Category Archives: Yoga

DUALITIES. BALANCE. THINK ABOUT IT.

Dualities. Balance. Yin and Yang. Effort and ease. Activity and stillness. Community and solitude. Sound and silence. The list just might be infinite. Sage Rountree (http://sagerountree.com) introduced the concept of dualities to those of us participating in training at Kripalu to Teach Yoga to Athletes. It is a profound concept.

It’s something we think about – a lot – in the practice of Yoga. Life is so full of ups and downs, ins and outs, happy and sad, ease and disease. Our quality of life, our emotional and mental stability, in fact our very lives, depend on the balance of these opposites, these dualities, these partners in each individual existence. And it is, in fact, a balance rather than the elimination of one or the other. Many dualities are equally positive or equally challenging, just different. Often it is a matter of coincidence, coordination, comingling, cooperation.

In our Yoga practice, we give equal time to stretch and strength, twist and bend, prone and supine, kneeling, standing, lunging, forward fold, back bend, Tadasana and Savasana. And those are just the Asanas, or physical poses. (Asanas are but one of the eight limbs of Yoga so there’s plenty more to practice!)

In the gym we make certain to cover all our bases: warm up and cool down, challenge ourselves aerobically, build muscular strength, enhance quickness and coordination, balance without falling as well as balancing opposing muscle groups in training, and, of course, flexibility.

Once again I am reminded of the shared elements of all forms of training. Yoga has been around for a very long time, so coincidences in functional training, physical therapy, Pilates, and so much more can usually be traced back to some form of Yoga. Likewise, practice in one discipline aids performance in another.

Perhaps I find it most significant to remember that there is no right or wrong. Of course, asking each individual body to move in a way appropriate to that body, seeking maximal alignment for each, is key. Repeatedly practicing a movement, a training exercise or a Yoga pose inappropriately leads only to overuse or even wear and tear that negates the effort invested over long periods of time.

But that being said, there should be no feuds between instructors, coaches, athletes, or schools of practice.

Josh Summers (https://joshsummers.net/podcast/what-is-yin-yoga/) presents an excellent definition of Yin Yoga. The notion that Yin and Yang are BOTH valid and should BOTH be practiced, simply triggers the imagination to consider the value of blending opposites of all kinds.

Balance is, after all, equilibrium.

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For the past three weeks I have indulged in shared time spent with my dog, or friends, or family. Each dynamic generously gifts its own special blessing. This year has been different from past in that my “me-time” has been with my 11 month old Lab. (As my brother quipped, “it’s just like having a toddler!”) She has been by my side for multiple and daily trail walks, swims, off leash runs/on leash training, and even a little rock scrambling in Camdenhttp://www.mainetrailfinder.com/trails/trail/camden-hills-state-park-interior-trail-network). We’ve both learned a great deal about each other and have kept each other moving almost constantly, mutually increasing fitness as we go.

Balancing outdoor activity have been hours of Yoga practice (both Vinyasa and Yin at Freeport Yoga Company, http://freeportyogaco.com) and the deck.

Time spent on the deck where I am living is time sketched in gold. Vivid oranges and pinks fire up the day even before the sun makes its early appearance, bouncing color and energy off the surface of the water. (No wonder Sun Salutations are integral to one’s Yoga practice.) Though the sunset on the other side of the peninsula is equally dramatic, there is something oh so lovely about its residual glow from our deck. And the full moon? There are not words …. But if it weren’t for the deck, would I pause to sit there and observe?

The deck is the intuitive gathering place for all of us. Sophie could sit there and look for hours. My family and I can talk endlessly, but there always comes the fall into a reverent or contemplative silence – just watching. Tides ebb and flow, lobster boats motor up and down the sound working while I play, fish rise and re-enter with a significant slap, ducks search for food as cormorants dive under for so long I wonder if they’ll ever reappear. They do.

But it is not in stillness that my random thoughts are born. Movement, not stillness, generates curiosity, the attempt to define, ponder or even organize what floats in and out of mind. Hours spent hiking the trails, walking the rocky shoreline, or riding the roads are the hours that produce thoughts that beg follow up study.

So, in my experience this summer, it seems that balance has been paramount. The Yin and Yang of the hours teach. May I be a receptive student.

EVERYONE DESERVES YOGA

 

While at Kripalu in January, I picked up this post card.

EVERYONE DESERVES YOGA. courtesy of Kripalu

EVERYONE DESERVES YOGA. courtesy of Kripalu

It is a request for donations to help share the Yoga experience, but the message is an apt reminder that Yoga is, indeed, for everyone. Whatever one’s age, physical ability, educational, social or political beliefs, anyone and everyone has within his or her reach the practice of Yoga.

