Floating yoga – the new wellness trend
Lying back in savasana, I vaguely hear the murmur of my teacher’s voice gently guiding me to listen to the waves, to feel the cool breeze on my cheeks and the warmth of the sun on my skin as I breathe in the tropical surroundings.
Fluttering my eyes open, it dawns on me. This isn’t a dream or a relaxation task like every other day – I’m out to sea, far, far away from a studio, on a sailing boat, lying on the timber floor, feeling the hum of the engine beneath me and the waves crashing beside me as a cool, salty sea breeze from the Mediterranean gently caresses my skin.
Introducing floating yoga – the latest wellness trend combining mindfulness, yoga, the ocean and the outdoors into one.
While alfresco classes are no new concept, unlike the experience of attempting to secure a small patch of grass in a sea of thousands of yogis (while whacking someone mid-warrior two) at a yoga festival, floating yoga allows you to connect with nature and your true self in the most intimate and isolated way – at sea.
Similar to stand up paddle boarding yet different, ‘boat based’ floating yoga takes away the risk of constant navigation and wobbliness. Instead, it offers a stable sea based experience that won’t throw your zen off kilter while providing a multisensory experience.
Currently it’s still fresh on the fitness radar, with only one place in London offering classes on a docked boat in a quiet canal as well as a speckle of cruise liners.
But if you’re out for the fully immersive experience I’m talking about (with both waves and motion), it can only really take place on a cruise ship – or in my case – upon a sailing boat named The Royal Clipper.
The largest sailing boat in the world, The Royal Clipper has five masts and a grandiose 42 sails making it a beauty to behold in it’s own right. Then throw in a few tropical destinations, the sensory delights of the sea and a wonderful vinyasa yoga teacher who has an intuitive ability to know just what your body wants and it’s an experience like no other.
And I’ve had my fair share of fitness experiences – from 3D fitness inside storage containers in London to warehouse fitness raves and glow in the dark yoga in Sydney, but saluting to the sun as it rises over the Mediterranean sea was a whole new kind of bliss.
Sure, sailing to pit stops throughout Italy, Greece, Croatia, Slovenia and Montenegro didn’t hurt either, but it was the daily on-deck yoga that transformed it from a standard cruise to a luxury wellbeing experience.
In this sense, perhaps floating yoga is more a fitness retreat experience than a day-to-day exercise activity. But regardless, what I do know is that it will leave you with something deeper than any studio experience.
At its core, we’re taught that yoga is about connecting to yourself through the breath. So when you’re suddenly stripped bare of daily stresses, isolated at sea with nothing but the sound of the ocean and the words of a yoga teacher washing over you, reminding you to breathe, suddenly connecting to a calmer sense of self never seemed more easy (and natural).
But, my thoughts aside, floating yoga appears to connect with people in a multitude of ways according to fellow cruise goers.
For Isobelle Smith, 25, an Australian doctor and guest on board The Royal Clipper, the experience reignited her love of yoga and brought a sense of relaxation to her otherwise busy lifestyle.
“Working so much I don’t often have the time to be as active as I’d like to, so being able to do yoga every morning with the sun rising was such a nice way to start the day (and incredibly idyllic and picturesque compared to a sweaty studio),” says Smith.
She also experienced a greater sense of self and awareness of gratitude.
“It probably sounds wanky, but hearing the waves made it so much more real and raw – I was able to get in touch with myself in a way that’s so natural, so I’ve definitely felt more gratitude here than in a normal class,” says Smith.
“Partly I think because you’re on holiday seeing all these amazing places, but also because doing yoga surrounded by rocks, trees and beaches makes you so content. Hearing the sound of the ocean each day in savasana really made me think – how lucky am I to be here?”
And with relaxation a must for holidaymakers and cruise goers alike, Liliana Skinner, 30, The Royal Clipper’s on board yoga instructor says floating yoga is a win/win.
“People are increasingly becoming interested in yoga for stress, in the US they promote it as something that relaxes you and on a cruise that’s what people want, a stress free environment and light exercise. So for anyone on a holiday yoga is really a must.”
With the sea as your backdrop there’s also a sense of intimacy and privacy different to that of a studio experience.
“By getting up before anybody else we have an hour where it’s just us – it’s quiet, there’s a nice breeze going on, you see the sunrise and feel the fresh air, it’s a peaceful feeling,” says Skinner.
“As a teacher it’s special too because in a smaller class you get to know each other, whereas on a bigger cruise or a large outdoor class like yoga in Times Square in New York for example, it’s just a mass of people doing yoga. I feel like you wouldn’t connect with people in that environment, but on the ship it’s very homey and intimate.”
Interestingly, male yogis are more predominant on board too. During my ten-days, there was an equal men to women ratio (and on same days even more men than women attending!)
So, why the appeal at sea? Chris Wheeler, 59, a UK based financier and guest on board The Royal Clipper believes it’s about the all encompassing environment and easy accessibility.
“I think most people who come on a cruise come as couples – and yoga is a form of exercise you can do as a couple and equally get something out of (unlike say weights training where the man may enjoy it more than the woman),” says Wheeler.
“The ship also offers a space where there’s no judgement about men doing exercise and participating (as it’s simply an activity available on offer so it gives access to an exercise which is not often looked at traditionally by men.”
Not to mention the whole sailboat setting plays a part too….
“Sailing is often a male pursuit because you’ve got to lift sails which require brute strength, so I think it’s a great leveller – men can feel more encouraged to take yoga on because they feel the whole environment is very masculine and won’t feel that being in a class with women will defeat their masculinity.”
Beyond breaking gender barriers, Wheeler says it’s offered him an array of benefits that have heightened his holiday experience alone.
“Doing it every day it’s allowed me to have increased mobility (I’ve climbed hills and steps more easily), heightened awareness, improved mindfulness and a renewed recognition of the benefits of yoga that I hope will leech out into the rest of my life,” says Wheeler.
“I also love that whatever I’ve done the previous day is washed out of me and I’m ready and cleansed for the new day.”
And with each daily destination along the way, Wheeler believes it also creates continuity amidst the chaos.
“On a cruise you go to so many different places they almost meld into one, but the memory of being able to get up every morning and do a session of yoga is something that will carry you and be a connecting thread throughout the journey.”
It doesn’t come without it’s own challenges though. All those pretty Instagram-worthy poses like half moon, warrior 1,2,3 or dancers? You can forget it if it’s windy.
“On one of the days we did a balancing class and the next day we lost half the students,” says Skinner.
So yoga teachers looking for a change of scenery, be warned. “If the boat is rocky you have to change the whole class – which is different to a studio where you know the environment will always be the same.”
But hell, what’s a pose here and there for a constant state of contentment?
As Walden puts it: “Being on a boat with the sunrise, the motion and smells of the sea, fresh air all around you and the breeze sweeping through, it’s a grounding experience that you simply couldn’t replicate on land or on a beach. It’s just fabulous.”
And well, my only challenge doing yoga ten days straight at sea? The onboard pastry chef whose freshly baked pain au chocolat would be temptingly waiting beside the coffee table every morning at the crack of dawn.
But hey, on the days where the boat was rocking and certain yoga poses were out of reach – you’ve got to reach for something else to maintain the balance right?
Sam Bailey was a guest on board The Royal Clipper during their ten day Western Mediterranean tour from July-August, as hosted by the Star Clippers. For more information on yoga themed cruises, see the link here.
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