The connection between yoga and surfing may seem obvious: both can be done outdoors and are commonly associated with a laid-back beach lifestyle. There is more, however, than meets the eye; incorporating yoga into surfing and vice versa can serve to bring a multitude of benefits to the avid surfer or yogi. This article will explore the various mutually beneficial elements of yoga and surfing and provide five yoga postures designed to prepare for a surf session.
In its physical essence, yoga develops balance, flexibility and strength, three elements essential for surfing. Surfing requires the whole body to be strong; the arms and upper body must be able to paddle for extended periods of time, the core and belly must be engaged to move the body from lying flat to standing, and the legs must serve to manipulate the board on a fast-moving wave. Balancing, both while lying flat on the board and while upright and moving through quick water, is key to surfing. Flexibility is essential to allow the legs and back to get low enough to direct the board. Thus, practicing yoga can greatly increase a surfer’s physical ability.
While breathing in and out and moving through a series of postures, a yoga practitioner’s mind is trained to be fully focused. Stress drops away as the yogi focuses his or her mind in the present; this type of mental focus is also required when surfing. All energy must be focused fully in the here and now – a lapse in focus typically results in the board going one way and the surfer another. Yoga also builds an emphasis on positive mental energy, encouraging practitioners to progress at their own pace, and to avoid comparing themselves to others. Keeping this in mind while surfing can greatly enhance enjoyment; getting discouraged when wipeout follows wipeout is all too easy.
Through practicing yoga, you learn to connect to your true self through the quieting of the mind and the focusing of energy on a physical activity. This practice increases intuition and awareness, as well as creating intense joy and appreciation for life. The spiritual elements of yoga can be very beneficial to surfing; a developed intuition is essential for the surfer to “feel” when to stand up to catch a wave, which direction to carve and how to best move with the water. What is more joyful than using intense vitality to move in harmony with one of the most powerful forces on earth?
While yoga brings many benefits to surfers, yogis can learn much about themselves and their practice through surfing. How to focus your mind, how to use the full strength of your body, how to achieve the seemingly impossible, how to fall and to overcome failure, and how to appreciate the awesome power and beauty of the world in which we are blessed to live are just a few lessons that the seeking yogi can take from the art of surfing.
The following five yoga postures are excellent for preparing and opening the body for surfing. Remember to breathe deeply while practicing. There are many more poses that will further serve to expand different areas of the body and to relax and focus the mind. Those interested should seek an instructor for more ideas and guidance.
Chatturanga (yoga push-up). Begin in plank position on the sand, supporting the weight of your body with your arms and the balls of your feet. Hands are flat on the ground, wrists are directly below elbows, elbows below shoulders. Create a straight line in your body from shoulder to hip to foot, keeping your abdomen strong and engaged. On an exhale, tuck your elbows next to your chest, slowly lowering your body so that your weight is supported mostly by your upper body, maintaining the rest of your body in a straight line. Direct your gaze ahead of you, allowing your chest to keep well away from the sand. Maintain this position as long as you can while breathing strongly. Slowly extend your elbows and return to plank position. Repeat as many times as you can.
Vasisthasana (side plank). Starting in plank position once again, place your right hand so that it is central to your body, directly underneath you. Place your left foot on top of your right foot, and, while inhaling, slowly rotate so that your left arm and hip are reaching up to the sky. A great adaption is to place your left foot on the sand in front of your right knee, taking some of your body’s weight. Maintain a strong belly and create as straight a line as possible with your body, breathing strongly. On an exhale, allow your body to return to plank position. Switch sides and repeat.
Standing triangle. Begin in a standing position with feet hip-width apart. Firm your belly, roll your shoulders away from your ears and connect your shoulder blades behind your back. On an inhale, raise both arms straight up toward the sky, keeping your shoulders away from your ears and all the muscles of your body firm. On an exhale, widen your legs to give yourself a wide stance that feels comfortable. Inhale deeply, lifting your chest toward the sky. On an exhale, allow your body to bend at the hips, rest your right hand on your right thigh or calf, and bring your left arm in a straight line over your head. Breathe deeply several times, feeling the deep stretch in your side and abdominals. On an inhale, return to center. Repeat on the other side.
Vrkasana (tree pose). Beginning in a standing position, plant your feet about hip-width apart, and grip the sand with your toes. Take several deep breaths, engaging your core and belly. Slowly lift your right foot up from the ground and begin to make small circles, imagining yourself grounding into the earth with your left leg. On an inhale, slowly lift your right foot so it rests against your ankle, calf or thigh, wherever feels most comfortable. Avoid putting your foot on your knee, as this can damage the joint. Focus on sending your knee away from your body, so that it lines up with your hips. On an inhale, lift your arms up to the sky and balance here as long as you feel comfortable, breathing deeply. On an exhale, allow your foot back to the earth, and prepare to balance on the other foot.
Baddha konasana (butterfly pose). Start in a comfortable sitting position on the sand or on a towel. Make your back as straight as possible, keeping your belly engaged. Hands rest on your knees as you breath in and out strongly. Slowly bring the soles of your feet together, and focus on sending your knees toward the earth. Allow the first two fingers of each hand to hook onto your big toes. On an exhale and keeping your back as straight as possible, begin to lean forward, reaching for your feet with your chin while keeping your elbows wide and your belly strong. When you have reached the place that feels comfortable for you and you can feel the opening of your hips, remain there breathing strongly in and out for at least five breaths. On an inhale, slowly bring your torso upright, slowly extending your arms up toward the sky.
Whether you already practice yoga and are interested in getting into the water, or you’re a surfer wanting to try something new, the connection between yoga and surfing is natural and mutually beneficial. Remember to put your safety first, seek out other yogis or surfers and ask questions if you are unsure. Enjoy your practice – on the waves or on the sand.
Jennifer McLennan is a certified Iyengar yoga instructor who has practiced in India, Canada and Costa Rica. She is currently a private yoga teacher in the surf community of Santa Teresa, on the southern Nicoya Peninsula.