Full disclosure. Oh how I resisted Yoga! With a long-ago professional ballet career in my resume and a boatload of training and certifications as Personal Trainer, athlete and Fitness Professional, I was sure that, in addition to strength and cardio training, a sensible, flexibility routine was all that one needed to remain healthfully fit and functionally sound.

Then, just two years ago, I woke up one morning and thought “Yoga is missing.” A quick check on my computer identified an attractive Yoga studio just minutes from my house. “Serendipity,” I thought. And I was off.

I began with a one-hour class each week. Then two. Then I explored classes in my area and while on vacation. I started to read. And read. Bottom line, I was, and am, HOOKED. Within weeks I will have completed three certifications including my basic 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training, Teaching Yoga to Athletes, and level one of YIN yoga.

I am fully cognizant that this is just the beginning, the tip of the iceberg, the scratch on the surface. Yoga is so very much more than the asanas (the Yoga poses) and the “workout.” Yoga is the epitome of mind-body connection. In fact, it sounds trite to say even that. I am humbled by all that Yoga is. I do not have enough years left available to me to learn enough about Yoga to teach the many aspects of the practice, but I can share what I do know and share my respect for this ancient wisdom.

Perhaps the first thing I want to share is this – whoever you are and whatever you do, wherever you are in life’s journey, I encourage you to cast aside preconceived notions, find a legitimate Yoga studio in your area and begin at the beginning. Check in with the studio, introduce yourself as a newbie, ask about an appropriate class to attend, and then attend several. Give it a chance. Take time to openly experience breathing techniques, flexibility, balance, and, yes, strength challenges, honor Savasana (you might welcome the stillness at the end of the class or be popping to get on with your day, but stay…) and listen to the cues flowing from your instructor. Then pay heed. How do you feel later the day of your class, the next day, the day after? Do you notice a change in your energy, your mental acuity, or your spirits? Does your body feel leaner, primed? (Over time you will even note that your performance is enhanced and you acquire tools to help you get through your days, activities, workouts, meetings and competitions.)

Remember Yoga has been around for thousands of years. You are not going to take a big bite out of it in just a few weeks. Become an observer, a participant and a friend.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey), “Everyone deserves a few moments when life is quite perfect.” Might those few moments be found in Yoga practice? .imagesYes, Yoga is for everyone and Yes, EVERYONE DESERVES YOGA.

YOGA FOR ATHLETES revisited

January 2016 I attended a weekend workshop at Kripalu that set me on a new course. I wrote of my experience for Active Vermont. You can read it again here if you’d like:  http://lindafreemanfitness.com/2016/02/09/yoga-for-athletes/ 

IMG_2028That was my first visit to Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. I vowed then it would not be my last, and so it hasn’t been.

When attending a workshop or training program at Kripalu, the participant has the option to enjoy privacy and personal space or to engage in community whether choosing to bunk in a dorm setting or eat alone in the silent dining room. Furthermore, there are multiple daily classes from which to choose, discussions to attend and indulgences to be savored such as massage, facials, and Ayurvedic or Yoga personalized private consultations.

In 2016 I thought perhaps I had simply dropped into a happy coincidence of people and events when my experience was as good as it gets. I learned ever so much, appreciated the opportunity to meet and interview Sage Rountree, and bonded with my roommates to the extent that we have continued to keep in touch since.

Having also vowed to return in 2017 for the longer training “Teaching Yoga to Athletes,” you can imagine my delight when I checked in and found that my bunk mate was none other than one of my 2016 friends and another roommate was a professional and personal friend from my home state. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. As the week progressed, all of us in the training connected on what I feel confident will prove to be a deep, meaningful and lasting way.IMG_2060

I tell you this because connection is perhaps what our training is all about. Whether we are competitive athletes or individuals seeking health and fitness, training must be about ever so much more than running faster, lifting more, or achieving maximum performance while letting everything else fall by the wayside.

Here is what Sage Rountree wrote in part in her Manifesto: Yoga for Athletes:  “Yoga aids athletes by increasing holistic, organic strength; by creating enough flexibility in the muscles and range of motion in the joints so that they can move fluidly; and by sharpening mental focus. Yoga, then, is an approach to balance: balance of the body in space; balance between strength and flexibility, sthira and sukha; balance between work and rest, doing and being; balance of mind, body, and spirit.”

