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Grand Island mom uses paddleboard yoga to help mend from hip surgery

Donna Phillips, foreground, was among students at Beaver Island State Park last week for the Stand Up Paddleboard yoga class taught by her daughter, Marie, center. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

Marie Phillips is impressive when you watch her pull off yoga poses on a Stand Up Paddleboard.

Her mother, Donna Kester Phillips, isn’t too shabby, either.

Two months after right hip replacement surgery, the 63-year-old Niagara University education professor was up on a paddleboard last Friday, running through downward dog, tree and other poses, before crow – a handstand with your knees touching the backs of your elbows – sent her splashing into the inlet off Beaver Island State Park marina.

She got right back on and tried again.

“If I had a pool, I’d put a board in it and practice on a board; you use your muscles differently,” said Donna Phillips, whose daughter is the subject of today’s “In the Field” feature in WNY Refresh.

The elder Phillips has struggled with back issues the last three years, and was just feeling strong enough to resume rowing in Buffalo, like she did years ago, when she was rear-ended in a car crash a few months ago.

The crash shoved her right leg into her hip and tore her labrum, which required surgery. It also caused arthritis, she said. “The only fix then was a hip replacement.”

She also created a blog to share her daily life recovering from such an injury. You can read it here

Her osteopath, Dr. Leonard Kaplan of Amherst, encouraged her to do yoga as she healed.

With help from her daughter, she’s done one better.

“Like Marie pointed out to me before, on land, you tend to lock your joints. ... On the board, you have to go with the water and flow a bit. I’m feeling better because I’m using my muscles more instead of my skeleton.

“The first class I took, I felt these muscles (around my hip) fire up for the first time since my surgery. They had been pretty much dead for a month and a half. Now I’m back.

Mom jokingly calls Thursday SUP yoga classes at Beaver Island “senior citizen day” because she and two friends often come down together. Each has fallen into the water during classes.

She said she’s given up pain injections because of yoga.

Her daughter shares her enthusiasm.

“I used to spend hours in the gym,” Marie Phillips said. “When I found yoga, I felt as complete doing an hour of that as spending 10 hours in the gym.”

Her mother, and grandmother – Helen Marie Kester, who died about 10 years ago – introduced Marie Phillips to yoga.

“I still have my grandmother’s yoga books and her tapes,” the instructor said.

“My mom’s always been active,” she added. “She rowed when she was younger, and I started rowing. She always has encouraged me to be active. I rowed for West Side and I rowed for Nardin. I started when I was 12.

The younger Phillips works with Kevin Koslowski, owner of Buffalo Paddleboard Co., in her new SUP yoga business.

“People sign up through me and he brings the boards,” she said. “If they have a board, they can bring their own board and use that and the classes are cheaper. But he has all the boards, anchors, life jackets. The course is an hour and 15 minutes. It includes a 10-minute warm-up and 10-minute cool down. It costs $30; that includes the rental and the class. It’s $15 if you have your own board. Sign up for the classes, which take place at Gallagher Beach and Beaver Island State Park, at

We’ll be at Gallagher Tuesday mornings at 10, Wednesday evenings at 7; we’re at Beaver Island Thursday mornings at 10, Saturdays at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m.

“We started off with two classes and the first week they filled up,” she said. “People see the pictures on Facebook and want to try it. We limit it to six people per class. The board we use for yoga have a greater stickiness on them. Kevin’s going to get more boards, so we’ll probably go up to 10.”

Students so far have ranged in age from 17 to 68, Phillips said.

“I would love to do a weeklong camp for girls involving paddelboarding and yoga and SUP yoga,” she said. “The second you stand up on the board, you feel accomplished. Completing a class, no matter what you’ve done – even if you’ve been in child’s pose for most of it – it’s such a sense of accomplishment.”

I told Phillips it seems younger people have become more creative when it comes to building a work life for themselves.

“You have to these days, anywhere in the states,” she said. “You don’t come out of college anymore and get a job automatically, and even the jobs you do get don’t pay enough to support yourself, so you have to be creative. For me, it was finding what I love. It doesn’t even seem like work. I get paid to do what I love.


Twitter: @BNrefresh

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About The Refresh Buffalo Blog

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon is an award-winning reporter and editor who has covered various topics in his quarter-century as a journalist in South Florida, Syracuse and Buffalo. He is aiming to pass along what he is learning these days about health, fitness, nutrition and family life.

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