Surf Yoga: Ancient Practice Benefits Wave Riders
It’s hardly surprising that the ancient practice of yoga would be useful to improve both the body and mind of surfers and their surfing experience.
The evidence of this fact can be seen in oceans around the world, as well as in a DVD series called “Yoga for Surfers” by Peggy Hall (www.yogaforsurfers.com), featuring twotime world champion surfer Tom Carroll and tube-riding Association of Surfing Professionals pro Rochelle Ballard. In his surf biography “Pipe Dreams,” renowned surfer Kelly Slater mentions yoga. Respected surf magazines have dedicated stories to it among rigorous coverage of the sport.
Even Yoga Journal recently featured a twopage story with photos of a yogi at a surf camp in Mexico.
Why are the two crafts so intrinsically linked?
Experts contend that yoga centers the mind by practicing pranayama (breathing) and asana (flowing), and as a result the body opens or stretches. This helps surfers in their craft.
“The body is capable of doing all kinds of movements, great things, bending, opening in all kinds of directions, and yoga provides the possibilities to do that with the breath,” says Mariel Marmorato, a hatha and vinyasa yoga instructor whose students include a number of surfers at her Ser Center in the northern Pacific beach community of Tamarindo.
She cites a number of poses she uses in her classes that closely resemble positions taken in surfing, such as cobra or upward dog for paddling. Both poses require students to lie on their front with the upper half of their bodies – the chest – lifted high. Or warrior II, where one is standing, knees bent, face sideways, feet apart and hands level with shoulders, with one pointed firmly to one’s side, the other slightly bent. This pose is good for actually riding waves.
Hall, a competitive pool and long-distance ocean swimmer who grew up near the beach and has been surfing for 11 years, agrees with Marmorato.
With all the swimming and surfing she has done, Hall suffered chronic shoulder tendonitis and was scheduled for surgery.
“I had done physical therapy, acupuncture, massage, cortisone shots, etc.”Hall says.
“My husband said, ‘Why don’t you come to yoga class with me?’ He had been practicing yoga on and off since he was a teenager. This was 11 years ago, and yoga was still very much on the fringe, and the only class we could find was at the senior center. So we went, I loved it, my shoulder healed, and I never had surgery.”
“But the most amazing thing is that not only did my shoulder heal, but my surfing improved dramatically,” she adds. “I could not believe that after all my years of swimming and working out, the thing that improved my surfing the most was yoga. So I wanted to find out everything I could about it. I decided to study to become a yoga instructor.”
Hall learned various forms of hatha yoga – iyengar, ashtanga, vinyasa flow, kundalini, Bikram – and developed an eclectic blend of styles reflected in her videos.
“I’m not so concerned about a specific type of yoga, because yoga is more than a series of poses,” she says. “Yoga is a state of being, a sense of wholeness, oneness – a sense of clam energy and focused awareness. The poses just help us get there.”
Her theory is that surfing is 80% mental and 20% physical ability; with yoga providing a state of calmness and focused awareness, surfing will improve, because the distractions of others in the water is eliminated as well as the frustrations of the conditions.
“You’re no longer criticizing yourself for your surfing performance,” she says.
“Instead, you are focused on your own relationship with the ocean, and you recognize yourself for the miracle of creation that you are. Why get upset? You focus on your breath, on this moment, on this wave. Not the last one, not the next one, but this one.
Everything becomes crystal-clear and razorsharp. Your senses are heightened, and everything is more complete.”
In Tamarindo, Nicole Loría, a vinyasa yoga instructor and surfer, says that both her time on land and in the water are her most centered.
“When I’m practicing yoga and when I’m in the water surfing, that’s the only time I’m present and not worrying about all the things I have to do,” she says.
Loría is quick to add that for her, despite the primary purpose of spiritual enlightenment, the added benefits of yoga for her surfing have been great. She says she has improved her muscle strength immensely.
With yoga, she explains, she is contracting the muscles, making them long, toned and flexible, which is beneficial to her surfing.
“For example, when I pop up to standing, I am flexible now at the knees, where I can be loose enough to maneuver on my board and move my legs without strain,” she says.
“Another important thing is that yoga has improved my balance.”
“Yoga has maintained lubrication and made my joints healthy and helped prevent surf injuries, so far,” she adds.
Hall makes the same point, citing routing specifically designed in “Yoga for Surfers” to address the shoulders, low back and hips, because this is where most feel the effects of surfing – as well as deep yoga breathing, a key component for surfing.
“I teach different yoga breathing exercises that specifically help to increase lung capacity by strengthening the muscles of the diaphragm,” she says. “You also learn to control the fluctuations of the mind when you are doing a breath retention exercise. This is particularly good during wipeouts or in large surf.”
“Most importantly, if you do have an accident, you stay calm and focused – no freaking out, which can lead to worse problems than the actual incident,” she adds. “Finally, because you’re more in tune with your body and your surroundings, silly accidents are less likely to occur because you are paying attention to what’s going on.”
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