Yoga for Athletes is NOT athletic Yoga. (We quipped that Yoga for Athletes could also be called Yoga for Tight and Tired People!) An athlete’s training schedule is periodized to functionally perfect his or her sport and sport’s season. The practice of Yoga during that cycle must not compete with the sports specific training, but balance and enhance it. Sage continues: “Yoga offers a system for connection, not just exercises or workouts.”

In the weeks and months ahead I will continue to blog about Yoga – Yoga for every and any body, for every and any purpose. I am new to the practice of Yoga, having begun only two years ago. I could not presume to have more than scratched the surface of this ages old practice, but what little I have learned, I am eager to share with you.

The practice of Yoga, as Rountree points out, connects opposites that need to be connected: stress and rest, strength and flexibility, stability and mobility, what we want and what we need, to name just a few factors of duality.

If you have not already added Yoga practice to your life, I encourage you to do so. Won’t you join me in this journey? Once begun, we will connect the dots: explore the relationship between practicing Pranayama, or breathing, Asanas, or physical poses, core strength and stability, meditation, and Savasana – how all integrate to enhance what is perhaps the ultimate connection of mind and body. Then we will begin to explore the possibilities that our newfound connections present to us, the opportunities heretofore limited and the goals and objectives we dare to dream.IMG_2048

ASANAS ON THE WATER – SUP AND YOGA

This story ran in the Rutland Herald & Times Argus on 7-10-2016, written by Linda Freeman, Field Editor and Correspondent for ACTIVE VERMONT.

Last week on the Active Vermont page you read tips on how to choose your own SUP. Once selected, what next? What can you do with a SUP? The short answer is “a lot.” A stand up paddleboard is legally a vessel and can be used much like a kayak or canoe. One or more users can navigate ponds, lakes and rivers for sport, recreation or fitness.

Standing up is a lovely way to tour. The vantage is just that much better and what is below the board is easily seen. Looking straight down you will see far more than glancing across the top of the water from a seat. Though the very idea of standing on something potentially tippy in the middle of a lake can be daunting, it’s really not so bad. In fact, there’s no rule that says you must stand. You might want to begin seated or kneeling. In fact, if there’s a stiff wind and you really need to get where you’re going, you might want to lower your mass and cut through less wind.

But back to your first time out. Because I was skeptical about the touted simplicity of SUP, what I had heard of as “user friendly,” (yeah, right), I knew I had to try it before writing about it. So I did and will share the few bits I learned.

Begin, of course, with the right SUP and the correct length paddle. Don’t forget your pfd (personal floatation device), leash, water and sunscreen. (Refer to Active Vermont, July 3, 2016.)

If you start from the shore, simply push the board out a little way, lay the paddle across like an outrigger, put one knee on the board, then the other, and voila you’re afloat.

At this point the paddle is much too long to be effective, but will do something. As soon as you are ready, take your time, find a centered balance on the board, and straighten up. At first you might be tense, (I sure was) but allow yourself to move with the board and start to paddle.

Find a functional alignment: feet parallel, about hip-width apart, toes pointed forward, knees slightly bent tracking over the toes, back erect, and looking where you are going. “Much like bicycling, when your forward momentum increases, your stability increases as well.” (www.rei.com)

With one hand over the end of the paddle and the other partway down the shaft, begin to make sweeping strokes close to the board. There is a way to refine a “J” stroke that will help keep you tracking forward, but you will need to switch sides regularly anyway. The longer you’re on the board, the more comfortable you will be. Try standing slightly fore or aft and see what effect that has on your paddling. Practice turning and using so many of the same techniques that you would use with a canoe. The wider your board, the more stable. Soon, however, unless the water is really disturbed, you should find yourself relaxing and enjoying the ride. And, oh yes, don’t forget that the strength of the paddle stroke comes from your core and not just arms and shoulders. With arms relatively straight, twist from your torso to execute the stroke. Paddle wrong and you’ll tire too quickly.

“The paddle in the water is your 3rd leg of stability,” Mike Strojny said. As assistant retail manager at Umiak Outfitters, he has seen many newcomers to SUP. “A couple hours and you should be good. Wrong equipment is a problem. When it comes to technique, a lesson helps accelerate the learning curve.”

Finally, wear a swim suit. If you fall, you want to fall into the water, not on the board. Just be cool and pretend you meant to take a dip.

YOGA and SUP 

Yoga on a stand up paddleboard is not new. In fact, Wikipedia refers to this as an “emerging sport,” and cites its acceptance within an “international community.”

The Huffington Post lists the following reasons to practice Yoga on a paddle board. Certainly, if your Yoga is getting stale, SUP makes it a uniquely different experience. Because of the unstable base, you need to refine your technique and, in the process, get a better workout. Once you accomplish your goals, there is a sense of empowerment; and, because it is “a touch scary,” your success is well-earned. Furthermore, it is noted that the practice can be calming with more attention paid to breathing. It’s fun and it’s beautiful.

