Images: Sarah Tiefenthaler of YOGAqua on her paddleboard in Marina del Rey
I am a sailor, and the ocean is my world. The sound of waves, the feeling of wind, the fluttering of sails, then quiet. On the ocean you touch something ancient. You are there and you are not distracted—you’re part of something timeless, and it scares the hell out of you, and it empowers you.
The ocean makes sense to me, and boats make sense to me, and that’s what I was thinking when a beautiful woman appeared and rocked my very foundations.
She appeared from nowhere, floating on top of the water like a Greek mythological figure. She paddled her board in my direction as I observed from the docks of the rowing club where I work. Then she stopped, tossed out a little anchor and started doing yoga poses on her board.
The ocean makes sense to me, and boats make sense to me. Yoga does not.
My understanding is that yoga is a holistic body/mind activity meant to improve health and raise your awareness or connectedness to the natural world, or something like that. And while I can imagine this working for a devoted practitioner on a mountain in India, in the City of Angels it feels like one more thing you packed into your day and “liked” on Facebook.
The L.A. yogi goes from texting on an iPhone and sitting in traffic to paying $15 for 12 ounces of cold-pressed cucumber juice. Next on the schedule is yoga at Coreyogasomethingsomething inside an office building in the valley. To me, that hour of scheduled meditation seems forced, or superficial, or like a futile grasp at sanity. A cholesterol pill after French fries when real yoga is supposed to be veggies.
At least that’s what I thought.
It was morning, and the rowboats I was working on didn’t get cleaned because for the next hour and a half I was enthralled by the woman on the board. Her hair was golden and flowing and each movement was graceful; her body, a spectacle. From downward dogs to headstands she transitioned seamlessly, and it was all like a dance—that I couldn’t take part in. Who is she and how do I meet her?
She paddled away with her students and that was that. But over the next few days I learned that her name is Sara and that she teaches yoga on paddleboards on the waters of Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey.
Yoga on paddleboards? Sounds pretty cool, I thought. But I wasn’t thinking straight—I was too hung up on her. Most likely her activity was just another L.A. fad. Too many things at once. Just because flying is cool and sex is good doesn’t mean doing it on a plane is amazing. Or does it? I don’t know, I’ve never tried it. You have to try things to know. I would have to take Sara’s class. A good excuse to meet her. But in a way I didn’t want to meet her. She was perfect in my eyes, floating over the water, so close yet unreachable, and silent. She was part of the ocean.
But I call, and she starts to materialize. Her voice is sweet and her name is spelled with an “h.” I am set take Sarah’s class on Monday.
We paddled out, and the yoga began. I’d never done yoga before, but I was guided by Sarah’s gentle voice and comforted by my own little space on the water. Breathe in … and exhale. By the end of the session I was perfectly relaxed. As tiny waves ripple under my board, Sarah asked us to move our hands through the water. My stabilizing muscles worked as I balanced on the board; I was concentrating deeply, yet part of my surroundings. Nothing was forced. Like holding the wind with the tiller. You act and react simultaneously and it is all one thing.
Doing yoga on a board isn’t a senseless combination of things; it is a unified experience and a true joy. In fact, I wouldn’t do it anywhere else. And for those who’ve already mastered yoga, the water presents a challenging unstable surface, a new and perfect place to be immersed in the practice (sometimes literally).
After taking the class I got what she was doing, and after talking to Sarah I got that she got what she was doing. To her and her trainees, those hours of yoga are not just another activity on the day’s schedule. These yogis are engaged in a balanced, healthy lifestyle. Sarah’s YOGAqua is a fun summer workout, yes—but it isn’t just a summer fling for her. And while some people might take her class as a quirky, novel activity before heading to the DMV then Starbucks then happy hour (which is perfectly fine), I can see that Sarah is doing something that makes sense, something worthwhile.
She is touching something ancient. She is a yogi, and the ocean is her world. And to me, she is still a demigoddess.
For more info on YOGAqua, visit YOGAqua.com