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Paddleboard Yoga and Pilates Lets New Yorkers Embrace The Hudson

By Mathew Katz | July 24, 2012 12:55pm

CHELSEA — To Shannon MacDowell, the Hudson River isn't a gross cesspool, it's a body of water New Yorkers should embrace.

The 25-year-old Alaska native views the water as an integral part of the city — something that she learned when she began to stand-up paddleboard on it last year.

"You live on an island, you can access the water here," she said while gazing out at the choppy Hudson waters just before a thunderstorm hit on Monday. "Some people — a lot of people — want to be connected to the water."

After more than a year of traversing the Hudson on a paddleboard with her own share of slips and falls into the water, MacDowell caught the paddling bug and now teaches at the Manhattan Kayak Company.

Soon, she'll offer groups of fitness enthusiasts a zen-like alternative to their landlandlocked routines.

Starting in August, MacDowell's Liquid Fusion class will bring together yoga and Pilates.

On a two-and-a-half foot wide paddleboard.

In the middle of the Hudson River.

"It's a meditative experience for people," said MacDowell, a licensed Pilates instructor and longtime yoga enthusiast. "We're giving people tools to enjoy the river."

Located at West 26th Street and the Hudson River, the Manhattan Kayak Company launched a paddleboard yoga class last summer, but MacDowell and other staff members decided to add sitting pilates poses to the class after realizing just how much the choppy Hudson waters can knock you off-balance when trying balance in a Warrior Pose.

Each class will feature a variety of traditional yoga and pilates moves, including downward dogs, V-sits, and more — all on a rocking board.

"Our water is moving. There are four tidal shifts every day. There are cruise ships sailing by," MacDowell said.

She added that part of the fun — and physical challenge — is stabilizing yourself on the river.

"These boards are so much fun, it's like a big surprise basu ball," she said. "And when you fall off, you end up in a river."

That fall into the Hudson may be what raises many eyebrows, but MacDowell and other marine explorers at the company don't even blink at the idea of immersing themselves in the river's waters.

With the past winter being so warm, many of the folks at the Manhattan Kayak Company kept setting sail on the river — wearing a dry suit, of course — during the colder months.

"Over the last 40 years, the cleaning of the Hudson has been unbelievable," MacDowell said. "We're in the water all the time, and there's no third eyeball on my forehead."

The company has yet to set a price on the Liquid Fusion classes, but last year's Liquid Yoga classes ranged in price from $35 to $75 per session.

The Liquid Fusion program will likely run until Thanksgiving before taking a winter hiatus. MacDowell said she wouldn't be surprised if, like this summer, the program changed again next year.

"This is a new sport, so this is an experiment," she said. "It continues to evolve as we explore possibilities — who knows where it will go?"