A quick Google search will find SUP and Yoga alive and thriving in Vermont. In the Killington area SUP Yoga is in its fourth season. (www.killingtonYoga .com). At Waterbury Reservoir both Grateful Yoga and Siren SUP with Merin Perretta and Anjali Budreski offer multiple classes each week into September. (www.umiak.com).

“FLOAT YOUR YOGA ”

Merin Peretta, SUP yoga.

Merin Perretta, SUP yoga. Photo courtesy of Merin Perretta.

Merin Perretta brings to her teaching a rich and varied background with personal, physical and intellectual depth. “I took my first Yoga class at the age of 15 or 16 with my sister at a Community Center in Newton, Ma,” Perretta said. “There was a lot of meditation and I liked it.”

Perretta has always been fitness-based and athletic. Her Yoga experience “planted the seed. It took a long time to germinate and set down roots.” First there was a move to the Northeast Kingdom where she found a little studio that “drew me in,” she said. As her Yoga learning and practice continued, Perretta went on to enhance her bachelors degree in medical sociology with a masters degree in counseling. Today in Montpelier Perretta pursues mind-body integration through her work as a certified personal trainer and Yoga instructor.

When Perretta and Budreski met, “we totally hit it off,” Perretta said. Both teach at Yoga Mountain in Monteplier. “I’ve learned so much,” Perretta said. “I’ve found my Yoga platform at Yoga Mountain.” Perretta and Budreski both love SUP and both love Yoga . “We’ve got to bring this to people,” they said. Siren SUP was born of their shared enthusiasm. The two became business partners planning their SUP classes as well as a trip to Costa Rica in March 2017 to a surf and paddleboard destination where they hope to work with women of all ages, engaging all the element of youth, coming of age, and maturity. It will be about sister groups, partnering, Yoga and, of course, SUP. (For more information visit http://trilliumhealthworks.com)

My own experience with Yoga on a paddleboard happened a few weeks ago on a beautiful, though breezy, sunny day on Curtis Pond in central Vermont under the guidance of Merin Perretta. I had never, ever, been on or near a paddleboard. Perretta was unfazed. I do, however, practice Yoga and, though relatively new, am also relatively comfortable with some of the asanas.

What are asanas? Though strictly speaking asana may refer to a seated stillness, asanas in Yoga are often referenced as postures, or the physical actions of Yoga . Though Yoga is indeed about far more than exercise, it is often the place where most of us begin.

So to begin at the beginning, I managed to stand up and paddle and reach the point where I might try a few simple asanas. Working from a tabletop postion, on all fours, was easy and a real start in adapting to the movement of the board on water.

Transitioning into downward facing dog, basically a pike position with hands and feet on the board, added something new. As I looked back past the end of the paddleboard (for all purposes upside down) the play of the water against the board did weird things to my eyes and balance. Looking the other way in camel pose was another story. As I looked up at a cloudless sky the world seemed still; so much easier.

Trying a few poses lifting one leg, twisting, stretching or moving from plank to the board were all done with a sense of exploration. Strangely aligning from bow to stern on the board was do-able (warrior I or pyramid pose) but aligning with the long side (warrior 2 or triangle poses) was far more challenging. Just as I was feeling pretty good in dolphin pose with one leg in the air (sort of half standing on my head) I looked to see Perretta in a full head stand. Oh well. The sky’s the limit I guess.

The bottom line is that if I can do this, anyone can. Each class,similar to my experience, is taught with respect for what each individual brings to the board. No previous SUP or Yoga experience is needed.

WHY YOGA ON A PADDLEBOARD

SUP yoga class taught by Merin Peretta.

SUP yoga class taught by Merin Perretta. Literally Asana on the Water.  photo supplied by M.Perretta.

Perretta, who practices her Yoga with precision focusing on alignment and fitness, also brings to her work a deep sense of the mental, emotional and spiritual. “Yoga is 1% theory and 99% practice,” she quoted.

And then there’s the fun part. Speaking of SUP Yoga she said, “If you’ve even a glimmer of curiosity, try it. Encounter it, look it in the eye, and do it.”

But perhaps more importantly the experience deepens a Yoga practice and expands it to include more than navigating the poses on water.

The unstable surface challenges core strength and balance, yes, and there is a playfulness about the process. But there is also a connection with your immediate yet vast environment; with water, sky and air.

