First-time yoga participant tells of a morning on the Peconic

I don’t have what you would call an impeccable sense of balance.

So I was less than confident about my chances of staying dry on this humid, overcast Friday morning on the Peconic River.

My yoga instructor for the day sized me up, then raised her eyebrows.

“Have you done yoga before?” asked Danielle Fortier-Lynaugh, with Peconic River Yoga.

“No.”

“Do you know how to paddleboard?”

“No.”

“Can you swim?”

“Yes.”

She chuckled to herself.

“Good, you’ll be fine,” she said.

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | News-Review reporter Paul Squire gets into the pigeon pose on a paddleboard in the Peconic River.

Paddleboard yoga is almost exactly what it sounds like: Participants paddle out into a body of water — rivers, lakes or the sea— on 12-foot-long epoxy or fiberglass boards. When they reach their destinations, they practice yoga poses.

Yoga itself seemed a daunting enough task for me, a first-timer. But doing it while sitting, kneeling and standing on a board in a river? I had made sure to bring a towel.

We were joined by Kate Alesio, director of Peconic River Yoga. The paddleboard yoga classes are something new for the downtown studio, inspired by Ms. Alesio’s recent discovery of paddleboarding.

This week, a summer storm had rolled in the night before, likely keeping other practitioners home. It would just be the three of us this morning.

“Looks like you’ll get a private lesson,” Ms. Alesio said cheerfully.

Ms. Fortier-Lynaugh led me to a small dirt path that dipped into a quiet pond-like area behind Peconic Paddler watersports rental store, a part of the waterway that connects under a bridge to the portion of the river behind West Main Street.

The warm, murky water wrapped around my feet as I cautiously edged my way out onto the board. The roughly three-foot wide board wobbled under my weight as I shifted back into the center, sending ripples into the still water.

At least if I fell in, I thought, it’d be warm.

Mercifully, my instructors took a few moments to give me paddleboarding basics. Paddling is a “push-pull” motion, they said. Gently push with the top hand, pull with the bottom. Sit in the center of the board. Soon I was paddling around the pond in listless circles, barely avoiding the sticks and shrubs that reached out of the water. My instructors guided me toward the bridge, just high enough for us to glide under.

“The most important part,” Ms. Fortier-Lynaugh joked, “is to duck.”

We had made it about a dozen feet out when it was time to really paddleboard.

“If you’re ready, try standing up,” Ms. Alesio said.

Easier said than done. She then reminded me that this was my first time, so I didn’t need to stand up if I didn’t want to. But what, I thought to myself, would be the fun in that?

I shifted my knees back, scraping them on the molded plastic in the center of the board, and put both hands in front of me. Okay, that wasn’t so hard. I reached one foot up, and the whole board began to quake. The dull-white egrets watching from a nearby tree and the ducks all cawed with laughter.

For a moment I held perfectly still, down on one knee on a shaky platform, praying I wasn’t about to be sent tumbling into the water.

“Good! Now just bring the other foot up!”

Have mercy, please, I thought, I just got this far.

I quickly whipped my other foot up and the board shook. I froze, then slowly lifted myself up. The board was quaking, but Ms. Alesio was smiling. I had dodged the drink. For now.

As we paddled upriver, I was shocked by how easy it was, once I was standing, to get used to paddleboarding. My turns, which started out taking up the entire river, now curved tighter. The board barely shook, and it felt sturdy under my feet.

We made our way west up river and then rested our paddles on the board. The yoga class, the real lesson, was about to begin.

The first step in our class was breathing, sitting on the board with eyes closed. Breathe from your navel up through your chest and back down, I was told. Feel the breath move through you.

It all seemed a bit too simple. I can breathe, no problem, I thought. Where were the back-breaking poses or the quirky balancing moves?

Sure enough, as we floated down the river, Ms. Fortier-Lynaugh led us through a series of poses: “Downward-Facing Dog,” “Pigeon,” “Cobra,” “Cat,” “Child’s Pose.”

I had expected to be folded like a pretzel by the end of the class, contorted on this unsteady board with legs and arms flailing as I was tossed time and time again into the warm water of the Peconic. But yoga (at least this time on the paddleboard) was more about stretching, breathing and finding a center of balance than about elaborate poses.

“If you can breathe, you can do yoga,” Ms. Fortier-Lynaugh said simply.

As the morning’s class was coming to a close, Ms. Fortier-Lynaugh led us through the final pose: the “Corpse Pose.” We laid on our backs on the board, and I felt the warm water trickle onto the board and soak my hair.

“Let your arms sink down at your sides,” she said, growing quieter. I lay there, relaxing, listening to the lapping of the water against the dock and to the cars bustling by on the nearby roads, their drivers rushing off on their morning commutes, always in a hurry.

They’re missing out, I thought. This is really the way to spend a morning.

“Paul?” Ms. Fortier-Lynaugh said gently from nearby. I shook my head and opened my eyes. The other two women were both sitting up on their boards, class having ended.

I was the only one left still laying there on the board, stuck in my last pose, praying the class could go on a few more minutes.

psquire@timesreview.com

Paddleboard yoga classes at Peconic River Yoga are completed for the summer, but may be back next year at a different time and location. Peconic River Yoga offers other yoga classes for all levels every day. For more information, visit peconicriveryoga.com or call 631-369-9569

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