Marie Phillips has had her share of ups and downs, but as she heads into a busy weekend, she feels a strong sense of balance.
A child snowboarding prodigy, Phillips had to give up the sport while out West in college because of a series of injuries. She feels grounded again being back home on Grand Island, after discovering a budding career as a Stand Up Paddleboard yoga instructor.
That’s right. She teaches others how to navigate a series of yoga poses while perched atop surfboards little more than 10 feet long by 2¾ feet wide.
While she does, she shares her board with her 7-year-old Pomeranian, Sophia, and ended a recent class with a headstand and scissors kick.
“If you fight the board – and the water moving underneath you – you’ll make it harder, and you’ll fall in,” Phillips said. “That’s what really drew me towards it. When I was doing the training, it made me realize how practicing on the water felt like life. No matter how grounded you feel on the earth, there’s always movement underneath you. You’re never really stable and secure. You have to feel and move with whatever’s coming at you, instead of fighting it, or it just makes it harder, whatever it is.”
Phillips, 27, a Nardin Academy alum with a bachelor’s in health care studies from Daemen College, figures into two big fitness festivals this weekend: the first annual Buffalo Paddle Festival, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. today at Gallagher Beach; and the Budding Tree Yoga Festival, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at Canalside.
Today’s festival includes recreational and competitive races. Phillips – certified three years ago to teach Baptiste yoga on dry land, and last summer to teach Stand Up Paddleboard yoga – will lead a SUP yoga workshop at 1 p.m. at the free Sunday festival. She teaches yoga at Evolation on Elmwood Avenue; you can book her SUP yoga classes, which run $15 to $30 an hour, at Gallagher Beach and Beaver Island State Park, at mariephillipsliving.com.
What are the differences between yoga and Stand Up Paddleboard yoga?
SUP yoga is really easy on the joints because you have to use your muscles. It’s lots of core. When people first see it, it seems scary and hard, but once you get out there and shift your weight side to side on your board, you really feel you are stable. Your body, naturally on the ground, is always moving, stabilizing you to hold you where you are. It’s just exaggerated more out there on the water. When you come back on the ground, on the hard surface, it’s so much easier. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never done yoga, never tried paddleboarding. Being on the water makes it even for everybody. Even if you feel you’re a professional at yoga – not being able to use your joints, use compensations in your body you use on the ground – it’s just an amazing feeling.
Does this create a new level of flexibility?
Definitely. It’s physical and mental flexibility. Being in a room is different because you don’t have distractions. You have people around you, you have walls around you, but being out on the water, you have nature. You have birds, lots of distractions around you. Just being able to tell your breath to be an anchor, being able to – no matter what’s going on on your board or in your life – find your breath, gives you such a sense of accomplishment.
What are the benefits?
It brings a whole new meaning to finding peace and stillness. And balance. Balance on your board and off your board. You’re able to really translate how you are on your board in your practice to how you are in your life.
I assume when you started, you were falling more than you probably do now.
There’s a lot of fear around falling and resisting the fall. Once you fall in, you want to keep falling in. You push yourself more. You realize the water isn’t that far away from you. The water feels good when you fall in.
Is it also a learning experience? You’re not going to get better unless you do fall in taking a risk?
Absolutely. If you stop listening and you think you know what you’re doing and you don’t want to fall in, you’re not going to progress. There’s no lesson in that.
Can you make a living teaching yoga and Stand Up Paddleboard yoga in Buffalo?
Luckily I have a very supportive family that allows me the time to make this my living. It doesn’t happen overnight, but if you love it – this is my passion – people see it and are drawn to it. It takes time to build a following.
I plan to do retreats. Jenny, who was one of the students out there (today), we’re doing a retreat in January in Guatemala and we’re going to do one in Costa Rica in February. Ideally, I will be in Buffalo in the summers and traveling and doing retreats throughout the winter months.