The board becomes your mat, the space in which you engage. It becomes your partner and your teacher. You learn to release, to float. You may sit, kneel, stand or lie on your board, your Yoga mat in action. You feel buoyancy and relate physically to the movement of the water, to tides, to flow.

Your perspective is organic. When you seek your drishti, your focal point, you may need to look inward.

When you finish your practice, you lie supine on your board, eyes closed, and give yourself to the water’s surface, be it active or still. You feel and sense rather than see and do. Your board gives you feedback from your practice. You learn which muscles worked and which joints opened. You feel your spine, hips, skull, heels, elbows and hands against a stiff but moving surface. It makes you think about where you’ve been and where you are going, and then perhaps relieves you of thought. Flow is a word often united with Yoga . On the water, flow is quite literal.

For me, my take home was a very real example of what in Yoga is called Sthira and Sukha, steadiness and ease. Uniting these two qualities that could be perceived as opposites, is profound. Finding a balance between effort and ease significantly impacts sports performance as well as daily living. Striving for strength, energy and capability; then softening with ease, release and freedom, just might be what it’s all about.

Wha’SUP? The growing sport of stand up paddling!

 

Stand Up Paddleboard, or Stand Up Paddling, or simply SUP, may be here to stay. Skeptics dubbed the sport another passing fad, but that was sometime around 2001 or 2002. Here we are, more than a decade later, and we see boards strapped to car roofs, beached on shorelines, and, of course, on the water.

Here in Vermont, most SUP paddling is done on flat water, though Lake Champlain, power boats and even a windy day can give the paddler rock and roll. In other areas, SUP is more closely connected to its surfing roots from places such as Hawaii and with names such as Laird Hamilton.

Standing up to paddle can be traced back for centuries. Old paintings and a multitude of anecdotes suggest SUP possibly dates back far more than the early 20th century. Of course it’s probable that Native Americans stood in their canoes to paddle up river, but the claim that in Peru as long ago as 3,000 BC, and possibly even Pharoah’s daughter, the one who found baby Moses in the rushes, was standing up to paddle, necessitates unsubstantiated acceptance. (To read an intriguing and short history of SUP go to http://www.supthemag.com/complete-short-history-sup/)

Assuming you find the sport of SUP interesting and would like to give it a go, there are many ways in which to do so. By all means, rent a SUP or borrow a friend’s, and get on the water before you decide to purchase. However, remember that when you do, you may not be on the board that is most appropriate for you. It’s a good way to taste but not to digest. And, to be sure, a SUP lesson is a great way to begin.

SUP - a family adventure photo by L. Freeman

SUP – a family adventure
photo by L. Freeman

Once hooked, you will want your own board, paddle, leash and pfd. (Note that a Type 3 USCG approved personal floatation device is mandated by law. If you are over 12 years old, you do not need to be wearing, but must have one easily accessible on the deck. Twelve and under must be wearing.)

HOW TO CHOOSE A BOARD

How do you choose your board? The best answer is to visit a water sports store where an informed associate can give you good advice, not just sell you a board. Finding the right board is not rocket science, but it really does matter and must meet your individual needs, fitness level, body type and budget. Buy the right board the first time and your purchase will be cost effective in the long run.

For more information I visited Umiak Outdoor Outfitters on South Main Street, Stowe (www.UMIAK.com) where Mike Strojny, assistant retail manager, spent unhurried time answering my many questions. Here’s what I learned.

What do you want to do with SUP? Is it for fun and fitness or touring or maybe even racing?

There are basically two types of hulls from which to choose: planing and displacement. A planing hull is flat and wide like a surfboard, costs a little less money to build and therefore a little less money to buy, and “is the board that most recreational customers come into the store looking for,” Strojny said.

“We think most people should buy a displacement board because Vermont lakes and ponds are flatwater.” And why is that? A displacement hull is straighter and faster. The front and back (bow and stern) are slightly pointed allowing the board to be moved forward with less effort. A displacement board is a good choice for the recreational paddler who wants the option to spend his or her hours and effort touring. Displacement boards are far more stable than one might think and versatile in their use be it fitness, cruising or even yoga.

SUPs are built from the inside out, whereas a kayak or canoe is built from the outside in. Foam inside is wrapped in a fiberglass sock. While there are many kinds of boards, and some are extremely attractive, Strojny suggestions caution. “They’re like a nice sports car; it’s what’s under the hood that counts.” The variables are the materials (a plastic board will weight 45-50 pounds while its carbon fiber equivalent only 20 pounds or less), board length, width, thickness and volume. A textured mat or surface on the top of the board provides stable footing.

