The Tao of Mary Lou Cerami’s SUP yoga

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Mary Lou Cerami is proud to tell people she’s 40. “Why not? I’m having more fun than I ever have, and I feel great,” says the Chicago native. “One of my favorite lines is that old George Shaw quote, ‘You don’t stop playing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop playing.'”

Cerami, a longtime outdoor enthusiast, makes her living getting other people to play; she’s now in in her third season of teaching standup paddleboard yoga, an innovative way to have fun on the water while exercising. When the standup paddleboard craze reached Chicago, Cerami, a longtime kayaker, knew it was the perfect way to leverage her love of yoga with her passion for paddling on the water.

Mary Lou Cerami flexing her balance muscles in a pre-class stretch.

Mary Lou Cerami flexing her balance muscles in a pre-class stretch.

“When fitness is fun it’s a lot easier to stay healthy,” says Cerami. “And when you’re out on the water, taking in the skyline, and watching the city from a distance, you just don’t feel like you’re grinding it out at the gym.” Like other outdoor sports, standup paddling allows you to be immersed in a natural environment while you’re mind is staying busy enjoying stimuli, rather than focused on the strain of exercise.

Of course, stretching muscles while practicing physical balance requires that mind and body are in harmony. And that quest for balance is what Cerami is hoping to instill in her students. “Life throws you off balance all the time,” Cerami says, “So having something that can get you seeing straight is key.”

Cerami says the misery of being unbalanced in her own life is what drew her to yoga in the first place. “Years ago, when I left my corporate design job to start my own business out of my house, the hardest part was losing contact with other humans. Those little interactions are something I really missed. I wasn’t getting that working at home. So that’s part of what drove me to become a yoga instructor.”

Serenity is easy to find in a big city like Chicago if you're willing to be creative.

Serenity is easy to find in a big city like Chicago if you’re willing to be creative.

It didn’t take long for Cerami’s adventurous spirit to rub off on her students, many of whom became close friends. Awed by her willingness to try anything, like trapeze swinging, martial arts, and acrobatic yoga (think Cirque du Soleil), a good chunk of her traditional yoga students became early converts to SUP yoga.

“I think the reason my students love it is because you have to be much more present than with traditional yoga,” Cerami explains. “Being on an unstable surface makes you instantly aware of imbalances in your body that you wouldn’t have practicing on the floor. And falling out of your pose means you’re going into the water.”

Of course, the curiosity factor has helped her business thrive as well. Cerami and her merry band of board balancers are front and center every Sunday on the lake in the city, garnering plenty of attention from morning television shows and health and fitness magazines. After teaching her 9:30 a.m. class at Hollywood Beach, you’ll can find her riding her bike up to Montrose to teach another at noon. With supplies at the ready, onlookers are always encouraged to give it a try. And the beauty of these courses is the classroom size is practically unlimited.

Frankly, it's impossible not to have fun in an environment like this. Cerami gets her SUP yoga students ready for launch.

Frankly, it’s impossible not to have fun in an environment like this. Cerami gets her SUP yoga students ready for launch.

 

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