“SUP?” (Road Trip Part IV)

Life is limitless, and knowing this is what the spirit is.” -Macklemore

My mom, Mary and I arrived at the beach for paddle board yoga just before 7AM. I was ecstatic, pee-your-pants, Deathly-Hallows-midnight-premiere levels of excited. (Most pivotal moments of my life thus far, in descending order: birth of my sister, receiving my pre-ordered copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, moving into college. So this was pretty damn exciting.) The sun had just begun to rise over the expanse of green trees at the other side of the pond; a gentle breeze made tiny ripples in the stunningly blue water; a neat row of colorful boards awaited us at the pond’s edge, complete with anchors, paddles, and optional life vests. I was pretty sure we’d just found heaven.

“SUP,” or Stand-Up Paddleboard Yoga, had been a source of intrigue for my mom and me ever since we subscribed to the Athleta catalogue. Not to mention the second I found out about the catchy acronym I wanted to find a paddle board yoga instructor and ask, “hey, what’s SUP?” (Anyone? Anyone?) The aura of mystery and grace surrounding SUP yoga was both intimidating and attractive. My mom, Mary and I felt absolutely confident in two things: 1) the practice would be magical, and 2) we were going to suck at it.

An impressively athletic-looking woman pulled up to the beach a few minutes after we did. We all openly stared at her as she got out of her car and started walking over to the pond.

“Yup, she’s toned,” Mary observed. “We’re done for, ladies.” My mom and I nodded in grim agreement. It was clear we were out of our league.

But the sun was shining, the pond beckoned, and our awesome instructor Amy assured us that most of her clientele signed up for class with no prior paddle boarding experience. So when she said the word, we grabbed our boards, sat squarely on our knees, and began to paddle out on the water.

The board was far more stable than I had imagined it would be; after just a few minutes of practice on my feet I could comfortably rock from side to side, shifting weight from one foot to the other. I paddled like Amy had instructed us to, driving the blade straight down into the water and smoothly pushing it back to propel myself forward. The landscape sprawled out in front of me like a painting, calm and unassuming in the quiet morning air. I listened to the lapping of the water against my board. I hummed a little tune. I imagined hitting pause on the world outside the pond, stretching out that gorgeous, peaceful moment so I could live in it for a few eternities. A few minutes later we dropped our anchors to begin practice.

To our complete surprise, we really didn’t suck that badly. The yoga practice itself was relatively mellow, with your basic sun salutations and victorious breath through the nose. My personal favorite was downward facing dog; I let my head hang and looked back between my legs to find the same stunning beauty of the picturesque pond, but upside down. The water became the sky. The trees along the opposite bank were growing downward. My first thought was that the view was breathtaking; my second thought was that Mary’s board was floating directly behind my mom’s, and with the kind of hip-raising that the pose called for, her head was probably painfully close to my mom’s butt. I chuckled to myself and really hoped that was the case.

There were a few points at which I could’ve easily tumbled off the board and into the cool blue water, but somehow, I didn’t.  The instructor laughed at my mom as she kept wheeling her head around to look at Mary.

“I can’t see you back there!” my mom exclaimed.

“That’s the point!” Mary answered contentedly. All three of us somehow managed to stay comfortably upright all the way through practice and the leisurely journey back to shore. And, as if that wasn’t enough, the wonderfully toned woman turned out to be one of the friendliest people we’d met all week. (On the car ride home, my mom still noted with a smile, “you know, she was strong, but she really wasn’t that flexible. Definitely not as flexible as us.”)

We decided SUP yoga was by far our favorite practice of the trip; our favorite practice of our entire lives, really. Mary admitted that yes, she had been uncomfortably close to my mom’s backside, and despite whatever trauma that might’ve caused, she had enjoyed the practice so much that she planned to sign up again for next week. Somehow SUP yoga had managed to live up to our gargantuan expectations. Short of finally receiving my letter from Hogwarts, I can’t think of many experiences more magical than a morning of yoga on the water.

