorboats away.