Living and teaching yoga on a small island called Nusa Lembongan, 30 minutes by boat from Bali – I find myself surrounded by surf chicks and dudes almost every day. I have always considered yoga for athletes before but never surfers until I came to this beautiful island. I am however realizing that surfers are the ultimate super cool athletes of the water, rather than the track or the field.
There are yoga and surfing retreats popping up all around the world these days, which just serves to highlight the popularity of this fabulous new combo. Brazilian big-wave surfer Alex Martins credits his daily Ashtanga practice with enabling him to ride waves as tall as a six-story building. While world champion surfer Kelly Slater practices yoga regularly as cross-training and can touch the top of his head to his heels in a fabulous king pigeon pose.
Benefits for both the yogi and the surfer
Surfers need deep focus and optimum shape to attain their in-water goals. A good example of this are big wave riders, who need great mental skills to overcome fear and very fast physical responses. A yoga routine can provide huge benefits to a surfer, among which include more focus, confidence, strength, balance, energy, endurance, vitality, flexibility, longevity and, ultimately, performance. It increases their skills on their boards, allows them to recover more quickly after a tough day on the water and prevent or minimize the risk of injuries. Then by applying pranayama techniques they can help to improve their patience and ability to stay calm when a huge wave finally comes their way for them to debut their talents on.
From both a physical and spiritual perspective, surfing and yoga work together for a clearer mind and a stronger body, with awesome mutual benefits.
It seems obvious then that the two activities complement each other both mentally and physically. Both yoga and surfing can be done in a group, but both are equally enjoyable, and perhaps more so even when done in solitude and silence. When I see the surfers walking home from a day on the water, I notice that they wear the very same look that I have after a ridiculously challenging vinyasa flow class. It’s that look of sheer exhaustion sprinkled with absolute contentment with that very moment in life.
A meeting of mind and body
Both disciplines require strength of mind and body, absolute flexibility, and a lot of balance and core strength. They both attract like minded people – devotees who feel at one with nature, with the world around them, People who are devoted to looking, and feeling strong and vibrant. How often do you meet a boring yogi or surfer after all? Each of these people follow their dreams every single day, the yogi grabbing their mat and working their way through a flow or yin practice or mastering their meditation, the surfer scanning the tidal charts, getting up at 6am to catch the earliest wave possible, sitting for hour after hour just waiting for that perfect wave. Both disciplines require such steely determination and patience, so it seems suddenly obvious how well the two practices come together.
Yoga and surfing meet on the mental and spiritual planes, too. They both require you to keep so present, that feeling of mindfulness, and being aware of everything around you and within you in each given moment. This heightened focus and presence that's needed to ride a wave—a constantly spontaneous movement—is often described by surfers as just the sort of mystical experience yogis have talked about for thousands of years – not knowing or remembering where exactly you and the wave start and end.
The presence you develop in a yoga practice serves surfers well during the tedious moments, too, since more time is usually spent waiting and paddling than actually riding a wave. The yogic technique of observing the breath can transform the long lulls between sets of waves into a focused meditation. And the simple act of staying with mentally or physically challenging sensations during poses can train you to fight off frustration when surfing overcrowded waves.
Waves of Energy
In yoga, we observe and even move the unseen waves of energy within us, known as prana, or "life force." In surfing, we feel the physical wave energy that we're tapping in to during yoga practice. Whether or not you learn to surf, the metaphor is an apt one for leading a yogic life. The saying speaks to a key yogic teaching about the mind: While you may not be able to calm your mind into an absolute state of stillness, you can learn to relate to the endless waves of thought in a more free and skillful way in order to surf them (literally or metaphorically) with grace and composure.
Surfing can teach yogis to accept both the good and the bad waves by seeing them as changeable, and impermanent. We all have ongoing waves of thoughts, experiences, and emotions—waves of joy and sadness, waves of love and fear. That’s a natural part of our beautiful journey called life. There is a deep-rooted tendency to think that the wonderful feeling that we have after a great yoga class or sunset surf in Indonesia, is achievable only after the good waves, the highs in life. This creates a danger in our thinking then, that because these fabulous experiences in life are so amazing, that the less than fantastic waves, or highs in life, are less exciting, less enjoyable. So we then start to live our lives focused only on the highs, dismissing the perceived ‘lows’ rather than accepting that we can choose happiness in each given situation with the right mind set.
In surfing you come to learn that even the less than perfect waves are composed of the same substance, the same salt water, as the perfect ones. After years of practice the skilled surfer comes to realize that even the stormy, or the average waves can still be enjoyed. It is a mental shift. It is the same with yoga, some days your body calls for a fast and furious vinyasa flow and some days your body just cannot fathom how it would achieve that and instead takes pleasure in a simple restorative practice, or sitting still in meditation, or a delicious yin yoga class. The pleasure that you derive from your practice, that fabulous mental high, remains the same whatever happens in your day. Your ability to choose mindfulness, to be present, to choose happiness, to remain calm in amongst the storm is a challenge that is worth meeting day after day, no matter what the external conditions are.