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Athleta, call me

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posin’ with Amy and paddle boards

4 days, 4 yoga practices, 3 beaches, new opportunities and old friends. Thank you so much to all our hosts who let us mooch so shamelessly, we couldn’t have done any of this without you. Thank you devoted readers, all twelve of you, for following along with our yoga adventure. And Mom, thanks for not killing me in my sleep even though I made fun of you on the Internet for four days in a row; goodness knows you had plenty of opportunities. You’re my favorite lunatic.

See you back here next Monday, my friends.

Namaste,
Hannah

Seavasana (Road Trip Part III)

When the alarm went off at 7 this morning, my mom and I both groaned and rolled over in our cozy little four-poster bed. Usually we’re early risers, but we were up late talking with our marvelous friend and host, Mary. Mary usually lives in Seattle, but has moved back to Cape Cod for the summer. Her house is a gorgeous blend of new and old, antique and crafty; every time I walk into a room I discover an eccentric trinket or fascinating piece of art that I hadn’t noticed before. And she has a deck with lounge chairs, so my mom and I are enamored.

We eventually crawled out of bed, hopped into our yoga clothes, and made fun of each others’ hair for a few minutes. (Hers was sticking out in matted, wavy chunks, while mine had frizzed up in every direction in some kind of psychotic halo; I swear I looked like Kramer from Seinfeld. Humidity is not our friend.) If Mary noticed our ridiculous ‘dos, she politely pretended otherwise.

We hit the road by 7:30AM, in what I have come to believe is the only way to travel around Cape Cod in a heat wave: via convertible.

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Top down, hands up, fingers playing in the warm breeze, cruising to a private club to practice yoga on the beach. If it weren’t for our accidental afros, I’d have thought we were celebrities.

We arrived at the fancy little beach club just before 8 and met our instructor, Nancy, who explained that we would be practicing Yin yoga. She told us to grab a mat, a blanket, and a block, and that we could take a spot anywhere on the beach.

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The spot was so beautiful, she probably could’ve told us to start chopping wood and I would’ve found a way to be happy about it. But when I asked Nancy to explain the basics of Yin yoga to me before class, I had a feeling I’d be in for a challenge.

“Are you familiar with the ideas of Yin and Yang?” she asked.

“Oh yes, I think so,” I nodded enthusiastically. (I probably should’ve known that having jammed to Get Low by Lil Jhon featuring the Ying Yang Twins at high school dances didn’t really count, but I had a feeling she was going to explain things anyways.)

“Yin and Yang are the opposing forces of the universe; they’re in everything and they’re in each other,” she explained. “But our culture- our lives- are very much dominated by Yang. Yang is the force of doing, while Yin is the act of observing. Today we’ll be exploring this Yin energy, holding gentle poses for 3-5 minutes, focusing more on just being rather than doing.” She ended her explanation with a friendly smile, truly excited by the 90 minute meditation that lay ahead of us.

“Thank you,” I smiled back, “I’m looking forward to the practice! I’ll see you out on the beach.” I gathered my items, turning to my mom as we descended the wooden steps to the sand, “just a warning. This is a very meditative form of yoga.” She groaned.

Meditation is not our strong suit.

Mary, however, let out a cheer when she heard we had chosen a more gentle form of practice. (She’s biked across Martha’s Vineyard, windsurfed on Cape Cod, and once learned how to snowboard on a whim, but for some reason she feels her yoga skills are lacking.) We set up our towels, found a comfortable position, and waited for class to start.

For the next hour and a half, we practiced the most gentle, kind, unassuming form of yoga on the planet. Short of laying in shavasana for an hour and a half, I’m really not sure how it could’ve been any more relaxed. In each position we were encouraged to support ourselves with either a blanket or a block, to make ourselves comfortable and let go further into the ground with each exhale. The goal was to stay present and relaxed.

