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SUP yoga in Costa Rica; Photograph by Avery Stonich

Pioneering Stand-Up Paddleboarding Yoga in Costa Rica

There’s something undeniably special about being a pioneer—especially when the backdrop is a pristine, deserted bay in the northwestern Costa Rican jungle. I can’t tell you exactly where because then I’d have to kill you. But suffice to say that it’s the perfect canvas for combining the soothing strokes of stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) with the outer strength and inward reflection of yoga. This was adventure of a whole new kind. It was an out-of-body experience.

I was in Costa Rica for a six-day women’s kiteboarding and yoga camp. One afternoon after kiting all day, we timed a SUP yoga session for sunset. No one had ever done SUP yoga on this particular bay. We were pioneers. And we had to it ourselves—five strong women who had come together to try new things, push boundaries, and cultivate inner peace.

Yoga is about far more than moving through a series of poses to build strength and flexibility. It’s about acceptance. And doing yoga on a floating mat, well—you have to go with the flow. The paddleboard rocks gently, challenging balance. Fight the motion and you’ll likely fall. Embrace it and you realize that it’s reminiscent of the need to maintain balance amidst the waves of life.

We paddled out into the bay for an hour of yoga to close the day. As we moved through our vinyasa (that’s flow for you non-yogi types), I noticed how my paddleboard provided a solid yet unsteady platform. It challenged me, making me tune into every micro muscle—and accept that wobbling is inevitable. It forced me to surrender.

Just as I felt an inner shift, the sky began to transform. The sun’s giant beaming orb slowly slipped toward the sea, casting a golden glow. The water’s surface morphed to silky velvet, melting into a dappled coat of yellow and blue kissed by the waning rays. The clouds lit up with the retreating grace of a perfect day. And above the jungled shore, a half moon appeared, harkening nightfall.

As the sun dripped beneath the horizon to cast a new day far away, we took a moment on our boards in quiet contemplation. The world around me dissolved. I was alone on the water and in my mind. Drifting, floating, beaming.

Finally we lay on our backs in the final shavasana—otherwise known as corpse pose, which is ironic because it actually invokes a pure connection with being alive. As my hands dangled in the water, floating in the soft sway of the ocean, I felt at peace. A gentle rain began to fall, darting my skin with cold pinpricks and making me feel in tune with every sensation and sound. My breath became one with the crashing waves.

At the end of our practice, with the cloak of night slowly embracing us, we paddled back to shore in awed silence, feeling restored, invigorated, and renewed, as if emerging from a cocoon. It was the most powerful yoga session I’ve ever known. It was like my brain had been cleared of the cobwebs of worries and restrictions, leaving a vibrant feeling of serenity, strength, and possibility.

The next day, I applied this focus and acceptance to kiteboarding. I was able to use my breath and intention to connect myself to the wind and water. The patience and surrender I felt during SUP yoga helped me avoid frustration when I crashed, and gave me the resolve to try again and again.

I also came to realize that we are all pioneers in our own lives. Every minute is a new moment we’ve never lived before. What we do with it us up to each of us. We can choose to go about life the same old way day after day, or we can challenge ourselves to new experiences. Familiarity can breed complacency. Trying new things opens the possibility of your mind being blown. I’ll take the latter any day.

If you want to go:

Wellfit Institute hosts a women’s kiteboarding and yoga camp in Costa Rica each year. The next trip is December 4-9, 2014.

Avery Stonich is a freelance writer based in Boulder, Colo., who has traveled to 40 countries in search of adventure. Follow her on Twitter: @averystonich.