Missoula yoga studio takes to water with classes on paddle boards

MISSOULA — Taking their practice to a whole new level, a handful of adventuring yoga students glided into the cool waters of the Clark Fork River on stand-up paddle boards Wednesday afternoon.

Once the class got its sea legs near the Boone and Crockett Club, where the river becomes a calm pool, they gathered in a small pod and dropped anchor.

Laughing at the strangeness of the venue, the students boldly attempted a few downward dogs, a few warrior poses and a few headstands before the unique stand-up paddle board yoga class — also known as SUP yoga — officially began.

“The first few wobbles was problematic,” said Aimee McQuilkin, “but then you forget you are on a paddle board, and it feels solid.”

Although new to Missoula, SUP yoga has been offered in many water towns across the world for a few years, said Jennifer Hoover, owner of Hot House Yoga, a downtown Missoula yoga studio.

“I wanted to offer it because it is a nice way to bring yoga outside during the summer and to have some fun,” she said. “I think, too, it brings a lot of presence to the practice, which is what we are focused on in yoga.”

Moving through the vinyasa-based poses on a floating platform is a challenge for balance, but often people find doing yoga on the paddle boards is a freeing experience because falling means a soft landing and a welcome dip in the water on a hot day, she said.

“It really is helpful for people who struggle with some things because there is a sense of lift and buoyancy,” Hoover said. “There are some moves that actually feel easier and lighter to do on a paddle board, and some moves become more accessible when you are practicing on the water.”

Jenny Van Swearingen was eager to try the new class because it combined two of her favorite things.

“I love water and I love yoga, and this great opportunity just presented itself,” said the Missoula nurse. “It’s a really cool idea.”

Confident and strong on stable ground, Jeff Wilson said he wanted to challenge his yoga.

“I like yoga and I like playing in the water, but I have never been on a paddle board,” said Wilson, a paralegal. “This should be interesting.”

As he got accustomed to the side-to-side rocking motion of the board, Wilson found some moves were easier than others, and occasionally, he landed with a kerplonk in the river.

Each time someone inevitably fell in, laughter and giggles ensued, infusing the class with joy.

Dripping wet and climbing back aboard after slipping in a pose, Van Swearingen smiled.

As she refocused her mind and body to pick up where she left off, Van Swearingen cheerfully informed the class that falling was indeed fun, and the temperature of the water perfect.

“It’s divine,” she said of the unusual outdoor experience. “Just divine.”

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