Alexandra Spyratos is an internationally renowned artist, and also teaches a host of different types of yoga and fitness. Having recently transitioned into Stand-Up Paddleboard (SUP) yoga, she talks to Nomad about this exciting and challenging sport.

How do you manage to combine two such intense careers?

Art and sport are my two passions in life. I grew up on a coffee farm in Kiambu, where I was out in the wild every day. Art and sport were beside each other throughout my childhood, and they flow equally through my life.

I grew up surrounded by Africa’s nature and wildlife, and these play an essential role in both my art and my sport. My paintings and murals feature the colours of Africa, and I use mixed mediums – particularly gold and copper – to create the look and texture I want. And being out in nature is an inherent part of SUP yoga where you’re constantly negotiating with what’s happening around you: the waves, the currents and the winds.

Both my careers are moveable. I travel a lot for my art exhibitions – I’ve exhibited in Italy, Spain, Austria, Hong Kong, the USA, Australia, Kenya, Uganda and South Africa amongst others – and often while I’m based somewhere for an exhibition I do a series of pop-up yoga classes too.

How did you get into yoga?

It was a slow transition. I’d been keen on fitness for years, and did Pilates, kickboxing, zumba, dance, weights, aqua aerobics, spinning and more. In 1990, after I’d been pregnant with my son and put on 24 kilos, I took my interest in fitness further, and qualified as a fitness instructor; at that time I was based in Australia, and for many years I worked for Fitness Australia.

It was only four years ago – after I’d returned to Kenya – that I became certified in yoga. I completed my 500-hour training in Ashtanga and Vinyasa Flow and I am certified by Yoga Alliance. My experience in choreography really helped my transition into becoming a yoga teacher, since artistic imagination plays a big part in a yoga class. Yoga has something extra that takes it beyond other fitness regimes; it develops the body, mind and soul.

Tell me about SUP yoga.

Stand Up Paddleboard is an amazing form of yoga. You connect everything you’ve learned on land, and transfer it onto the open seas. It challenges you in so many ways. Balance is a priority as you have to negotiate with the everchanging elements: the flow of the currents, the movement of the waves, the reverberations of a passing boat. You need to work with nature and go with the flow. It’s total immersion in the ocean life, where you’re surrounded by water, sun and wind.

Preparation for a class is time-consuming. I spend a couple of hours sorting out the boards before I teach: each board needs pumping up, and anchoring. The weather, the waves, the current and the wind all need to be taken into account when I’m placing them – they need to be spaced widely enough so they don’t collide, but close enough for everyone to hear me. Between classes, I have to store them properly to ensure they don’t get punctures, and I can’t leave them in the sun or they’ll explode.

Breath is the centre of yoga, and pranayama breathing while doing SUP yoga is especially beneficial as the fresh sea air oxygenates every cell. Falling is a must! The blue ocean surrounds you, and the fear many people have of falling on land evaporates. I’ve had students doing headstands for the first time on a paddleboard – even though it’s harder than on land – simply because they’ve let go of their fear of falling. Most of all it’s fun, fun, fun!

What next?

I’ll definitely be in Kenya for the Lamu Yoga Festival. I’ve taught at the festival every year since it started, and I introduced SUP yoga to the programme a couple of years ago. The festival was recently voted the number one festival in the world worth travelling for, and it’s an event in my annual calendar that I never miss.

As told to Tamara Britten

For more on yoga by the shore of Lamu click here

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