We tried the latest fitness trend paddleboard yoga

By Sheila Cosgrove Baylis
Updated December 15, 2016 01:37 PM
Jill Wheeler - 4
Credit: Erik Kellar Photography

What Is It: Paddleboard yoga is just what it sounds like — yoga on a paddleboard! Jill Wheeler’s Wellfit Institute offers a weekly class at Vanderbilt Beach in Naples, Florida. The instructor brings the boards and oars, so just bring your sense of humor — you will probably fall into the water. (But you may see dolphins!)

Who Tried It: Sheila Cosgrove Baylis, PEOPLE Bodies editor

Level of Difficulty: 8.5 (on a scale from 1 to 10) — I had never been on a paddleboard before, so for me, the most basic yoga poses became extreme balancing exercises.

I signed up for this class to add a little variety to my Florida weekend of sitting on the beach with daiquiris. I’d sort of missed the boat (haha) on the celeb-approved paddleboard trend and I was curious what yoga had to do with it.

The class started bright and early at 8:30 a.m., but the beach was already busy when my friend Kelly and I were greeted by our instructor Lindsay Pirozzi. We also met our small group of classmates who looked in shape and much more experienced at this downward-dog-on-top-of-water thing.

The beginning of the class was challenging. Getting oriented on the board and getting myself out to our “yoga studio” (a shallow section away from swimmers) was a full-body workout. After missing my designated spot and circling ’round a few times, I was the last person to join our little school of aqua-yogis. When I finally got there and dropped my anchor weight into the sand a few feet below, I said to the class, “I think I’m done, I got my workout for the day! Daiquiris?” They thought I was joking.

Lucky for me, the next thing we did was lie down.

Paddleboard yoga

Lindsay (whose skills are pictured above) encouraged us to relax and feel the movement of the board, breathe in the salty air and listen to the sounds of the sea. It was an effective way for me to let go of any embarrassment about not being able to maneuver the board well and to appreciate the uniqueness of being in an exercise class on the water. I would have been happy staying right there.

But we sat up and tried basic poses — tree, warriors one and two, and down and up dogs — and they proved more difficult than a crow pose or a headstand in a regular yoga class. Lindsay-the-kind-one assured me it was, in part, because the Gulf of Mexico was not its calm, placid self. There were small regular waves that made the whole enterprise unstable.

I fell in. I wasn’t the only one, but I was the first in the class to fall; I was the last in the class to fall; I fell throughout and I fell again and again. To an experienced yogi, this means I’m doing something right. Testing myself, engaging in the spiritual side of yoga, hanging out on the edge of my comfort zone. Fear! Disappointment! Getting up after you’ve fallen! Any disparaging thoughts (“Why am I having more trouble than everyone else!?” and “I’ve surfed before — this should be easier!”) were quickly curtailed. I would start to get frustrated and then the natural beauty around us would snap me out of it.

RELATED VIDEO: World’s Oldest Yoga Teacher Shares Her Tips for a Long, Happy Life

And there was really no way to feel sorry for myself when dolphins, the original water yogis, showed up to check out the class. They hung out for a while and swam to shore with us when the class ended. It didn’t really matter who was falling (me) or who was doing a full-wheel backbend on her board (not me) because it was just so beautiful out there.

When I asked Jill Wheeler about her fitness philosophy, she said, “Nature is a great teacher for life, especially on the water. You never know what conditions you will encounter each class, so it keeps you on your toes.”

Jill Wheeler - 1
Credit: Erik Kellar Photography

The Verdict: Does anything else need to be said after “dolphins?” The class was difficult, sure, but also beautiful and fresh. Running inside on a sweaty treadmill just doesn’t compare. So try it! Even if you fall (a lot), you’ll thank me.