Bellingham yoga instructor Melissa Longfellow, a descendant of famed 19th century American poet and writer Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, does not lack for verbal creativity in her vocation.
She has fallen in love with a new recreational activity, SUP Yoga, and this summer became the only local instructor.
"Stand-up paddleboard yoga - it's peace, love, unity, balance, core, fitness and fun!" she likes to say, sounding a bit poetic herself. "It's a workout, outdoor activity and destresser all in one."
Locals who want to take advantage of her classes are guaranteed personal attention - she limits her classes in Squalicum Harbor to six people and her classes near Fairhaven's Bellingham Boating Center to three students.
Longfellow, who co-owns the large studio 3 Oms Yoga in Bellingham with Amy Robinson, says she is having even more fun than she anticipated.
SUP yoga just happens to combine Longfellow's longtime love of yoga with her lifetime affection for board sports on snow, land and water.
Surfboards, snowboards, skateboards - you name the board, she is an accomplished enthusiast.
"One great thing about SUP Yoga is that you don't need experience with either stand-up paddleboards or yoga," she said, although noting that many of her SUP students have come from her 3 OMS classes. "It's a very accessible activity, yet it's challenging. You really have to concentrate and avoid becoming distracted. And the learning curve is a lot quicker than something like windsurfing."
In addition, her $35 single class rate ($40 in Fairhaven, and $140 for five sessions at either site) includes board, paddle and life vest rentals (in conjunction with partner store Bellingham Kite-Paddle-Surf at 2620 North Harbor Loop Drive, adjacent to where her six-person classes are conducted). Each class includes two hours of professional instruction.
She received her certification in SUP Yoga after attending classes in Sausalito, Calif., three years ago.
Longfellow, the mother of sons Eiken, 9, and Kael, 7, looks a lot younger than her 43 years. But the trim 5-foot-9 athlete says that until she got involved with yoga 15 years ago, she felt a lot older than a former college basketball player in her late 20s should have felt.
"With basketball and boarding, my body really felt beat up," she said of her pre-yoga days.
At the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, she played four years of basketball at the Division III college while earning a degree in art, with a double major in illustration and design along with art history.
She began to show her leadership skills by earning captain's honors at both the university and Swampscott High School.
"There weren't too many athletes who majored in art," she said, indicating she had the sort of inquiring mind that would eventually be open to yoga.
"When I was little, I would see my mother doing yoga and meditation. I thought she was weird," Longfellow said with a laugh. "And now here I am."
She's definitely a fun-loving sort, which adds to her newfound love of SUP Yoga.
"In fact, I dressed as Batwoman when I took Eiken to the Bellingham Comic Con last year," Longfellow said. "I feel better at 43 than I've ever felt. I'm stronger physically and mentally. I remember I could barely move when I started yoga."
One of her students, Bellingham's Katie Cassidy, was attracted to SUP Yoga because of the water aspect.
"I love doing anything on the water," Cassidy said, "so the next thing we're going to have to do is scuba yoga!"
Cassidy, one of Longfellow's regular yoga students, calls SUP Yoga "just a fun addition to my yoga." She loves the challenge of balancing on the water and learning to pay strict attention.
"I haven't fallen in yet," she said. "This takes yoga to a new adventurous place that I really enjoy."
Longfellow has sold Cassidy on her teaching methods.
"Melissa is a wonderful teacher, with her enthusiasm and her sports background," Cassidy said. "She brings surfing every week into the yoga studio."
Like Cassidy, Bellingham's Sue Miller loves the water and thus the introduction of yoga to a new element.
"It's just a whole different perspective, combining two different activities," Miller said. "SUP Yoga just really encourages you to be very present. If your mind wanders, you're likely to find yourself in the water. Sure, I'll keep doing it ... even just to paddle around is great."
Although Longfellow worked as a lifeguard in her school days, she never had a chance to get in the water competitively, since swimming would have conflicted with basketball, which was her best sport.
"But I'm definitely a water person and a board person," she said, explaining why she jumped at the chance to introduce SUP Yoga locally.
"SUP Yoga has become big all over the world in the last 10 years," she said, pointing out that it can help participants learn better balance, achieve flexibility and cut down on aches and pains, just like any form of yoga.
Bellingham's Chuck Spencer, a longtime yoga enthusiast, called SUP "a pretty interesting challenge trying to balance body and mind on the board. Some of the postures are hard. I was successful at most, but some felt pretty precarious."
Spencer had the bad luck to do his session in a heavy July rain.
"Melissa did a real good teaching job," he said. "I was skeptical (about SUP) at first, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. But next time, I want it to be on a beautiful sunny day."
Longfellow knows SUP Yoga probably won't become huge here, even though Whatcom County is a big locale for yoga, but she would like to see lots of people try it.
"Yoga is really big here," she said, indicating how many yoga studios can be found locally. "Amy and I have a staff of seven at 3 OMS Yoga (1210 Bay St.) and we work in a variety of styles with about 1,500 people a month. We're really thrilled - interest in yoga just keeps growing and growing."
She says her goals are in SUP Yoga are pretty much the same as in regular yoga: "to share yoga, to create community and to be in service. We want to help people bring out the best in themselves."
She surfed often in San Diego, where she lived before relocating to Bellingham eight years ago.
"Stand up paddleboards are wider and thicker (than other water boards) and it's a lot easier to balance on them than in a canoe or kayak," she said, pointing out the benefits of having a variety of core and ancillary muscles strengthened by the activity.
And what happens if someone falls into the water?
"With SUP Yoga, they just get back up again and they're smiling," she said.
For more information and required registration, go to 3omsyoga.com or call 360-820-4784. For equipment information, contact Bellingham Kite-Paddle-Surf at kitepaddlesurf.com or 360-775-2741.
The remaining summer SUP yoga classes will be offered Aug. 17, 19 and 31 and Sept. 2 and 14 at Squalicum Harbor and Aug. 19 and Sept 2 at The Community Boating Center in Fairhaven. A full-moon paddle class will be held Aug. 31 from 8 to 9:30 p.m. at a private location on Lake Whatcom.
Michelle Nolan is a freelance writer in Bellingham.