Put in simplest terms, the bigger the person, the longer the board needed. Also to be taken into consideration is where you will paddle, the size of your car roof, where you will store the board when not in use (an inflatable SUP folds up into a wheeled suitcase), and perhaps how far you will need to walk to the beach. Width affects stability. A board 31-36” wide will be more stable; one 29 or 30” will be faster. Volume is a mathematical equation of length x width x thickness. The answer suggests the board’s ability to float with a certain amount of weight on it. All boards have a fin to help tracking. Paddling skill aids in keeping that straight line while wind factors present problems of their own. Roughly speaking a smaller person, woman or child, might shop for a 10-11’6” board while a larger or taller person might move up to a 12’6” board. Athletic ability and fitness definitely play a role as well.

What else do you need? In addition to your SUP and PFD, you need a paddle leash. “Four people drowned a few weekends ago,” Strojny said. “Not around here. Lake Tahoe and elsewhere. They didn’t have a PFD and they didn’t have a leash.” Strojny went on to explain that a SUP can also function as a large floatation device. It’s unlikely that you will hit your head when you pitch off of one. You are, after all, standing. Most likely you will land in the water and, with your board attached by a leash, can reel it in and clamber back on, or at least hold yourself up until help arrives. Wearing a PFD (there are some that can be worn unobtrusively around the waist), is, of course, the ultimate safe way to paddle.

Finally you need a paddle. Yes, you use only one and it is very long. A quick measure is to stand on land with the blade tip next to your feet. With one arm extended straight up towards the sky, the end of the handle should be at your hand. On the board in the water, you will hold the top end with one hand and partway down the shaft with the other. Some paddles are adjustable, others are custom. Less expensive paddles are heavier and can cause stress to joints, fatigue and just maybe take away from the joy of paddling. Small, narrow blades and light, stiff paddles made of fiberglass or carbon fiber allow for more dynamic paddling, a faster cadence if desired, and a less tiring experience that can make racing, yes, but even touring more enjoyable. Sometimes it takes surprisingly little effort to move forward, but equally significant is the core workout you will get.

Oh, and one more thing. You will need a roof rack on your car, usually the bars already there will do. Hoisting the board to the roof is as easy as your board is light. Simple straps usually get the job done.

SUP FESTIVAL

Burlington SUP Festival 2016, photo by L. Freeman

Burlington SUP Festival 2016, photo by L. Freeman

I met Roxanne Scully at the 2nd Annual Burlington Paddleboarding and Windsurfing Festival, June 25, 2016, on one of those perfect Vermont days: sunny, breezy, lots of people eager to participate, vendors happy to answer questions and hopefully make a sale, kids, dogs, and boats and more boats. Festive indeed.

Roxanne and her husband, Russ, began with The Spot, a “surf style restaurant” near the Burlington waterfront. Along came a new sport, paddleboarding. “My husband and I started this whole venture,” Roxanne said. “There was an article in the NY Times about Russ. After that he became the go-to person for paddle board.” The Scullys mixed business and pleasure. Russ became a rep for Starboard paddleboards and soon the couple started selling out of their restaurant. It was not long before they opened WND&WVS (say it quickly and you’ll get wind and waves, of course), a SUP, windsurf and other types of water sports store. (www.wndnwvs.com ). When asked about the popularity of SUPs, Roxanne said: “I think it’s just the beginning. There are so many different ways to use it from enjoying the sunset with your family or dog to racing. There’s a large spectrum of what you can do.”

Though the festival was for SUP and windsurfing, I saw only SUPs. And I saw many. Juxtaposed against the backdrop of sailboats and cruisers, boats of mixed size and use, some moored and some in action, were dozens of people of all ages on a huge variety of boards. Some were adept, some a bit anxious. Some boards were slim, some were large enough for a family, some short, some long, some hard and some inflatables.

I noticed a woman wearing a dress, but holding a paddle. When I asked her if she was having a good time she told me that she was down to three boards. She had tried the inflatable and was surprised by how hard it was, not rubbery at all. But she did find it a bit “bouncy” on the water. She then tried one that was more sleek and a better performer. Finally she tried one somewhere in the middle, a board that was stiff on the bottom but had a soft covering on top. She was still uncertain. But one thing was for sure, she was going to buy one of these boards and SUP on Lake Champlain.

