Blue skies and cotton candy clouds stretched like an awning over Branch Pond. A symphony of croaking frogs and chirping birds accompanied the splashing against a paddleboard, where instructor Machelle LaHaye soothingly described “boat position.” The yoga move shows a person’s balance on the water.
LaHaye is yoga and paddleboard instructor at Opening Heart Fitness Studio in Ellsworth, where she also directs fitness at Friends in Action, a nonprofit organization serving elderly and disabled citizens in Hancock County. She combines paddleboarding and yoga on Sundays when she offers lessons or sessions at 9 a.m. Patrons can rent one of her two available boards, or bring their own.
Once a life-jacketed student gets the hang of paddleboarding, it’s anchors aweigh. To practice yoga afloat, an anchor of sorts is required to secure the paddleboard and hold somewhat stationary on the water.
In LaHaye’s case, she uses a repurposed baitbag filled with Branch Lake rocks. The so-called anchor, which has 10-foot length of rope, is tossed into the lake, landing and catching in the rocks below.
“Stand-up paddleboarding allows you to go to uncharted places without the crowds,” she said. “It allows a deeper connection with nature.”
LaHaye prefers to teach on Branch Pond off Red Ridge Road because of its easy public launch ramp, calm waters, lack of big boats and abundance of wildlife. In one trip there, she counted 47 red slider turtles. That’s her favorite part of paddleboarding: discovery.
Each time she’s on the board, LaHaye has a memorable sighting whether it’s a moose swimming across a lake or having a loon pop out of the water beside her. Paddleboarding doesn’t seem to disturb the wildlife, LaHaye said.
LaHaye actively searches for a new place to paddleboard every week, which has yielded more than 50 spots from New Hampshire to Lubec.
“We go anywhere your heart desires,” she said, often letting her students pick the lesson site. “As long as the wind allows.”
On board, paddlers strengthen their core, back muscles, biceps, triceps, shoulders and oblique muscles in one session.
“It’s the most peaceful workout you’ll ever do,” the instructor said.
Six years ago, LaHaye got into paddleboarding due to a chance encounter. She was waitressing at the former Cleonice Mediterranean Bistro on Main Street in Ellsworth. The diners she was waiting on asked her: If she could do one thing to add to her life, what would it be?
“I really want to learn how to paddleboard,” she replied without thinking much of it.
She returned home after work to find a paddleboard on her porch. As it turned out, the group she waited on owned a paddleboard company. She and her board were inseparable that summer. After boarding for two years, she obtained a teaching certificate, and has been instructing new paddleboarders for four years.
“It’s pure joy, everyone should experience it,” LaHaye said.
Before her daily class schedule at Opening Heart Fitness, LaHaye offers Morning Yoga by the Union River for free from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. on Mondays and Fridays throughout the summer at Ellsworth’s Marina Park.
Even before her work day kicks in, the fitness instructor will often squeeze some paddleboarding in to frame her mind and perspective for the hours ahead.
“Stand-up paddleboarding is like hitting a reset button,” she said. “We’re busy people, being in the moment is precious.”
Opening Heart Fitness is located (upstairs) at 83 Main St. in Ellsworth. For more info, call 812-0621 and visit the studio’s Facebook page.