Yoga finds a new home on top of the water. Stand up paddle, or SUP, has been a rising star in the aquatic sports scene for years. Interest has skyrocketed, as this athletic activity proves both accessible and attractive to people of all sporting backgrounds and geographies. Some use it as a cross-training tool, while others make a living on the sport with the pro tour. Stand up paddle has essentially become a platform for racing, surfing, channel crossings, environmental awareness, and recently, yoga.
Floating yoga, or Flo-yo as it is called, is the newest addition to this multi-tool of athletic equipment, and the Fairmont Orchid’s Spa Without Walls is one of the first on the Big Island to offer classes. Classes are held early in the mornings in the resort’s protected beach lagoon where winds are light and the sun is just peeking over Mauna Kea. It is an idyllic scene for any yoga practice, especially one that combines the serenity of floating on water, the enjoyment of being outdoors, and the physical challenge of this hour-long endorphin boosting bliss.
Donica Shouse, the Flo-yo instructor at the Fairmont, began stand up paddle surfing years ago. Most stand up boards have deck pads with the same texture and feel as a yoga mat and she would practice poses on her board while waiting for waves between sets. After years of intermittent floating yoga breaks, the idea to teach an entire class in this style had emerged. As a surfer and yoga enthusiast, she recognized the benefits of incorporating the two practices and the peaceful environment at the Fairmont Orchid was a perfect setting.
Many newcomers scoff at the idea of a floating yoga practice, thinking the difficulty level to be somewhat similar to ascending Mt. Everest on a unicycle—they are highly mistaken. You don’t need to be a professional surfer or a bendy yogi in order to practice Flo-yo. According to Donica, “It’s good for people who have some background in yoga and who want to bring that extra bit of awareness to their practice.” But even a yoga background isn’t necessary and she’s had children as young as eight years old take the class. However, because the “mat” is constantly moving, floating yoga does require a high level of focus and an advanced class engages core muscles more than a land-based practice; but it is rare that a participant will unwillingly wet even a single strand of hair.
The class begins on the beach with an introduction to the equipment. Some participants have never been on a paddleboard, but Donica ensures everyone is comfortable before guiding them into the lagoon. She paddles the class to one side of the small bay and everyone is instructed to drop an attached hand weight into the water. This prevents the class from washing ashore or out to sea, but it doesn’t impede the boards from drifting, floating and changing directions with the ebb of the sea and suggestion of the wind. The class then includes a warm up, sun salutations and balancing poses, followed by 40-minutes of floating yoga. The constant shift of perception is somewhat unnerving for those accustomed to traditional land-based yoga, but it only adds to the feelings of freedom and of letting go that is unique and encouraged by this practice.
The experience and comfort level of participants determine the difficulty of the class, but each instruction begins with a seated series in order to give even the most inexperienced paddle boarder or yogi a moment to acclimate to their new aquatic setting. Due to the ever-changing conditions of the water, every class is unique, offering spontaneity that cannot be found in a typical studio. You may make friends with a passing sea turtle, lock eyes with a curious fish, or encounter a friendly wave that offers up a splash to cool you down. The experience is uniquely yours.
If you’re looking to vary your workout regimen, challenge your focus, begin your day in a meditative state, or simply acquire a new adventure, floating yoga is an exceptional route to take.
The hour-long Flo-yo classes are offered Monday and Friday mornings at 7am at the Fairmont Orchid’s beach lagoon (subject to change). Each class is $20 and includes all equipment. Call to inquire about class times (808) 885-2000.