As noted above, paddles are important. But let me introduce you to Steve Berson of Oblio Paddles. (www.obliopaddles.com) When Berson first explored the world of SUP he loved standing on the board, but was uncomfortable with the concept of a single paddle with a single blade that had to be switched from side to side and sometimes caused balance and/or tracking problems by its very nature. Why not design a long paddle with a blade on each end with a rotating grip that would serve as an aid to balance (much like the tightrope walker and his pole) and would provide rhythm and symmetry to smooth the rough edges of an otherwise seamless sport? So he did. The process began in March 2014 in Morrisville. The first year was spent in development and prototyping. Today there are different models available ranging in price from $229-$429 and made of fiberglass, a composite, or top of the line carbon fiber.

Even this Welsh Corgi enjoys SUP on the Lake. photo by L. Freeman

Even this Welsh Corgi enjoys SUP on the Lake. photo by L. Freeman

Over the years we’ve learned that stand up paddleboarding is not limited to the big surf of Hawaii or southern California; or, in the State of Vermont, to larger lakes like Champlain or Bomoseen; or even Vermont’s smaller lakes and ponds, surrounded by summer camps and home to both motorized and non-motorized water craft. In fact, one may not really know just how much this sport may grow. SUP is one new kid on the block who may have moved in to stay. Perhaps this IS just the beginning. Perhaps in years to come we will see many variations on the SUP theme.

This story first appeared in the Rutland Herald & Times Argus Sunday newspaper,     7-3-2016 written by Linda Freeman, Field Editor and Contributor to Active Vermont.

YOGA FOR ATHLETES

 

I met Sage Rountree at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, MA. Rountree was there to teach and I was there to study. I had seen a course advertised that I thought you, Active Vermont readers, would like to learn more about, so here goes.

Athlete's Guide to Yoga CoverYOGA FOR ATHLETES

The very thought of what is perceived to be yoga is abhorrent to many athletes. For some, the competitive fire is burning so brightly that the idea of taking time away from strenuous training is simply inadmissible. For others, those for whom hours to devote to training are hard to find, exchanging a personal nose-to-the grindstone workout, or better yet, a sufferfest, for sitting in a studio chanting ommmmmm (or whatever) is unthinkable.

But think again.

Athlete: “One who participates in physical exercise or sports, especially in competitive events. One possessing the requisite strength, agility, and endurance for success.” (thefreedictionary.com) Consider the growing fitness industry, the number of individuals from all walks of life, shapes and sizes and the swelling number of entries in 5ks, half-marathons and century rides. Notice your neighbors hiking, playing ice hockey in the winter and softball in the summer, moving away from inactivity and taking on activity. All are athletes.

Yoga: the Sanskirt word means to yoke. Rountree defines yoga as connection. “When you are connected you can get things done. We need to connect body with breath, breathing with intention,” she said.

Athletes who counter strength, endurance and sports-specific skills training with the practice of yoga to address flexibility, core strength, physical and mental balance and breathing, are the ones who live most fully the promise of an active life.

SAGE ROUNTREE 

Rountree, who lives in Chapel Hill, NC but is internationally recognized, is a young and vibrant 44-year old daughter, wife, mother, athlete, writer, speaker, business owner, teacher and oh did I mention competitive athlete?

She has written six books, travels widely and presents often, is a certified triathlon and running coach, a yoga teacher, on the faculty of Kripalu, and specializes in endurance sports. Rountree talks the talk and walks the walk.

Rountree admits that she hated her first yoga class. She struggled with the poses feeling unbalanced and inflexible and resented giving up her aerobics class or time in the weight room for the hour. Later, however, in marathon training with her husband, she tried again and to her surprise realized that her yoga classes supported her running, strengthening her both physically and mentally and making the pursuit of her sport less painful while avoiding injury.

This, she says, is the only way to convince a doubter that yoga is beneficial. If the athlete will just give it a try, improved performance will do the rest. Rountree’s goal is to “help people find the right balance between work and rest for peak performance in sports and in life.”

WORKSHOP NOTES

Yoga for athletes is not athletic yoga. Athletes are usually inflexible, driven, and not good candidates for some of the more gymnastic poses found in some forms of yoga. Athletes need to “leave your ego at the door,” Rountree said, “and be part of the journey from physical to mental and integration. It’s whatever it is that brings you to your mat.”

“Yoga should complement training, not be an extension of it. Our goal is balance for injury prevention and emotional/mental health. The physical intensity of yoga should be in inverse proportion to the physical intensity of training.”

Some use yoga for conditioning. That’s fine. But athletes need more. Athletes need to plan their yoga practice to coincide with their periodized sports training. When it is off-season for a sport, it is time to ramp up the intensity of yoga practice and, conversely, during the competitive season, yoga should be for rehabilitation and recovery.

