We all know the numerous mind and body benefits of SUP Yoga: from improving not only our strength but also our stability, to developing not only flexibility but also our mobility. Not to mention the therapeutic effects of water, and how it uplifts our mood and our connection to nature. Just about anyone can benefit from SUP Yoga, especially when they are guided by highly trained and certified ISYA SUP Yoga Teachers.
One big aspect of SUP Yoga is balance. Very few people know that balance is not a strength skill but a neuromuscular skill. It is our brain that controls the position and tension in our muscles, and it is precision and repetition that builds such strong neurological connections that we’re able to hold superior balance position. One can say that SUP Yoga truly develops our mind and body connection!
Balance has three (3) important sensory components: the vestibular system (HEAR – located in the inner ear), the visual system (SEE), and the proprioceptive system (FEEL). The brain integrates and processes all the information from these 3 systems to help us maintain our balance or sense of equilibrium.
The importance of Tristhana
In SUP Yoga, we intricately weave together these three balance components with a three-pronged method called Tristhana. It includes the breath (ujjayi), gazing point (dristi) and energetic locks (bandhas). Tristhana turns our senses inward and help us utilize our somatic intelligence or inner guidance towards a path of Self-discovery and transformation.
Ocean breathing or ujjayi pranayama supports the vestibular system by calming the mind and reducing anxiety, which is a known trigger for many vestibular problems like vertigo. Gazing point or dristi supports the visual system by focusing on something steady like the horizon: a steady eye equals a steady body. Energetic locks or bandhas support the proprioceptive system by giving lightness and stability in the joints, muscles and bones.
They serve as our compass as we navigate our SUP Yoga practice towards a deeper awareness of our physical and subtle mind-body mapping. By bringing together mindfulness and somatic tools, we can gain more clarity into our own feelings and behavior as an embodied biological process so we can live with greater ease and grace.
Proprioception is our awareness of where our body is located in space. It is often considered our sixth sense and is arguably as important as our other five senses. Together with proprioception, there is also exteroception and interoception. All together, these three are our internal senses and are the major functions of our somatosensory system. Exteroception is our sensitivity and responsiveness to stimuli originating outside of our body, like the movements of the SUP or the feeling of the wind against our skin, which can also cause these movements. Interoception is our awareness of what’s going on within our body, like when we feel discomfort or pain in a posture. It regulates our nervous system and reduces pain sensitivity.
All are critical aspects to moving well on the SUP as they connect us to the innate knowledge of our physical self, reducing the separation between the mind and the body. We improve them not just through moving in a variety of ways but also in a variety of environments, like practicing out on the sea, or a lake or even a pool. On land we learn how to balance by pushing back against gravity that is pulling down our body. On water we learn how to REST and FEEL our body between gravity pulling us down and water buoyancy pushing us up.
When practicing SUP Yoga, we need an objective curiosity towards what’s happening within and outside our body. When I place myself in a posture on the SUP, my first response is to find myself in the space (proprioception). I feel the board moving underneath me (exteroception) and I try to feel my whole body on top of it (interoception). I try to sense the ever-changing movements and how my body, mind and breath are responding to them. Then I adjust accordingly to get centered.
This inner and outer investigation expands our awareness of Self and brings to light how we are showing up in our practice. It cultivates resilience in our nervous system and facilitates an equanimous response, which fosters a multi-dimensional realization of Self: within, surrounding and beyond the body. This makes navigating the SUP Yoga postures and ultimately, life, much more graceful. Embodiment is experienced.
Strengthen your Awareness
On the SUP, take the time to feel where your body is in space and how it moves through space. How do you interact with the environment? How much force are you using to perform a specific pose? Is it appropriate for the demands of the task? If not, why not? Can you adapt to the different movements of the board? The different surface, different grip, different texture?
Breathe and soften your view on things, and learn to trust your body. Practice adaptability and variability in the midst of constant change, and you will improve your resilience and ultimately, strength. By doing this, you actively draw your senses inward allowing you to move through your SUP Yoga practice with complete awareness and presence thus transforming your physical practice into a moving meditation.
This focused energy is the gateway to the spiritual side of SUP Yoga. It is the doorway to Self-discovery. By going inward, we are able to truly explore the layers of the Self without the delusions and distractions of the mind and the environment.
When you practice on your board today, release your expectations, release you judgements. Dive deep within the ocean of your Self and continually draw your mind and your senses to the present moment.