“If waves are the practice of water, and thoughts the practice of mind, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all learned to surf?” – Jaimal Yogis, Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer’s Quest to Find Zen on the Sea
Yoga for surfers: Want to learn how to surf? Try yoga first
Here at Bodhi Surf + Yoga, we have seen firsthand the multitude of beneficial links between the practices of yoga and surfing. The two just seem to be made for one another, and in the following post, we will describe why we think the board and the mat should meet.
If you are someone who is interested in learning how to surf, then you should seriously consider hitting the yoga mat before hitting the waves. One reason for this is because yoga has a myriad of physical benefits that transfer to learning other sports:
- Improved balance
- Range of motion, to name a few.
In fact, the physical nature of yoga has attracted an astonishing number of practitioners in recent years (currently ~300 million worldwide) looking to reap said benefits, and upgrade their fitness.
However, it should not be forgotten that the original utility of the yoga asanas (Sanskrit for “poses”, and translating broadly to the entire physical practice of yoga) was to prepare the human body for meditation. The ancient yogis recognized meditation as a way to cultivate mental clarity and presence of mind. Therefore, one of the most understated values of adding a daily yoga regimen to your life lies with the mental gains.
The truest value of yoga: Mindfulness, aka mental gains
So how does mindfulness contribute to learning how to surf? So many reasons. The main one being that the physical act of riding a wave requires zen-like focus. Being able to immerse yourself in the moment, fully and profoundly, is your only option if you want to be successful. Unlike almost every other sport, surfing takes place on an ever-changing playing field. This makes moment-to-moment awareness a key aspect of the activity.
“The intense focus surfing requires is so similar to the intense focus of deep meditation or ecstatic prayer or ritual dance or any number of so-called spiritual experiences,” says neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Newberg, “that it’s a pretty good bet that very similar things are going on in the brain.”
What is more, surfing requires an extreme amount of patience, as a surfer spends very little time actually standing up on his or her surfboard during a typical outing. An average two-hour surf session may only yield a few minutes of actual standing/riding time. In fact, surfers spend the majority of each surf session either paddling out through the impact zone or sitting on their board waiting to catch a wave. It is imperative to be able to maintain one’s composure while waiting for the reward.
The forgotten art: Mastering the breath
A yoga practice cultivates mindfulness by drawing attention to the breath, something that many people in today’s over-anxious Western society have forgotten how to do (at least consciously). When it comes to surfing, utilizing your breath properly will undoubtedly benefit you when you are out in the ocean, as you will be able to calm yourself down in what may otherwise be considered a stressful situation.
The ocean may seem chaotic and scary at the surface, but once you dive beneath the waves, you learn that the ocean is quiet and calm at its depths. The mind functions in a similar way — incessant thoughts at the surface; tranquility at the core. If you truly know how to breathe, not just autonomically but somatically, you will be able to mitigate the internal chatter and access that calm, quiet center with more ease and regularity.
In addition, surfing (like most sports) is an aerobic activity — consider the sprint of paddling as hard as you can to catch a wave. Yoga, and specifically the art of mastering the breath, is beneficial to any sport. Surfing in particular, as it is performed outside the terrestrial dwelling-place in which humans are more comfortable.
Engaging the core: Mobilize your spine
Practicing yoga is a great way to promote spinal health, as it recruits muscle strength and improves your posture. Both of these will benefit your surfing and allow you to stay out in the lineup for longer stretches of time. Surfing can be particularly stressful on your spine — the upward arch of the spine for extended periods, awkward falls, etc.
When paddling out to or around in the lineup on a surfboard, your spine will be extended. It would be helpful to prepare your body to maintain this position by warming up with a quick pre-surf yoga flow.
As previously mentioned in our guide for generating a surf report, it is best to observe ocean conditions for 15 minutes before entering the water to surf. You might as well take advantage of this time to limber up with some downward-facing dogs, cat-cows, and cobras!
How to get started: Four essential yoga poses for beginner surfers
When it comes time to enter the ocean for your first surf lesson, it will be very helpful to be familiar with some basic yoga poses. This will train your muscle memory and help you with the learn-to-surf process. Not only will the following asanas improve your body awareness, but they are also integral to the beginner surf curriculum here at Bodhi Surf + Yoga camp. Without further ado, four postures in yoga for surfers.
1. Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
This particular asana is a great way to stretch out the muscles of your chest, shoulders, and abdominals. You will also use this pose to keep the nose of your surfboard from diving underwater when catching a wave in the prone position.
2. Child’s Pose (Balasana)
This relaxing position is a great way to open up your posterior chain and get a deep stretch in your hips, quads, and ankles. After successfully riding a wave to the beach in the prone position, you can use child’s pose to bring all of your weight to the back of your surfboard and come to a controlled stop.
3. Plank (Kumbhakasana)
Less of a stretch and more of a muscle-builder, plank pose will improve your core strength and recruit more muscle mass to your arms and shoulders. You will have to use plank pose while paddling your surfboard through oncoming whitewater waves in order to make it out to the lineup. Furthermore, being able to push up into a plank will undoubtedly improve your ability to “pop-up” when standing to your feet on a surfboard.
4. Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)
Favored as a deep hip and groin opener, this pose is also great for improving your balance on a surfboard. Although Warrior II is not exactly the same stance you will maintain while surfing, it is very similar, and can help you get accustomed to standing in that position.
Pre-trip yoga flow: Practice at home
The above asanas should be mixed into a 10-15 minute sequence or “flow” that you can practice at home in preparation for learning to surf, as they will improve your muscle memory and help speed up the learning process. Need ideas for a daily yoga sequence?
Want a feel for what a yoga class looks like at our camp?
Written by Spencer Dunlap