Think yoga is just for mats? Think again! This week, we’re taking our practice off of the mat and onto the board…the paddle board, that is. More and more yogis from the beaches of Los Angeles to the Great Lakes up north are opting for a new way to zen out: SUP Yoga. This hybrid of yoga and stand-up paddle boarding is not only a fun and innovative way to get your flow on, it offers a killer ab workout and an experience perfect for beginners and advanced yogis alike. Nikki Dean is spearheading the SUP Yoga movement in the Lake Tahoe area, leading others through invigorating poses and calming breaths amidst the beauty of the Sierra Nevada. An avid practitioner of Yoga Nidra and passionate advocate of alternative healing, we asked Nikki to share a bit about her life, in and out of the water…

Yoga Matters With Nikki Dean

What originally drew me to yoga:

After falling in love with snowboarding on a trip to the Sundance Film Festival, I quit my television production job in NYC and moved to Lake Tahoe. I spent every possible hour on the mountain, usually covered head to toe in snow from getting tossed around, and having the time of my life. As soon as I’d get home, I’d lie on the floor and stretch to soothe my tired body. My friend took me to a yoga class and I was instantly hooked by the feeling of stretching and strengthening every single muscle in my body.  I went to yoga just about every day after that. I would gaze dreamily at my teacher, thinking she was so lucky to spend her day in yoga world. Two years later, I took my first teacher training at Kripalu, moved to New Zealand and started teaching. I’ve never looked back. No other job I’ve ever had has been more satisfying and felt less like work. 

What originally inspired me to add SUP to the mix:

It was serendipity. I was at West End Beach at Donner Lake when I got a call from another teacher asking if I could sub her SUP Yoga class there in a half hour. Having never done yoga on a paddleboard before, I hopped out on the water and gave it a try. It was so fun and exhilarating, calming and inspirational! I taught that class and have been playing and teaching yoga on my board ever since. 

Biggest inspiration:

My dear friend, talented photographer, entrepreneur, fellow yogini and Swedish vagabond, Micaela Malmi. She reminds me to follow my dreams and to be courageous, whether she is expanding her personal and professional horizons in her home base of San Diego or traveling around the world with her camera, her yoga mat and, if it fits in her bag, her paddleboard.

Thing I love most about yoga on a SUP:

You can’t cheat! You’ve got to engage your core and your medial line the whole entire time to stay centered, but you also have to be soft in your joints to flow with the rhythm of the water. Becoming absorbed in the mental concentration while being immersed in nature, everything else seems to slip away.

Fave time of day to hit the water and flow:

You can’t beat the early morning. The glassy water, the cool morning air, the sun rising over the misty mountain side …it’s majestic. 

When I'm not on the mat or board, I'm:

Skiing if it’s winter, hiking if it’s summer or playing at the park, lake or river with my husband and our boys. I’m so fortunate to live in one of nature’s best playgrounds! 

Favorite Pose:

That’s like asking my kids what their favorite ice cream flavor is. Whatever flavor we have! My students constantly remark on how I never teach the same class twice. There are just too many poses, too much fun to be had to settle on just one. As my body has changed from my ski bum days, to having babies, and now that I’ve entered my 40’s, I love that on any single day I can pull a pose out of my pocket that’s just right for me.

Most Challenging pose to do on the board:

I actually think Warrior poses are the most challenging. Any pose where your feet are far apart can be really difficult. 

I wish that more people realized that yoga:

You don’t have to be flexible to do yoga; you do yoga to become more flexible.  And the coolest part is that as you become more flexible in your body, you tend to become more flexible in your mind. 

Project or cause I am most passionate about:

I love working with cancer patients, survivors and caregivers. I’ve been teaching yoga and Yoga Nidra (deep relaxation) classes to cancer patients and their families for the past few years. Sometimes, I guide people in meditation during their chemo or radiation treatments to help them assimilate the healing.  Last year, I became a certified Cancer Exercise Specialist and released a Yoga Nidra CD inspired by my cancer group. It seems like so many people I know, and know of, are affected by cancer these days, and sadly, at younger and younger ages. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to help people reconnect with their bodies and ease their minds as they face their challenges. 

Biggest lesson yoga has taught me:

Yoga reminds me to set my intentions clearly, to live with effort, yet without strain and to stay present in my ever unfolding life. I guess that’s three lessons!

Biggest lesson I hope to teach through yoga:

You are exactly where you are supposed to be, experiencing exactly what you are meant to experience. The question is what do you have to learn from being in this place?

Most rewarding yoga-related experience:

Teaching is incredibly rewarding for me. Talking to students after class, hearing their stories of growth and personal discovery, it gives me the chills every time.

5 Things on my bucket list:

1. Create a Yoga for Cancer teacher training program and videos.
2. Paddleboard all the way around Lake Tahoe.
3. Spend time on an ashram in India.
4. Write a book. I’ve got three swirling in my head.
5. Go on the Amazing Race with my husband. And win.

Advice I would give my 16 year-old self:

You have to believe in who you are. As long as you believe in yourself, you will shine and others will believe in you. 

Personal mantra:

My imagination is infinite and I manifest all that I imagine.

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