A light breeze sent small ripples rolling across Lake Elmo on a recent warm August evening.
The ripples caused about a dozen stand-up paddleboards clustered a few dozen yards from shore to sway gently on the water as the people on top of them sat cross-legged, backs stiff and straight, and stretched their arms overhead before slowly bringing their hands together.
For a few hours each Wednesday evening over the last few weeks and continuing until early September, a dozen or so people meet at the lake for sunset yoga sessions on the stand-up boards.
"It's really fun to be on the paddleboards," said Stacey Rowcliffe, the class' organizer and instructor. "You get up there and you're using new muscles constantly while you're on the board. There's just been a huge response to it."
Combining the yoga sessions with stand-up paddleboarding — a newly-popular sport that lets riders on a long board similar to a surfboard navigate rivers, lakes and even the ocean using a paddle — means practitioners must not only balance while moving through yoga poses, but also in response to the water's movement.
For the Lake Elmo class, Rowcliffe, who teaches restorative yoga and meditation at Limber Tree Yoga Studio in Billings, teamed up with Sunshine Sports to bring in rental boards and other gear, as well as a little instruction on basic use.
"Yoga on boards is very new in Billings," said Mike Donovan, Sunshine's owner. "It's amazing how quick it snowballed and how much people seem to like it. The thing with stand-up paddleboarding is everybody wants to try it."
The classes filled almost completely up before the first class on Aug. 6 and created so much demand that Rowcliffe added a pair of Thursday classes, which also promptly sold out. She's now working to iron out the details for fall and winter classes at a local indoor swimming pool.
At a recent class, participants came off the water raving about the session.
"I've done yoga before and love stand-up paddleboarding," said Kindra DeGroot, who took the class with friend Brittney Armbrust. "We need more things like this in the community."
A typical class involves a few minutes of set up — Donovan hauls the boards and gear out from his store for each session — and a 40-minute yoga session, followed by about a half hour of free time for people to paddle around.
Donovan sets up a special anchor system for the boards to prevent them from floating away.
Rowcliffe usually instructs the class while her daughter, Brittney Rowcliffe, and her daughter's friend, Holly Van Binsbergen, demonstrate the poses for participants.
The physical benefits of yoga — including increased flexibility and strength and better posture — combine nicely with with the extra focus and stability needed to be on the board, Rowcliffe said.
It also adds a serene setting and can boost another important yoga benefit.
"It gets you outside," Rowcliffe said. "You have to be present when you do yoga anyways and it is just more intense on the water. You're really, really present and focused."
The idea for the class came after Rowcliffe and her daughter took a trip to Seattle and, on a whim, tried out a similar version there. Already experienced yoga practitioners, they loved it from the start.
"It was just so much fun and made so much sense," she said. "We had a great time and decided we should do something like this for Billings."
They soon after teamed up with Donovan and Sunshine sports, with most of the per class fees, which range from $30 to $38, going towards equipment rentals.
Donovan said that stand-up paddleboarding in general has seen an explosion in popularity in the last few years and that his story usually keeps about 10 or so rentals on hand, which are mostly rented out each weekend.
While it's most popular in coastal areas, which have an ocean for paddleboarders to explore, it's also caught on farther inland on lakes and rivers.
"It took kayaking probably 15 or 20 years to get remotely as popular as stand-up paddleboarding did in the last five or so years," he said.
Billings resident Cheryl Ikeda said she's watched paddleboarders at Lake Elmo during her regular walks there and, after trying it for the first time, wants to come back.
"It's just the most serene thing and I love the water but I don't really like speed," she said. "I say, 'Be brave and try something that maybe you haven't tried before.' It's great for the mind, body and spirit."
Rowcliffe said that getting used to being on a moving board, instead of a stable floor, while doing yoga takes a little practice but that those with a little patience see the benefits pretty quickly.
"You have to counter-balance," she said. "You're using muscles you don't even realize you have. That's also what makes it fun. And you don't hit the floor like in regular yoga. You just get a little bit wet and everybody just jumps back on board."