“In almost every aspect of our lives, we’re encouraged to reach more, do more, stretch more. In Yin yoga, we are just trying to let go. Don’t push yourself like you would in a regular yoga class. Find your edge, where you’re present but comfortable, where you feel a little bit of that delicious relaxation.” She used the word delicious several times. I’ll admit it was an unexpected choice of adjective for a yoga practice on the beach, but every time she said it I couldn’t help but smile a little. Delicious. Like a fresh nectarine, or Daniel Craig’s jawline.

Relax. Breathe. Inhale. Exhale. Western culture is packed with Yang energy- the need to strive, to judge, to have more, to do better. (Mary observed that the abrasive yet lovable Grey’s Anatomy character Christina Yang was probably named with this energy in mind, and also admitted that she had been thinking about Christina for a good portion of the meditation time.) Yin energy, the ability to simply be, seems to us a totally foreign concept.

So naturally, my first instinct was to fight it. I wanted to flow, to move, to sprint, to do something besides lay on my side and breathe. It was truly one of the harder yoga practices I’ve ever done. I found meditation for a few minutes at a time. I tried to match my breathing with the crashes of the nearby waves. I wished death upon every fly that took a bite out of my legs. (There were several.) Overall, I think Nancy would agree that my Yin could use a little practice. But at the end of class, there came something spectacular enough to give Yin yoga a special place in my heart forever.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present, “seavasana.”

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I really can’t decide which is better, the posture or the pun. Floating like the most relaxed of buoys, rocking with each wave, listening to your own breath as ocean water fills your ears. It was magical.

And of course we couldn’t leave without a beach photoshoot.

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cheesin’ with Nancy

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I surrendered to my body’s plea for physical activity and went on a run through Mary’s neighborhood after class. This was an undeniably Yang-like thing of me to do, but working up a sweat after all that relaxation just felt so good. And really, I’m not sure that Yang-ing all the time is such a terrible thing; after all, Christina has become one of the best cardiac surgeons at Seattle Grace. (That’s what I’d guess, anyways. I more or less boycotted Grey’s after they started killing off everyone and their mothers.) I think everyone needs a little Yang- the motivation to strive and to act. But I think everyone might need to step back every once in a while and find their Yin too. Especially if it includes a shot at seavasana. (Seriously, next time you’re at the beach, seavasana your heart out. You won’t be sorry.)

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Somehow we’re already coming up on our last day of the trip, but I hope it’ll be something of a grand finale. Tomorrow morning, 7AM, dreams will be coming true. Two words: paddleboard yoga. I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow night. If you want a preview, we’ll be looking something like this:

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Namaste,
Hannah

The Colors of the Wind (Road Trip Part II)

Yes, I did manage to haul my ass out of bed at 5:45 this morning and back to Bristol Yoga Studio for a second Kripalu class. I left a few minutes later than planned and walked into the studio at 6:32 AM, after class had already started. There was a friendly-looking young woman at the front of the serene room with the wooden floors, and only three other students in the room. I discreetly joined them (or as discreetly as one can join a quiet room when she accidentally drops her water bottle upon entry) and jumped right into my practice.

I didn’t think it was possible, but this class was even slower and more meditative than the practice we did last night. The postures weren’t designed to challenge our muscles, but rather to stretch and relax them. Our instructor’s voice was soft and gentle, telling us to let go of our thoughts, to allow ourselves to release any tension or preoccupation we may have held coming into class. There was no right way to perform this yoga; she emphasized over and over again that this was our practice, offering several different modifications for each posture that we should choose depending on what felt best for our bodies.

A different experience from Bikram, to say the least.

The instructor told me after class that the word Kripalu actually means “compassion,” which would explain the gentle nature of the practice. But the practice in meditation is just as hard, if not harder, than the physical challenges that Bikram hurled at my sweaty body for thirty days. I feel like I’m reaching a little further into my zone with every class.

