Lake Tahoe Yoga gets boards on the lake
Lake Tahoe Yoga owner and instructor Janay Aiksnoras has been teaching paddle yoga since 2010. The idea started when someone brought her an article about people practicing yoga on paddle boards, and she decided to bring the concept to Lake Tahoe. Since then, Lake Tahoe Yoga has offered students the opportunity to practice yoga on paddle boards and on the beach every summer when the weather warms up.
Paddle yoga classes are a combination of paddling out from the shore, a physical yoga practice on the board, and a restful meditation under the sun.
According to Aiksnoras, you don’t need any experience paddle boarding or doing yoga to take her class. She said yoga is for everyone, and she’s had people from toddlers to grandmas take the class. All you need is to feel comfortable enough around the water that if you fall in, you can simply laugh at yourself and hop back on.
Classes take place at Lakeview Commons in South Lake Tahoe, which is near the South Tahoe Standup Paddle boat house, providing easy access to paddle boards and unparalleled views of the lake.
Before the start of class, Aiksnoras checks the weather on the beach to make sure wind conditions and temperatures are safe. She’s learned how to identify risky conditions and wave patterns from the Coast Guard to ensure classes are as safe as possible.
Then it’s a brief lesson on how to properly hold a paddle and how to use it in the water. Aiksnoras measures everyone’s paddles according to height and shows everyone how to stand up on their board and how to drop their board’s anchor.
Once everyone feels comfortable and has an understanding of how to use their boards, the class paddles out on the lake together.
Depending on how quickly a class paddles out on the lake and the skill level of students that day, Aiksnoras will then begin teaching the asana portion of the class for 45 minutes to an hour. Aiksnoras said the Sanskrit word asana translates to posture. “When we’re out there on the water, we’re doing a variety of physical postures that are challenging you to remain focused, remain balanced and also to push beyond your limits,” she said. Again, the difficulty of the class and the postures depends on who’s joining her that day and their balance, body awareness and comfort level on their board.
She said the asana portion of yoga is a great workout, but practicing asana alone isn’t a complete yoga practice which is why she always leaves plenty of time at the end of each class for her students to enjoy a savasana. This yoga pose is a peaceful meditation that takes place by lying on your back with your eyes closed. “Savasana is of the utmost importance in making sure you have that time to physically relax and let your whole body quiet down and let the chatter in your mind quiet down, so that you can let go,” said Aiksnoras.
Obi Felton, a paddle board yoga student of three years, said that savasana is by far her favorite aspect of the paddle yoga practice. “You hear the sounds of the birds, and when [savasana] is over, you look up at the mountains, and it’s an out-of-body experience,” she said.
One of the primary goals of yoga is reducing distractions and eliminating the things that draw us outside of ourselves, according to Aiksnoras. With paddle yoga, there’s extra focus required to get on the board, extra balance needed to move your body into certain positions, and extra attention needed to stay in your space. All of this requires the practitioner to focus on what’s important and eliminate interruptions.
Aiksnoras said the word “yoga” itself translates to union, and one of the most important aspects of practicing yoga is connecting. When students get an opportunity to connect with nature and the space around them, it elevates their practice, and when you’re out on a paddle board with the sun shining on your face, surrounded by crystal clear water, it’s difficult not to connect.
According to Aiksnoras, yoga can be a therapeutic practice when done accurately. “Everything that I’m doing as a yoga teacher is to teach my practitioners, whether I see them daily or I see them just once, and I get just one moment with them, that there’s more to yoga than just poses,” she said.
She said there are other physical benefits of doing paddle yoga long-term including developing core strength, balance, body awareness and upper body strength from carrying paddle boards, but Aiksnoras said that it’s more than just feeling the improvements of your physical body. To her, paddle yoga gives practitioners a shift in perspective.
“This is an opportunity to enjoy time with people you know, with strangers,” she said. “To be doing something where you’re looking around beyond your phone and really just experience this little piece of the world, and Tahoe is one of the most magical places.”