Physical and Mental Benefits of Yoga for Surfers
By Emma Griffith ()
Surfing as a sport requires one thing above all else; practice, practice, practice. But on the days where there are no waves or your body is aching for some extra lovin’, yoga can be the perfect alternative to stretch out your body while still strengthening your paddling muscles.
The practice of yoga is not meant to focus on how capable you are at touching your toes, or how flexible or graceful you are. Yoga is a personal experience that allows you to explore what feelings or movements your body is craving in that moment. Yoga classes are an excellent guide to follow to get down the basic poses, but it is important to be aware that everyone’s yoga journey is different and what is easy for one person may be extremely challenging for another.
Yoga helps to improve your balance, flexibility and overall strength. Many surfers will dedicate 5 or 10 minutes before a surf to warm up with some basic yoga flow movements (cat-cow poses and a sun salutation sequence are good ones to start the day with) before hopping in the water which gets your heart rate up and increases the blood supply in your muscles in order to lower your chance of getting injured. Other surfers will practice yoga more religiously for strength and conditioning as well as the mental benefits. Many yoga poses challenge your balance and require you to engage the same muscles that you use while surfing. Certain stretches can be extremely effective in targeting your shoulders and back specifically, which are generally the areas that are activated the most for surfers. Breathing deeply into some of these poses can be both intense and relaxing, especially after a long hard session!
In these photos you will see some basic poses that are especially effective for the muscles and joints that we are used to working as surfers. If you’re just getting into yoga you can use them as a starting reference, but again, remember that everyone has a different regime that works for them and the key to an effective yoga practice is finding what works for YOU, and practicing that consistently alongside your breath.
Yoga and surfing are an incredibly compatible match not only in an active way but in a meditative form as well. Beyond the physicality of yoga, your breath is the ultimate teacher.
When you dedicate your yoga practice to synchronizing your mind and your body, you will need to become aware of every inhale and every
exhale as you allow yourself to slip deeper and deeper into a pose, knowing when you have reached your limit. I find that focus on the breath rather
than the pose itself is where the practice of yoga really begins. Breath is the foundation to any yoga pose, and applying what you learn on the mat, off the mat as well, can help greatly improve your surfing both physically and mentally. As surfers, spending time in the ocean and being so close to nature and disconnected from busy thoughts and technology can be extremely healing on its own. But, there are still moments when surfers experience anxious thoughts in a busy lineup, or fear before dropping into a steep wave. It’s in these moments that it can be extremely beneficial to focus on our breath which will re-oxygenate our brain in turn alleviating any stress or anxious thoughts in our mind and help us to retain focus. Being aware of your breath is also an incredibly effective way to prevent yourself from panicking in a stressful situation where you may be forced to take a series of sets to the head, and if you are being held down by big waves for a while your lungs will actually be strengthened by the breath practice you have done so that you’re more prepared and calm in this situation.
While surfing and yoga both offer extremely productive ways on their own to warm up your body, test your endurance, increase your agility, release endorphins, and challenge you, they are even better when combined. While surfing generally involves more cardio, yoga is a work out that requires you to channel your energy and slow down your pace. These two activities paired encourage you to find a healthy balance of movement and stillness. Many professional surfers have found yoga to be an incredibly positive outlet that allows them to streamline their focus and discover peace of mind both in and out of the water.