After practice, I drove back to Sarah and Brian’s house blasting music louder than most neighborhoods probably wanted to hear before 8AM on a Wednesday, but I was on a yoga high. Relaxed muscles, clear mind, positive energy- and the day had just begun.

After a quick breakfast, we headed to the beach for the morning.

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From the beach, we stopped back at the house for a lunch even quicker than breakfast, and then headed off to the day’s main event: sailing with Sarah and Brian.

Sailing itself would’ve been exciting enough, as I’d never been on a sailboat before, but this was no ordinary sailing experience. Sarah, an OT professor at Tufts University, badass ski instructor at Loon Mountain, and one of my favorite human beings on the planet, also happens to be paralyzed from the waist down. She was hit by a car when she was twenty three years old, and has been taking the world by storm on wheels ever since.

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In her free time, Sarah sails. And by sails, I mean she skillfully races sailboats and wins international competitions. She’ll be traveling to Ireland in a few weeks with Brian and Ellie to compete. (But keep in mind, this is just a hobby.)

As we set sail on the beautiful blue water of Narraganset Bay, I was given the responsibility of manning the rope connected to the main sail, the technical name of which I’ve already forgotten. Within about three minutes I proved my inability to do anything that would benefit the boat at large (i.e. pulled when I should’ve eased up, admired the arms of a handsome man on a nearby boat instead of actively following Sarah’s directions) and my mom politely took over main sail duties. She pulled that rope with more muscle and confidence than Johnny Depp in a Captain Jack Sparrow costume, and I have to admit, I was impressed. She’s just so beautiful and strong, you know?

(After she read yesterday’s wedgie comment, my mom told me that she thought any readers who don’t know her personally will probably think she’s some sort of unsophisticated lunatic. To which I responded, “but what about the ones who do know you personally?”)

(Just kidding, I totally didn’t say that, that would’ve been rude. She is, at the very least, an incredibly sophisticated lunatic. The world’s most kindhearted, most giving, most sophisticated lunatic. And I meant what I said about those sailing skills. She gave that boat the business.)

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Once we found our rhythm, the five of us had quite a lovely afternoon on the water. After about an hour or two of smooth sailing (puns!), Sarah made a happy observation.

“We always say you don’t have time to come out and sail, but you just have to make time. It’s so peaceful out here, and quiet, away from everything that’s happening on land.” She looked over at me. “Hannah, this is definitely some kind of yoga.”

“Oh totally, it’s meditation,” my mom agreed. “Hann, that can be your post for tonight! Active meditation!”

And so, here we are. After a few hours out on the sailboat, watching the blue water pass beneath us and enjoying the wind’s salty spray, I could easily see a connection between sailing and yoga. A calm place, a tranquil escape, a focus on something outside of yourself. Or maybe a focus on something inside of yourself. Even in the intense atmosphere of a race, Sarah has to remain calm and clear-headed to make decisions and lead her crew. She must stay in the present moment and avoid panic. She has to let go and see where the wind takes her.

And isn’t that all we strive for in yoga? The ability to let go and follow the wind?

Well, that’s what I’m striving for anyways. To let go, to calm my mind, to be the best that I can. And hey, if I learn to paint with all the colors of the wind, that’s just an added bonus. So Sarah and Brian, if you get around to reading this, thank you so much for an incredible two days. I’m sure we’ll be back for more adventures.

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(I promise I’m far less competent than these pictures might lead you to believe.)

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Sarah, in her happy place.

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The whole gang!

My eyelids are starting to droop, so I should probably head to sleep. More yoga, beaching, and exploring to be done tomorrow! Look out Cape Cod, here we come.

