On a recent sunny Saturday morning, passersby kept stopping in their tracks to gape at five people holding yoga poses while on paddleboards atop . Amazingly, no one in the group toppled into the water.
That hour-long paddleboard yoga class had begun at the boat dock with yoga instructor Adam Sewell and four women paddling slowly onto the calm lake. The head-to-toe balancing necessary to remain on a board, along with the paddling, gave the group an aerobic workout before they began the yoga practice.
During yoga movements on paddleboards, students need to keep their feet apart, knees bent and eyes on the horizon. They also have to remain aware of their breathing.
"Yoga really slows you down, and it changes you as a person," says Sewell, who is also a tai chi expert and athletic director at the Fremont Country Club in Los Altos Hills. He received special training to conduct the yoga classes on water.
Sewell refers to his teaching as "playing with yoga," since he doesn't think it should be a competitive sport. He runs the paddleboard yoga classes at Vasona Lake for Jennifer Prugh, co-owner of the Breathe Los Gatos yoga studio. She is a longtime yoga instructor who created the "Floating Lotus" format that Sewell follows on the lake.
"As an exercise modality, being on water is totally different than being on land," Prugh says. "What's so great is you literally feel more relaxed being on water than in an exercise class because you're floating, and you have birds around you and so much more to look at. When I've done it in the [San Francisco] Bay, we've seen seals and dolphins, and that's incredible."
She points out that the Bay water is much rougher than the usually tranquil Vasona Lake.
A couple years ago, Prugh was a yoga teacher at in Los Gatos, where she met Neil Pearlberg, a surfer and stand-up paddleboard instructor from Santa Cruz. Pearlberg introduced Prugh to the concept of paddleboard yoga after his teenage son, Quinn, showed him some yoga moves while on a paddleboard. Prugh tried it herself and became hooked, even doing it while on vacation in tropical locales.
Prugh began offering "Floating Lotus" through her studio this summer, but sign-ups are done via Los Gatos-Saratoga Recreation.
The senior Pearlberg doesn't teach yoga, but he now owns the paddleboard concession at Vasona Lake and is involved with expanding paddleboard yoga to other areas of the South Bay.
The history of stand-up paddleboarding goes back to when Hawaiians used boards and paddles to get from island to island. In recent years, surfers made stand-up paddleboarding popular around the world. Paddleboard yoga classes are newer and are becoming better known, especially in California, Florida and Seattle. Olympic-size pools are often used during winter or when natural water sites, such as Vasona Lake, aren't nearby.
Prugh now offers a “Floating Lotus Immersion” certificate program for qualified yoga teachers.
"People in Hawaii have been playing around with it for a while," Prugh says about yoga on water. "I'm the gal who developed the sequence [of the yoga poses] and the training of teachers. I don't know of anyone else, anywhere, who has done that."
Of the four women taking the class with Sewell recently, Rana Adams had never been on a paddleboard before, but occasionally practices yoga. Her friend, Sarah Piramoon, who is about 22 weeks pregnant, convinced her to try the class with her; Piramoon had been on a paddleboard, but hadn't done yoga before. Bess Mahaney is a Pilates instructor at Equinox in Palo Alto, and Beth Wang is a yoga instructor at Breathe Los Gatos. All were raving about their experience as they came back ashore.
Plans to take paddleboard yoga programs to South Bay community centers are in the works. Also, Equinox in Palo Alto will soon have classes in its pool. In a few months, Pearlberg will bring a paddleboard yoga program to the YMCA pool in Morgan Hill.
Currently, there are regular paddleboarding classes at Coyote Lake in Gilroy, taught by Lori Bradford. She says she thinks paddleboard yoga will soon be part of a core training program nearby.
To sign up for a "Floating Lotus" paddleboard yoga class, visit Los Gatos-Saratoga Recreation.
About this column: Each week, Susan Wiedmann will write about nature or outdoor activities enjoyed by local residents. Susan is a longtime freelance writer and photographer with a passion for capturing wildlife through her camera's lens. Please leave any comments about this article at the bottom of this page. You can contact Susan about possible topics at Susan@UpCloseWithMotherNature.com or at UpCloseWithMotherNature.com.