At some point during my milk drinking youth, I shot up like a weed. My hamstrings, however, instead of joining in on the fun, simply pulled taut like steel guitar strings over my bony adolescent legs. As a result, I have the flexibility of a well-chilled cadaver. I can still only stretch about as far down as to place the tips of my fingers on my knees.
It hasn’t really been an obstacle in life, since I’ve managed to do an excellent job of avoiding any need to be flexible. I figure if it really ever becomes an issue, I can always buy one of those, grabby arm reach extender things with the little lever you pull to grasp with a mechanical grip. That, or just squat as needed.
So when it was suggested I try yoga… I balked. When it was added that the yoga be on a paddle board on a flowing river… I laughed. And then we booked the filming.
Visiting the Kayak Shack in Plattsburgh NY, I wandered through the shop admiring all the gear. I always find it fun seeing all the accoutrements that go with activities you don’t do. Lots of… “Hmm… what does that do?” and “That seems like a good price for whatever that thing is.” I ran through the different activities with the owner Patty and wandered out into the daylight signed up for a Kayak class and Stand-up Paddle Board Yoga class, commonly known as SUP Yoga. Of course, with a tad of anxiety.
Before this I had never even heard of such a thing. I’d never kayaked, paddle boarded or “yoga-ed.” But now I was on my way to try them all – on camera. I was fairly certain of two things:
1) One way or the other it would likely be a very memorable experience.
2) I was going to get wet.
I wondered what other possible yoga combinations might be out there. I’d love to see someone start Dodge Ball Yoga, wherein people randomly throw soccer balls you must dodge while trying to complete poses. Or perhaps Yoga on Stilts or even Jello Yoga. I’m not sure what Jello Yoga would entail… but it sounds pretty awesome.
The morning began on a postcard perfect weather day on the Ausable River at Bagg’s Landing. I climbed into a kayak for the first time with some fellow beginners for a two hour intro to the world of river kayaking. In all honesty my biggest fear was whether or not I had the arm strength to do it. But the expert instructors informed me it was “more about your core.” This was little comfort since I have the core of a S’more.
It was surprisingly easy, and before long the instructors actually had me feeling comfortable on the water. I found my confidence grow and before long felt as if I had a pretty good handle navigating the calm river water. A confidence slightly padded by the fact they give lessons to kids as young as 7 years old.
We learned how to recover from kayaks flipping over, which led to a brisk dip in the mountain run off. Climbing out of the kayak on to the shore dripping with river water and excitement, I knew this was now something I had to do again.
The first 20 minutes or so on the paddle board were very difficult to get used to. It is basically standing on a floating balance beam with a river below. Fortunately, I had already taken a few dips during the kayaking so falling in wasn’t much of a concern anymore. Once you are wet, you are wet.
We paddled our way down the river and roped off the boards in an absolutely stunning and secluded area. Our instructor Emily began the lesson with slow and simple movements. Thankfully she provided easier poses for those like myself, who had neither done yoga nor paddle boarding before. More advanced students were able to do handstands and other amazing things, but I didn’t want to show off.
While focusing on the movements, I forgot at times about my fear of falling. My heart rate slowed from the panicked adrenaline of my first minutes trying to stay upright on the water. I soon found myself truly relaxed. The gentle flow of the river beneath the board was an odd sensation that only made me feel more connected to everything around me.
I’m no more flexible than I was before I started… well physically that is. But trying new things and new adventures is another kind of flexibility that is just as important to a life lived in your full range of movement. Even if I still can’t touch my toes.
Kevin Cooney is a writer, reporter, and digital-dude. Recently re-patriated to beautiful Northern NY.
The Kayak Shack is located 498 Rt. 3, Plattsburgh NY. You can contact them at (518) 566-0505 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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