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Wrestling Imaginary Alligators: Adventures in SUP Yoga

We started our practice sitting on our boards with our eyes closed. It felt magical. Floating gently on the water, feeling the late afternoon sun shining down on my skin, a perfect breeze blowing across my face. What more could I ask for? It was a few days after my 35th birthday, and I was lucky enough to be invited to a Stand Up Paddleboard yoga class with my friends from work. SUP yoga was the second item on my list of things to do before my 36th birthday. I couldn't have asked for a better crew to help me tackle this particular adventure!

I was sitting in the middle of my board, totally loving life. I focused on my breath as we gently stretched our arms and necks. I felt completely at ease. I loved being in nature surrounded by some of my most favorite people. My heart was full of gratitude for all of it.

Then we started to move.

I've been practicing yoga for years. I completed a 200 hour teacher training in March and am in class several times a week. But suddenly, when our instructor asked us to rise into Warrior I, I felt like I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. It was like I was reenacting the scene from Bambi, when he's trying to learn how to walk but his wobbly legs wouldn't quite cooperate.

That's when fear kicked in.

As soon I wobbled, my heart skipped a beat, I held my breath and I gripped onto the edges of the board for dear life. My knuckles were turning white and I realized I was still holding my breath. I tried to relax, find my breath, focus on our teacher’s voice, pay attention to my body, but I couldn't. I was totally in my head.

I slowly inched my foot forward, but couldn't bring myself to actually stand up. I was frozen. What was happening? I’ve done this pose thousands of times. My body knows how to do it, but my mind wouldn't let it!

"I'm going to fall. If I move, I'll fall. I can't move!"

And so I stayed. Stuck. Frozen on the board refusing to stand.

What was I so afraid of?

I was partially afraid that there was a rogue alligator lurking in the water beneath me. We were assured there weren't any living in this particular body of water, but I wasn’t totally convinced. Alligators are sneaky. They go where they want. There was one that lived in my cousin's pool for a time.

Also, I watched this movie as a young child:

It was absolutely terrifying and left quite an impression, including a deeply rooted belief that alligators can end up literally anywhere. (Why did my parents let me watch this???)

Alligators aside, I was scared of something else. I was scared of messing up. I was scared of being the only one who fell. I was scared of looking stupid in front of my friends. I was scared of trying something I really wanted to do and failing miserably.

So instead I stayed still. I didn't try at all. That's usually my instinct when I’m scared of something. I just don’t do it. Instead of going for something where I could potentially fall on my face, (or into water that is infested with imaginary alligators,) I don't try. You can't fail if you don't try. But then you stay stuck. You stay exactly where you started even though that isn't really where you want to be. A coach once told me, “Everything you really want is right outside your comfort zone.”

When I was creating my adventure list for the year, I included 12 things that I had never done but really, really wanted to. A lot of the things on my list feel a little scary to me. (Some of them feel downright terrifying.) But they are all things that I want to experience fully anyway. Nowhere on this list did I include "kneel on a paddleboard and cling to it for dear life." That wasn't quite what I was going for.

I recognized that fear, as it tends to do, was running the show. I didn’t try to push it away. I let it be there, but I decided to move through it anyway. When our instructor called out Warrior I on the second side, I wriggled my foot forward, mustered all of my strength and courage, and somehow managed to lift my back knee off the board.

It wasn't the prettiest pose I've ever made, but I was standing. I moved as best I could through the rest of the sequence. Yes, I was still wobbling. I was scared of falling the entire time. My heart was racing and I had to continuously remind myself to breathe, but I did it! And it was fun! Really fun! And it was challenging. (I woke up the next morning with sore muscles that I didn’t even know I had.)

I laughed, mostly at myself, but also with my friends. We cheered each other on and I felt proud. I was proud of how strong my friends are. They are such amazing athletes! Some of them even managed to pop up into wheel pose and balance on their heads in the middle of a lake! I was proud of myself for following through and doing the best that I could even though it was challenging and I felt nervous.

As we lay on our boards in savasana, I felt that initial feeling of calm wash back over me. Feeling the sun shining down on me, floating gently in the water, the perfect breeze blowing. I let my hands rest gently in the warm water. It felt amazing, until I thought about the alligators again. My heart skipped a beat, my body went tense and I jerked my hands back onto my board. I reminded myself to breathe. I let myself enjoy a few last moments being in nature, surrounded by some of my most favorite people. My heart was full.

Check out the video below for some of my favorite moments from my SUP Yoga adventure!

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