Zenned Out on Lake Tahoe
Shannon Switzer in The Curious Traveler on April 19, 2013
I began to think perhaps Dr. Brad had missed his calling as a psychic when I started the drive from San Francisco to Tahoe and realized that my next adventure involved two yoga crazes: Yoga on stand-up paddle boards (SUP yoga) and hot yoga.
I’d never tried either despite their growing popularity and Mountain Lotus Yoga Studio on Lake Tahoe’s western shore happened to offer both. The only catch was, they usually didn’t offer SUP yoga on the lake until June, when summer had begun to take hold, and I would soon find out why.
Not only did Mountain Lotus offer hot yoga, it offered several types, including Vinyāsa, which emphasizes the alignment of breath with movement, where poses are strung together into one continuous flow.
Since Dr. Brad had noted that the biggest benefit I’d get from doing yoga was slowing myself down and focusing on breathing to reduce stress, it sounded like vinyāsa would be a perfect match
When I walked into the studio, which was heated to 85 degrees and lined with glowing candles, the owner, Shannon Duclos, greeted the class. “Remember that the art of vinyāsa emphasizes the journey between each asana, not just perfect body alignment,” she said.
After the hot-yoga session, Shannon gave me a run down on SUP yoga and what we’d be doing once we got on the water, as we both snuck glances out the window at the snow flurries coming down. “This is why we don’t usually start this class until June,” Shannon said looking at me doubtfully, “but extreme is what we do in Tahoe, so we’ll make it happen!”
She demonstrated that when doing the “Warrior One position,” and any position that involved the arms, it must be executed with great energy, “as if you’re lifting the lake up over your head.” This was true for yoga in general, but on the lake especially, because if you don’t, you’ll probably fall in, Shannon explained.
“The great thing about SUP yoga is that being on the water forces people to make strong and purposeful movements, because of that extra motivation to stay dry,” she said.
As Shannon spoke, her passion for yoga was evident, and her experience as an athlete — a snowboarder first who discovered yoga later — made me like her instantly. (I might also have been influenced by the fact that we share the same name and hail from the same city.)
Not only that, but I found myself being more drawn to the idea of yoga, which I’ve often thought of as a necessary, but boring evil.
The focus on prana, or breath, and mediation is what got the other Shannon hooked on yoga, and the increased flexibility it gave her while snowboarding wasn’t a bad perk either. So she decided to take courses at the Bikram College of India in 1996 and has been a dedicated yogi ever since.
Shannon had her first taste of SUPing while living in Rosarito, Mexico for 3 years, when she began paddling and surfing on the boards. “I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed it.” So much so that it wasn’t long before the two passions melded into one, as she found the means to open Mountain Lotus and started offering the experience on the lake.
For Shannon, being surrounded by “the energy of the lake, the mountains, and the bluest sky and water you’ve ever seen,” adds a whole new dimension to the SUP yoga experience.
Unfortunately, as Shannon continued, it was looking decidedly un-blue. But all of the sudden as she was wrapping up, we detected a slight break in the clouds and made a run for it. After hobbling barefoot over snowy rocks with the bulky boards under our arms, we paddled a few yards off shore to stay protected from the winds (Shannon usually takes her classes further out, to deeper waters).
We went through part of the flow with the sun on our backs. Out on the water, I saw what she meant: I executed my poses with more purpose and strength knowing that any little bobble could mean an instant ice water bath.
Even in the cold conditions, combining yoga with water (my favorite element) doubled my enjoyment. But just as soon as the sun came out to play, it abandoned us. And when the snow began falling again, we decided to throw in the towel.
After a rigorous day of hot and cold yoga, returning to Sunnyside Lodge, my accommodations while in Tahoe, was like coming home at the end of the day. I gobbled down an excellent faro and grilled veggie dish and guzzled a beer to warm my insides, as the cozy fire in the lobby reanimated my extremities.
While I was watching the flames I got to thinking about the principle that Shannon said guides her passion for practicing and teaching yoga. “Non-judgment must be practiced for a lifetime through every thought,” she said. “Yoga helps me do that.”
The Curious Traveler is driving a Ford C-MAX Hybrid on her Road to Wellness tour.
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Photos by Shannon Switzer; Photo 1: Shannon Duclos demonstrating the "Warrior 2" pose. Photo 2: Shannon Duclos in the bow pose in her studio. Photo 3: View of Emerald Bay on Lake Tahoe…with snow! Photo 4: My home away from home: Sunnyside Lodge.