Yoga at the track; triangle pose before running; photo by Wes Rountree

Yoga at the track; triangle pose before running; photo by Wes Rountree

“Yoga should help maintain flexibility as training gets more intense,” Rountree said. Learning mental and breathing skills helps competitive athletes remain calm even in the face of competitive or training intensity.

In other words, practicing yoga for the athlete is more than physical exercise yet the work results in the ability to use physical strengths more efficiently and effectively. “Avoid trying to win at yoga,” Rountree said. “To stay on the edge and keep pushing is not the way to go. Maintain presence in the face of intensity.”

Focus is important. If, in the midst of heavy training or difficult racing the athlete loses focus, he or she will become scattered and inefficient. Performance will suffer. The ability to maintain focus is one of the things one learns in the practice of yoga.

In my own experience I have found that when I walk, hike, run or ride I keep a good pace when I am focused. When I daydream, I find myself falling behind my companions or competitors. I learned that dharana, one of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga, is about focus. At one point in a TT (time trial) last summer, I thought I would have to back down, but then I kept my focus by repeating “ride through it” until I crossed the finish line. At that time I knew little of yoga but this concept rings true.

If you are a runner, you may have been taught to breathe in and out with every 2 or 3 or 4 steps. If you are a swimmer, your ability to coordinate breathing with strokes is imperative. Weight lifters are taught to exhale at the point of greatest exertion while all of us are encouraged to become adept breathing through the nose.

Yoga teaches forms of breathing that include short, explosive breaths as well as breaths with slow, deep inhalations and exhalations. Practicing holding the breath when fully inhaled or exhaled is also significant. Simple awareness is equally valid.

Recently I read of square breathing: inhale for a predetermined number of counts, say four, hold for same number (or four counts), exhale for same, and again hold for the same (or four counts).

Which reminds me of something that I’m sure you have also noted. In our ever-expanding world of teaching, training, learning and integrating disciplines, we find more and more a connection between orthopedics and cardiology in the health professions; physical therapy and personal training in the rehabilitative; and Pilates, core conditioning, functional training and yoga in the athletic. For example, a plank is a plank is a plank whether it comes from your physical therapist, personal trainer or yoga teacher.

POWER POINTS

Add yoga to your daily schedule. (well, almost daily) “When just beginning a sport,” Rountree said, “frequency is most important (enough to create change but not enough to break down). It is better to do yoga 3, 4, 5 days a week for as little as even 10 minutes, than to do one long session per week.”

“Learn to be comfortable with discomfort,” she said. Accept that stress is good for you. There is a fine line between beneficial, productive stress and needless suffering. Discern between a groove and a rut.

An athlete needs enough stress to create change, but not so much as to injure, “work to the edge but do not fall over it,” Rountree said.

Also practice being comfortable with comfort. “Play the bottom edge,” she said. “As an athlete who pushes the upper edge, this is important.”

Balance training helps prevent injury. It’s easy to understand that the body’s balance in space can help prevent acute injuries. Another kind of balance, balance within the body, helps prevent overuse injuries while the balance of stress and rest prevents burnout.

Balance helps prevent injury. Sage Rountree. Photo by Wes Rountree

Balance helps prevent injury. Sage Rountree. Photo by Wes Rountree

Yoga leads practice in all forms of balance: strength and flexibility; mobility and stability’ soft tissue and bones’ stress and rest.

THE PRACTICE

In her book, “the Athlete’s Guide to Yoga, an integrated approach to strength, flexibility and focus,” Rountree writes: “… you must practice with the body you have in this moment, not the one you had ten years ago, ten weeks ago, ten days ago, or sometimes even ten minutes ago. At the same time, don’t be complacent. Stretch yourself, physically and mentally. Try challenging poses, but try them with respect and care.”

Set small goals. Begin with a dynamic warm up. Practice balance, core and static stretches after your workout. Practice reclining twists and restorative yoga at any point of your season. Visit the six positions of the spine and four lines of the hips regularly. Honor preemptive rest.

“Just as you plan a season, a training block, or a workout with a sense of its purpose, you’ll want to approach every yoga session with an intention.”

There’s much to be said and Rountree says it directly to us, the athletes, and says it well. I encourage you to explore Rountree’s writings, or go to www.sagerountree.com or facebook.com/sagerountree.

“It’s tough,” Rountree says about taking that first step into the practice of yoga. “It takes faith and patience to get into the softer stuff. Try it and see.” 

And her final words of advice: “Relax.   Relax so you can go harder in the next race.”                                                                       

Athletes recover in child pose. Photo by Wes Rountree.

Athletes recover in child pose. Photo by Wes Rountree.

                                                                                                      Linda Freeman