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Fitness gurus practice art of yoga on paddleboards

POSTED: May 31, 2014 11:41 p.m.

As Merri Benham effortlessly slid into an acrobatic yoga pose from a floating paddleboard, David Haack admired her athleticism from dry land.

“That’s why she’s the master instructor, right?” said Haack, president of the Lake Lanier Canoe & Kayak Club. “And with waves, no less!”

Benham was teaching the art of yoga on a standup paddleboard Saturday on Lake Lanier.

“Hands closer to you. Make a triangle with your hands,” she instructed her three protégés.”

“There you go!” she exclaimed clasping her hands, a happy teacher.

Paddleboard yoga is another one of the ways American culture has taken an Eastern ancient art and tweaked it.

“We think it’s one of the good crazes,” Haack said.

There is no chanting; however the paddleboard practice is actually a way to trick the mind into letting go.

“When you’re on the board, you have to be focused,” Benham said. “You’re there on a board or there in the lake.”

Benham, who runs Flip Your Dog Yoga on Main Street, said she started teaching standup paddleboard yoga — or SUP yoga — three years ago.

“We had been doing it close to Lake Lanier Islands, but this is just a beautiful area,” she said of the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue on Clarks Bridge Road. “What better way to enjoy our lake. It’s just beautiful.”

The class may look intimidating, but Benham was reassuring.

“If you can breathe, you can do yoga,” she said. “Anyone can do this, but everyone needs to expect to be in the water several times their first time, whether they’re an experienced yogi or not.”

Of course with the summer heat, that’s not always a bad thing.

“Some days, they’re intentionally falling in,” she said.

Beyond helping create a more focused state of mind, the board works the body in more intense ways.

“It’s definitely lots and lots of core (muscles),” she said.

Benham instructed teachers-in-training in the afternoon after teaching regular students earlier. With the paddleboards on hand, she can instruct five people at a time, unless they bring their own boards. Classes cost $25; participants can register online at doinyoga.net.

SUP yoga may have started as a trend, but Benham thinks it’s here to grow and last, and hits at the heart of the larger art.

“This to me is the epitome of yoga,” she said. “This is fun; this is joy; this is play.”


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