ALBANY — Believe it or not, life is a lot like paddle board yoga. There’s turbulence you have to navigate through. Focus and balance are important and though one may be afraid of falling, being brave enough to get up and try again is key.

These are just a few of the lessons Sylvia Maxwell wanted her students to learn last Thursday afternoon as the first Stand Up Girl program participants hit the waters of Cromartie Beach in Albany.

Two 13-year old girls started by helping to unpack the materials and set up their boards. Maxwell said even this simple step helps them feel empowered knowing that they’re capable of handling similar situations in the future. She added that it was an overall empowering experience for her as well.

“Even from the very beginning of getting the equipment there, loading the equipment and having the confidence to take people out on the water; that’s a lot of responsibility,” she said. “That is an overcoming fear process for me in itself.”

With the boards loaded up and ready to go, the girls then paddled out to a small island about have a half mile from the dock and had lunch while testing how far the shallow water around the island extended. Then the real fun began.

After letting their lunch digest, the two paddled out a few feet from the island, anchored and proceeded with the yoga portion of the session. Things started off easy enough with the child’s pose and downward dog, and progressively got harder as more balance and focus were needed to carry out the warrior and tree pose. Both girls were initially afraid of falling, but after taking a few dunks in the cool Flint River water, the pair conquered their fear.

“It felt good because I was really hot before,” Laurel-Ann Wilkerson said. “It made me more comfortable doing the yoga poses.”

“Our first yoga pose I was kinda nervous, but after I did a couple more, it was actually pretty fun. I liked it,” Bella Belusko said.

As a reward for completing the program, both girls received a yoga mala bead bracelet made by Albany’s Michelle Styles-Martin of Rusty Cage Design. Maxwell said she hopes the bracelets will help connect the girls as more continue to pass through the program and maybe spark a conversation that leads to new members. In addition to their token of completion both girls took away some valuable life lessons.

Bella said she learned that “it’s OK to mess up because no one’s perfect, because when I first went into the yoga class, I was like OK, I’m gonna be so embarrassed because everyone’s gonna judge me because I’m not gonna do them right. Then after the second (pose) I was fine.”

The next session is geared to start next month and Maxwell said she hopes the city of Albany supports it as she vows to keep it on the Flint River.

“It’s important to me to keep it in the Flint River as close to downtown as possible,” she said. “This is just the spot I’ve grown to like. I feel safe here. I never have any worries, I meet a lot of great people and have great conversations and I feel really committed to keeping it in Albany.”

The Stand Up Girl program is for rising 6th- through 12th-graders and the next session will begin on June 27. Sign ups can be done at the 229 Yoga studio located at 2620 Dawson Rd Suite C or online at

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