For some of us, yoga is already a challenge. I, for one, struggle with the tree (or ‘vriksasana’) pose, which requires standing perfectly still on one leg, with the other foot tucked into the supporting thigh. To stand firm for any more than five seconds without wobbling is something I’d consider a major personal triumph.
So it’s with a sense of trepidation that I stroll down through the gardens of Jebel Ali Resort & Spa to the Watercooled watersports centre on the beach. I’m convinced that in a few moments I’ll be toppling head first into the sea as I attempt to combine yoga and paddleboarding.
I’m greeted warmly by Sharon Allison, Watercooled’s regional operations director (the centre is on the verge of opening another facility in Abu Dhabi), and Julie Lewis, the founder of Mountain High, a Dubai-based enterprise that offers adventure challenges and personal development programmes for women. In November this year she will be leading a group of breast cancer survivors from the UAE on an expedition through Antarctica – which certainly puts our morning’s agenda into perspective.
Julie explains we’ll be doing a form of yin yoga on the boards, moving through a series of positions, holding each for five minutes. The idea is to really feel each stretch, rather than focusing on movement. Our muscle workout will come from the paddling.
As we head out onto the water, paddling a little way on our knees to make sure we’re balanced before standing, Julie explains that each session involves around 15 minutes of paddling before the yoga starts, allowing attendees to ‘connect’ with the board first. As we paddle around the rocky breakwater, I’m unable to contain my excitement as I spot a small ray shoot underneath my board, half a metre below the surface. I wobble and tense up… then, with relief, regain my balance. The water is shallow and warm – inviting, even – so there’s nothing to be concerned about, but I just know I won’t feel the same sense of achievement if I fall in.
We head over to two buoys, where we clip the backs of our boards onto a stretch of rope to prevent us drifting away. I’d had visions of the class floating off in different directions, with our instructor wildly calling out directions over ever-increasing expanses of water, but of course it’s much more sensible than that. After all, it would be tricky to keep track of the students (of which there can be a maximum of 11) if they’re scattered across the sea.
On the other hand, we’re only clipped at one end, which means when I open my eyes after completing a half-butterfly pose, I realise my board has turned almost 180 degrees and I’m looking back over my shoulder at Julie for instruction. After a quick manual paddle with my hands, I’m facing back in the right direction – which I manage to maintain for about three minutes. I can’t help but look forward to the 20-minute meditation at the end of the session, where it won’t matter which way I’m facing. One precaution I’d definitely recommend is wearing a hat – it will help to prevent heatstroke, which I succumb to later in the afternoon.
Doing yoga on the water certainly adds an unreliable element, but this actually serves to make it better suited to beginners, and those that are keen but not necessarily competent (aka my kindred spirits). Laughter is almost inevitable. As Sharon reaches over to help move my board mid-pose, it’s a wiggle too far and, with a loud splash, she’s in the water, hat and all. Laughter erupts from the nearby boat carrying our photographer and one of the Watercooled staff, and it’s hard not to join in as she too laughs along and wades back to her board. If you prefer a 90-minute session that promises to be nothing but serious, focused and systematic, this isn’t for you. But if you have an open mind, are keen to get into yoga and don’t mind getting wet, this might be the best class yet. Dhs175 per person. Classes currently run Mondays and Wednesdays at 9am; evening and weekend classes are likely to be added in future. Paddleboarding Dhs90 per hour. Watercooled, Jebel Ali Resort & Spa (04 887 6771).
Two more to try: water workouts
Aqua Flow Taking place in the water rather than on top of it, this session incorporates yoga and Pilates principles into a pool workout. Dhs40 members, Dhs50 non-members. Schedule alternates weekly. Ladies only. Dubai Ladies Club (04 349 9922).
If you’re after a more fast-paced water workout, try a session with Dubai’s water polo league. Dhs20 per session (students), Dhs40 (professionals). Sat 10am-11am. Dubai Men’s College, Academic City Road.