Namaste,
Hannah

Pick Your Wedgies With Pride (Road Trip Part I)

My apologies for the late post, we’re just getting in from our first day of yoga adventuring. It started with several hours in the car as we dropped my marvelous sister off at a 4-day scholar athlete leadership camp, and we hit some heinous traffic on a Massachusetts highway (totally unheard of, right?). My mom swore far more than necessary and received several middle fingers through closed car windows as we swerved into Panera for lunch, but other than that, our journey to Rhode Island went relatively smoothly.

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Tonight we practiced at Bristol Yoga Studio, an adorable hole-in-the-wall kind of place on a cozy street corner in the town of Bristol, RI. The studio had wooden floors, offered a modest view of neighboring street shops outside its front windows, and smelled faintly of incense; the atmosphere was more serene than any studio I’ve visited thus far. We quickly introduced ourselves to Tracy, the studio owner, and explained that this was our first stop on a most heroic yoga quest. Obviously, she was impressed.

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(My mom should’ve taken a photography class in high school, but Tracy rocks!)

The class we were attending was simply labeled “All Levels Yoga,” so my mom and I had no idea what kind of practice we were walking into. I figured there would quite a few dogs involved (at least upward and downward facing), and probably a couple warriors (namely, one and two). When I asked, Tracy told me that her yoga teachings had been heavily influenced by the Kripalu and Anusara practices. I nodded like I knew what that meant and followed my mom into the studio to set up our mats.

First and foremost, this yoga was not sweaty. The studio was a mere 78 degrees (I snuck a peek at the thermostat on our way in) which seemed downright chilly in comparison to the oppressively hot air outside. I barely broke a sweat once throughout the practice, which was equal parts refreshing and off-putting. It was similar to Bikram in the sense that we held difficult positions for long amounts of time, but also similar to Vinyasa in the sense that we flowed through series of movements. Very, very slowly.

“This practice isn’t about what you think, it’s about what you feel. Stop thinking, and just feel where your body is, what it needs, right now.” Tracy’s voice was gentle and encouraging. Maybe it was her insightful dialogue, or maybe it was the ultra-soothing shade of blue they had chosen to paint the walls, but the whole thing had a meditative quality that I’d never before experienced in a yoga practice. The sun was setting outside and casting fire-orange shadows across the studio floor. My breath sounded like the ocean waves that I knew were crashing just a few blocks from where we stood. Feel, don’t think; feel, don’t think. My muscles felt strong as we settled into Warrior Two. I am inhaling, I am exhaling. I am inhaling, I am ex-

I snuck a glance to the left at my mom just in time to see her covertly pick a wedgie. She might kill me for posting this, which would kind of put a damper on our whole little trip here, but seeing that wedgie-adjustment was an integral part of my practice. An integral part of my growth as a human being, really. A perfect juxtaposition of the poetic and the priceless. I mean, everybody’s gotta adjust their underwear every now and again, especially in the middle of a challenging yoga position that requires extended lunging. But it felt like the divine yoga gods were sending me a message: even in your most spectacular, beautiful, lyrical moments, you must never forget that somewhere, someone is picking their wedgie.

Life is mysterious, life is silly. All you can do is try to take it all in.

And so we finished practice, feeling refreshed and balanced and inspired and hungry. Our friends who are so graciously providing us with shelter on this fine night, Sarah, Brian, and their daughter Ellie, met us for dinner at a spectacular seaside grill.

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Ellie and I hammin’ it up on the restaurant pier

We finished the night with a trip to the ice cream stand, and all seems right in the world. For now, anyways. I told myself I’m going back to Bristol Yoga (a 20 minute drive away) for 6:30AM tomorrow, and things may not feel so sparkly and wonderful when my alarm goes off at 5:45. But I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. Approximately six hours from now.

So mom, when you read this, I’m sorry for the wedgie comment, but you really led me to a little epiphany there. You’re the best, I love you a lot, and I promise I’ll come to bed in like ten minutes.

To all my other readers, I’ll talk to you tomorrow night. Pick your wedgies with pride, my friends.

Namaste,
Hannah