Looking at the two, yoga and surfing do not seem to have much in common, one is happening on a soft matt on a sturdy floor, the other happens in the ocean on a board with conditions that constantly change.
Yet practicing yoga as a surfer can help you improve in almost every aspect of surfing.
Rachel told me about how she started going to yoga classes in her teens but never really developed a connection to the sport until she started surfing.
“I started surfing when I moved to Cornwall a couple of years later. I also run, all my life, and I was getting injured quite a lot because I wasn’t looking after myself when I was running or surfing and someone just said to me, ‘look, if you do yoga it is going to help you a lot with preventing injuries and also with your surfing.’ So I started going to classes and then the two practises started to be a much bigger part of my life.”
Initially yoga was only something that would support and enhance her surfing, but getting more into both of those things has shown her how they actually complement each other and surf sessions became a sort of yoga practise.
“Physically there are so many things that these sports have in common, you are balancing on a surfboard, in yoga you are balancing on one leg or you are doing various crazy things with your body. Flexibility and strength also really help with practical things in the water, the turning and the paddling for example. But then after a while I started realising that the mental benefit was even more powerful for my surf.”
In the ocean, conditions can suddenly change. The wind can shift and a new swell can come in and before you know it you are out of your comfort zone and surrounded by waves that are much bigger than you like. I was always taught that the most important thing when going into the ocean is to not panic, whatever happens. That is often easier said than done and if you have ever taken a wave on your head that pushed you underwater you know how disorientating and frightening it can be to be tossed around like a cloth in the washing machine.
The breath work, meditation and the mindfulness aspect of it have taught Rachel how to “take a moment, in your head, even if you are under the water and you are getting bashed around, you can just sort of calm instantly and you become more rational about it. The mental side of it had a much bigger impact on my surfing and my confidence.”
Rachel lives in the Algarve and works in the surf and yoga retreat ‘Soul and Surf’, which offers all its clients that much needed balance between those two sports. Having worked as a surf instructor for a while in several different places and countries, she has firsthand experience of the difference between someone learning how to surf with and without yoga practices in between.
“On a practical level, especially for new surfers, by day two or three they are in agony, all their muscles are tense and aching because they are using a combination of muscles that we usually would not use and nothing can prepare you for it. The only thing that I found that helps is yoga. When you combine the two, the ability of the new surfers to carry on for a week is vastly improved. It eases them physically. The other thing is that their body mind connection is so much stronger when they are practicing yoga. So if you are in a yoga class and standing on one leg in tree pose, you have to have something called proprioception, which is where your body knows its own position in space. You can reach out behind you and wave and your mind would know what your hand is doing even without seeing it. This is very important for surfing too, it can help a person get on their feet more easily, without having to look at their feet, which can throw off their balance and it helps them be aware of what their body is doing.”
All in all yoga helps you find your balance on the board, it gives you strength and flexibility and it gives you the ability to stay calm in uncomfortable situations. For anyone thinking about taking up surfing it is advisable to combine it with some yoga.