TJ Mangrun is a SUP Yoga Teacher based in Atlanta, who teaches on Lake Lanier. She tells us about how yoga done on a Stand Up Paddle Board might just be the most absolute form of mindfulness that there is.
How did you come to yoga?
My mother practiced yoga in the 70’s before I was even thought of. She passed away when I was young, so I took it up as a way to stay connected with her. I was in my mid-teens when I started, but that was literally just getting about 5 poses from the internet and doing them.
In my twenties I was drawn back to it and I have been practicing ever since.
What did your practice look like when you first started?
I had a corporate job that had a discount for gym membership, so my first class was gym yoga. I did that for a year and then I moved to Colorado where I came across an incredible studio called “Kindness Yoga”. I was there for 7 days a week and if I didn’t go, I felt like I wasn’t treating myself with the compassion that I deserved.
Four or five years later I moved back to Atlanta where I did my first teacher training in Hatha. I now have four teacher trainings.
How did the Paddle Boarding fit it?
I always had a romance with the water. I have a massive understanding and respect for water. I went with a friend. As soon as I was on a board I said, “This is like a yoga mat”. I tried some poses.
They was my very first time on the board, I watched how my body adjusted to the instability of being on the water and how I had to use my body in a whole different way.
I had to be correctly aligned within my body so that I could hold a pose, otherwise I would fall off. There was no way to cheat. It was just me, my body and the water. That was all that there was available and I had to use my body correctly.
It was really empowering. It was really cool to see my body be so strong.
How difficult is SUP Yoga?
I can’t speak for everyone, but if I were speaking candidly, I would say it is easier than people think it will be. If there is fear regarding falling into the water, there are modifications that you can do. Your first pose could be a knee down lunge or some sort of a supine pose, on your back.
In my classes, I always get my students to start on their back. I get them to rock from side to side to feel the stability of the board. It’s a lot more stable than looking at it might lead one to believe.
What are the benefits of SUP Yoga?
A lot of times in a studio, teachers will talk about staying present, watching your breath and staying in your body.
In order to do a pose like a high lunge on a board, I am unable to think of anything else except for what I am doing, how I am breathing, how I am shaking. It’s the most present that I most personally feel.
You get to be in nature, there is no music. Getting to do a downward dog and looking at the trees upside down while you’re resting on the water, that’s completely individual to any other experience.
There have been studies that show how calming it is for us just to be beside water, is that something that you find?
Definitely. I worked with a child with autism, a friend of mine’s child. Things were tough for her at times. I would float around with her, talk her through some small poses and sing mantras to her and it was like I could actually talk and connect with her when we were on the water. We had the space to connect with each other.
We are about 70% water. We innately understand water. I personally believe that.
When I am on a board I understand how infinite everything is and infinite I am. I understand that everything is me and that I am everything.
There is a meditation that I do for my root chakra and I think, “I am”.
On my board, paddling and using my strength and the strength of the water is the closes that I ever get to feeling, “ I am”.
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