After working 4 years as a Surf Instructor all over the world, I discovered that Yoga and Surfing have a lot more in common than you might think.. Read on to find out how even the gentlest forms of Yoga can help improve your surf sessions!
Whilst working in the South-West of France, every morning before my surf I would head down the river at the waters edge and practice yoga as the sun came up. It was beautiful, and the perfect way to start to the day.
How Yoga can Improve your surfing, by Ayla Yoga:
Firstly, thank you for being here. My first ever blog post. And what a way to start.
If you didn't know already, before becoming a Yoga Teacher I worked as a Surf Instructor! I worked at Surf Schools in my hometown of North Wales, Mexico, Barbados, France and Cornwall. So what is it that makes Surfing so special? Well for starters it's always different, fun, exciting (...and just plain cool). It can be challenging, but at the same time, so calming.
It wasn’t until I got older and started surfing more that I really understood what surfing is all about. And how it is not only a physical practice, but it is also a mental workout for your mind. Much like yoga! During my Yoga Teacher Training, I discovered that there is so much more to yoga than the asanas (postures). There is the breath, the meditation, the acceptance, the challenges, the community. This is very similar to surfing. So how does Yoga actually improve your Surfing?
Preparing the Mind: Before you even begin to jump into any sort of asana, be it salamba sirsasana (headstand), adho mukha shvanasana (downward facing dog) or any others.
You must travel inwards. You sit, in a comfortable position, eyes closed, gaze turned inwards. You begin to notice how your body is physically feeling, how your breath is naturally flowing, and what kind of thoughts and feelings are arising. Once you are feeling grounded and have prepared your mind, you are ready to move and flow into different asanas. This calm, quiet moment would massively benefit anyone who is going surfing. To simply take a few minutes of stillness, just to breathe, relax and be present before hitting the waves. There is a lot going on in the ocean, it’s constantly changing and you have to be alert, and yet composed.
So next time you are heading out, take some time on the beach to sit, eyes closed, taking some deep breaths and really prepare your mind beforehand.
Flexibility and Strength: Once your mind is calm, it’s time to get wet! Surfing involves a lot of physical fitness, from the paddling out, moving around in the water, the pop ups, and riding along a wave (and staying balanced!). Your entire body is working. You need flexibility to get your body in the correct stance on the board, and you need to be strong to fight through some rather challenging moments if a big set of waves come in and you’re in the wrong spot... or you’ve just taken a big wipe-out! Through the practice of yoga, you develop strength. In everything from chaturangas (four-limbed staff pose), core based asanas such as ardha pincha mayurasana (dolphin pose) to balancing asanas like virabhadrasana 3 (warrior 3). The whole body is working hard, and muscles over time get extremely strong! We also do a lot of stretching, through gentle breathing and allowing our muscles to relax and stretch to become more flexible. This increased flexibility will help you to manoeuvre better, and not feel as stiff or sore after a surf.
Breath: As mentioned, at the start of a yoga class we meditate, we try to bring all of our awareness to the breath, and maintain this concentration throughout the entire practice. We do this is to connect to our true-self, and turn off/control the fluctuations of the mind, so that we can really focus on ourselves, and what our body needs.
Yoga connects the mind with the body through the breath, by practicing yoga, this will transcend naturally into the waves. Allowing you to become more connected to the moment of being in the ocean and fully present on each wave. You will therefore reap the benefits when you are with mother nature, flowing and gliding along those beautiful waves less likely to feel distracted.
Personal Experience: I have started to incorporate some yoga before every single surf session, and I recommend every surfer to get some yoga in their life! There are some pre-surf pranayama (breath work) and asanas that everyone can do before getting their toes wet. One of the best pranayama exercises to do is the kapalabhati (breath of fire), as this increases the capacity of your lungs and makes them strong (needed for holding breath under waves), it de-stresses and brightens your mood, as well as improving concentration. On the stretching front, I have found that there are different ways to prepare the body. Varying from stretches for the entire body, to strengthening target surfer areas. Give garudasana (eagle pose), malasana (yogi squat), navasana (boat pose) and salabhasana (locust pose) a go! There are many more, but these asanas in particular will strengthen the areas needed for surfing (lower back, core, hips and stability). Helping you to enjoy your time on the mat, and then in the waves.
Overview: The connection between Yoga and Surfing is a match made in heaven. So next time you are applying your sunscreen or wet-suiting up for a surf, remember to take some deep breaths, stretch and warm up properly. And finish your surf session with some Yin yoga in the evening- as it calms and balances the mind & body, reduces stress & anxiety, releases fascia, improves joint mobility, and increases circulation and flexibility! You’ll be shredding the waves in no time, and be able to meditate even more peacefully than before.