Fine tuning your breath to help you to perform at your highest level
Learning how to breathe properly is really important. The benefits of an efficient breathing technique can be enormous for a successful surfer.
Surfers can use the breath as a meditation while they wait patiently in the water for the next set of waves. A large amount of time is spent sitting by as the tides change, and the flow of energy within the ocean moves back and forth. This offers the ideal opportunity for those yogi-surfer wannabes to practice coming to their breath first of all, and then moving into a higher level within their practice and taking it to the higher plane that is meditation. Personally, I can’t think of a better place in which to find a moment to meditate, to practice gratitude and mindfulness. Sat on a surf board floating in the middle of a beautiful tropical ocean, the sense of peace and tranquility surrounding you in that very moment opens itself up to be appreciated, to be embraced, and worshipped! Blissful surfing meditation days!
Knowing how to adjust your breath while you sit back patiently and wait out a particular wave with a passionate, determined, yet calm focus and union of mind and body will help any surfer out there to be able to perform at their highest level in their sport. The breath allows you to take each moment one breath at a time, live life spontaneously yet allowing you to be mentally and physically prepared to take every opportunity that is presented to you.
Check out these two simple yet effective breathing techniques below:
Alternate nostril breathing
Bring your right thumb to cover the right nostril, leaving the left nostril open and take a big inhale. Then close the left nostril with your third finger and open the right, and take an exhale through the right nostril.
Inhale through the right nostril, then close the right nostril and open the left, and exhale. Continue this same pattern on each side for eight more breaths.
This is perfect for the yogi that prefers to have something visual to work with.
Sit in a comfortable seated position. Imagine a square shape in your mind. Allow your breathe to take you from each corner of the square to the next.
Repeat this pattern 20 times, trying to slow down the movement around the square with each pattern.
10 Fabulous Yoga Poses
By standing straight and gently bending the hips back as if to sit, with arms stretched upwards, the “Chair Pose” strengthens the muscles of the arms and legs and also stimulates the diaphragm and heart.
Extended Side Angle Pose
This pose is a stretch along the top side of the body, from the back heel through the raised arm. It opens the hip joints, stretches the groins and releases the shoulders and neck.
Modification with arm circles
Come into Side Angle Pose on your right side, with your right forearm resting on your right thigh. Circle your left arm around you co
This energizing stretch strengthens the wrists, arms and shoulders, and is one of the most widely recognized and famous yoga poses.
Warrior II Pose
Warrior 2 is one of the strongest and most grounding of the yoga poses. The benefits include stretching your hips, groin and shoulders, opening your chest and lungs, building stamina and concentration, energizing of tired limbs and the development of strong balance.
Upward Facing Dog
Cunterclockwise, as though you're doing the backstroke. This counteracts the forward reaching you do while paddling. It stretches the inter-costal muscles between each rib, which can eventually increase your lung capacity.This awesome pose strengthens the arms, wrists and abdomen, and increases the flexibility of the spine along with releasing stress and providing energy.
Seated Forward Bend
This pose is fabulous because it stretches the entire backside of the body from the back of the head through the heels, getting into and creating space between each and every vertebrae.
The headstand is a crucial yoga pose with endless benefits. It improves respiration, balance and circulation, stimulates pituitary and pineal glands, calms the brain and strengthens the body.
This beautiful pose strengthens the quadriceps and gluteus muscles, stretches the psoas and hips, expands your chest, lungs and shoulders, develops stamina and endurance in your thighs, improves your balance, concentration and core awareness
This is a great pose that strengthens your abdominal muscles, improves balance, stretches your hamstrings, strengthens your spine and hip flexors.
Tree pose is one of my favorites. It strengthens the thighs, calves, ankles, and spine, stretches the groins and inner thighs, chest and shoulders, and drastically improves sense of balance.
Caroline Layzell is a certified 500-hour yoga instructor, based on the paradise island of Nusa Lembongan, just off Bali, where she is lucky enough to be teaching yoga full time at the Yoga Shack Lembongan. When she is not doing yoga she can be found underwater diving with the beautiful manta rays in Lembongan. Diving is her moving meditation! Caroline came to yoga after a lifetime of marathon training, cross country running, triathlons and short distance races. It helped her to put her body back together after numerous injuries, and it is here that her passion for yoga began. Now she is a self-confessed yoga addict! Join Caroline on Facebook , Instagram or her Website.