Water And Yoga: A Challenging, But Natural Combination
By: Christopher Kazarian
Where is your happy place?
For roughly a dozen Upper Cape residents that answer is Megansett Harbor, just a few hundred yards’ paddle from shore, where they have anchored every Tuesday morning for the past four weeks while most other life is at a standstill.
There they are joined by an occasional seagull, flock of Canada geese or passing jellyfish, cooled by a slight ocean breeze and warmed by the sun’s rays peeking over the horizon.
This is their sea of tranquility, where they gather to set their minds at ease under the direction of Melissa J. Lorusso of North Falmouth, who helps them push their bodies to their physical and spiritual limits, all from the comfort of a stand up paddleboard in anywhere from four to eight feet of water.
Their session this past Tuesday morning began around 6:45 AM, with their boards forming a circle as they sat cross-legged facing Ms. Lorusso. “Practice being kind to yourself,” Ms. Lorusso said. “Find the stillness. Feel, smell and try not to have thoughts attached to those senses.”
Slowly she raised her left hand in the air and stretched it to the right, instructing her students to do the same.
Over the next hour and a half the group, which ranged in age from 13-year-old Alison Cook to those nearing 60, slowly progressed their way up the yoga chain, performing such moves as downward-facing dog, a high lunge and the cat-cow stretch while balanced on their knees and hands.
Yoga On A Stand Up Paddleboard
They did this while on boards, roughly two-feet wide by 12-feet long, that floated up and down with the ocean swells. “You really have to have a relationship with your board,” Stacey Peacock of Falmouth would later say.
Of all the students, Ms. Peacock was perhaps the most advanced, calmly performing a headstand toward the end of class in what Ms. Lorusso dubbed a “little bit of playtime. This is your choice of whatever you want. You can try a headstand or a wheelbarrow,” she said, in reference to the yoga pose where one’s body is arched off the board with the stomach facing the sky.
Later Ms. Peacock let on that she is a yoga instructor, having taught for a little less than two years, although she is taking the current year off. Still, she finds yoga a necessary part of her life, explaining that “it balances me and gives me focus. It is very peaceful and brings me to my happy place.”
She had never found that place to be on the water until June when when she learned of the class, purchased her own stand up paddleboard and enrolled in Ms. Lorusso’s summer sessions. “Yoga is good anywhere. It is my happy place and so is the ocean,” Ms. Peacock said. “This brings two of my favorite things together: yoga and being outside with the sun and nature which allows you to go beyond your imagination and is very freeing.”
While there is a definite sense of calm associated with the class, there is also the very real possibility that can be upset from time to time with the precarious nature of the setting. “People fall in the water, but it is part of the fun and the great thing about being on the water,” said yoga novice Stephan B. Connor of Overy Drive, North Falmouth.
I can’t speak highly enough of this. It is one of the coolest things on the Cape I’ve done.
This week he was one of several to do so, although the first belonged to Kelly Garrett’s brother Patrick Konvicka of Jackson, New Hampshire, who celebrated his 23rd birthday by sitting in on the class, and occasionally falling into the water.
“I went in,” Mr. Konvicka said, the first time he slipped off the board.
“I’ll go in in a minute,” Ms. Lorusso said, after he made his plunge. And she did, after Susan B. Maddigan of Oakwood Avenue, Falmouth, lost her balance as she stood in a reverse prayer pose, her hands behind her back, and fell into the water, causing her to temporarily lose the lens to her sunglasses.
But within minutes—after a succession of students fell into the water, including Ms. Garrett, Mr. Konvicka again, and Barbara D. Cook of Beebe Acres Road, Falmouth—15-year-old Caroline Cook pointed to the water, exclaiming, “the glasses are right there in front of me” prompting Ms. Lorusso to dive in, retrieve the lens and place them in her waterproof bag for safekeeping.
These distractions aside, Ms. Lorusso and her students displayed an air of confidence that belied the fact that for some this is their first yoga class, and for all, their first doing it on a stand up paddleboard.
Bringing The Sport To The Cape
Such classes are popular on the West Coast, Ms. Lorusso said, but relatively new in this region. She jumped at the chance of offering sessions after spending the past two years becoming comfortable on her own stand up paddleboard.
With the support of Ryan and Darcey Hewson, owners of Mocean in Mashpee, which provides stand up paddleboards to her students who do not own one, Ms. Lorusso started the classes in June in Megansett Harbor with the assistance of Ms. Garrett, who teaches standup paddleboarding for Mocean at New Seabury Beach Club.
“Melissa had been paddling for a few years so we started this conversation about how we could make this happen because she is really good at yoga,” Mr. Hewson said. “This sport [standup paddleboard] is really taking off whether it be through Pilates, crosstraining, whitewater rafting, surfing or long-distance training and we want to be involved in as many of those as we can with yoga being one of them.”
Combining the two, Ms. Lorusso said, makes sense and has been an enjoyable experience, offering the element of being outdoors, which is inherent in yoga. “The sun is out, the birds are out and there is a feeling of rocking on the board. I like that element and feeling that flow,” she said. “It is very playful, very fun.”
It has been a gradual process, she said, of working her students up to their current level. In the first session, she said, most students paddled out on their knees and the yoga poses were done primarily in seated and kneeling positions. “We didn’t come up to standing poses right away. We slowly built up to that,” Ms. Lorusso said. “A lot of yoga, in general, is letting go of fear. A lot of them had to be talked into trusting their board and letting go of a fear of falling and finding their balance.”
Ms. Cook, who is taking the class with her two daughters Alison and Caroline, agreed that the class has helped in further reducing their apprehensions. They began stand up paddleboarding last summer as a way “to get past our fears of being on the water... We don’t have a boat so this is a great way to travel the shoreline,” she said, noting that Ms. Lorusso’s classes have only served to boost their confidence.
And for her daughters, who are yoga neophytes, it has been an enjoyable experience. “I’ve never done yoga, but doing it on a paddleboard is almost easier because you know you’re going to fall in the water if you fall,” Caroline said. “It is really fun. I love it.”
As to what it has meant to her students, the answers varied, although many, like Mr. Connor, spoke of how it releases tension brought about in his everyday life. “It calms my monkey mind,” he said. “I’m expecting my first child in mid- to late August. It helps me with not only my anxiety, but with this whole world I’m about to be entering.”
As the only male in the class, he said, he was initially nervous about entering the class. “My wife [Anju Rajani] encouraged me to do yoga for years, but I was always worried about what to wear and that I’ll probably be farting around all these women. That is a real fear,” he said.
He admitted those fears are largely unwarranted. “I can’t speak highly enough of this,” he said. “It is one of the coolest things on the Cape I’ve done. It is healthy, you’re on the water and it is creative. This is what Cape Cod is all about.”