Introduction to Yoga
Yoga is the single biggest gift you can give yourself.
For a more in depth look at the relationship between Yoga and Surfing feel free to read the article below.
The relationship between Yoga and Surfing, by John McCarthy.
- Flexibility and cross training.
I started yoga after a surfing injury. I was spending a fortune on chiropractors and physios and just couldn’t get right. Eventually I tried yoga and in 3 months I was amazed at the change in my body. No chiro, no physio! Surfers remain active as they grow older because for most of us surfing is a pursuit of pleasure and not a grudge activity like going to the gym. Hence it is not hard to motivate ourselves to stay active. The flip side to years of unbalanced physical exercise is that parts of our body get really strong, while other parts remain virtually unused. This is where injuries occur when strong muscles in our bodies pull against weak muscles/tendons and joints. The movements in yoga ensure that all the muscles, tendons and joins remain frequently lubricated and interconnected and activated by each other. So when there is sudden stress like in a wipeout the body is more conditioned to absorb the impact without resulting in injury. I’ve done Pilates, karate, swimming and running and nothing has offered such a well-rounded cross training as yoga. Also remember there are different styles of yoga. These include Hatha, Vinyassa, Iyengar, Ashtanga, Bikrim and Kundalini. Along with the different styles of yoga, each teacher, has their own personality and way of teaching. This makes exploring Yoga fascinating. When I’m away from the coast on business I’ll often dial into a local yoga studio for a session. Very often I’m left with a similar post surf feel of satisfaction and well being after a yoga class so it’s a great substitute to surfing when you can’t surf.
Imagine your balance as a surfer on a wave improving? Well it will with some sustained yoga practice. No matter what you age or physical conditioning yoga will help you improve your balance on the land and in the water. Training for the world masters surfing championships a few years ago I was amazed at the confidence I felt in critical situations on waves. I was then about 2 years into doing yoga twice a week. I was getting into and out of much tighter spots than I’d ever imagined and I was able to defy gravity in high performance maneuvers like I’d never done before.
It’s funny the state of mind that you are in when you do good yoga is very similar to when you are in the zone surfing. It’s like being very aware without trying too hard. I think the correct word here is concentration.
- Being in the moment.
Both good surfing and yoga rely on being in the moment. Yoga helps you to do this with awareness in your body and your surroundings. Not only do you surf better or do yoga better when you are in the present but it is a very satisfying experience. I’ve found that regular yoga has increased my enjoyment of surfing by helping me to just be in the moment.
You can’t get good at anything without putting in the effort. Yoga has very visible effects on your body in a relatively short space of time, but the more yoga you do the more you’ll recognize a burgeoning strength of mind that accompanies this newfound physical prowess. In the long term this may prove to be the ultimate objective of yoga, but one thing is for sure with regular practice of yoga you are able to process your emotions and surroundings and act accordingly without getting spun out. Lets face it surfing is an intensely emotional activity. We express ourselves when we surf, we’re happy when we get a good wave, bummed when someone drops in on us. Scared when we get caught inside by a big wave, stoked after being spat out of a tube. It’s a bit of an emotional rollercoaster sometimes. The yoga training allows you to accept the complete experience with love and gratitude and not to judge it or others.
- Postures and maneuvers.
The building blocks for yoga are the postures of which there are hundreds. You learn these postures as you learn how to do basic surfing maneuvers, through repetition and awareness of exploring your bodies and how they feel. You learn to ‘feel how it looks’ and you learn to translate this awareness into increased physical and mental ability. When you start yoga you may not be able to touch your toes, but with practice and determination in time you’ll have your hands flat on the ground. This illustrates to us that we’re capable of continued learning no matter what age we are. It’s like a positive spiral. The more yoga you do, the more strength, balance and flexibility you have. The more physical prowess you have combined with a strengthened mental resolve and a belief that you can and will learn if you apply yourself opens new frontiers to what is possible in the surf. I turn 40 this year and I’m just learning to do airs! Can you believe that? Without yoga over the past 5-6 years I doubt that would be possible.
- Breathing in movement.
Yoga teaches you how to breath while getting into and out of postures and while we’re in them. This translates into an amazing benefit in surfing when you can finish a wave having given it everything and not be completely winded because you’ve learned to breath in motion and not hold your breath while surfing the wave. This is a difficult skill to learn but amazing once you have.
- Breathing as recovery.
In yoga you learn breathing techniques that influence the way your central nervous system responds. You learn how to physiologically control your body’s response by breathing. In our swimming breathold training we very quickly learned to incorporate the basics of certain yoga breathing techniques into our training and guess what? Our times increased under water and our recovery times on the surface between oxygen deprivation decreased. Seriously it was a simple as doing one simple thing that added on average 25% to the time we could spend underwater.
- Breathing as meditation.
Focusing on the breath in yoga is the foundation for the entrance into meditation. When you are having a ‘bad’ surf these breathing techniques will allow you to reboot while still in the water. This is especially helpful to competitive surfers who find themselves needing to reset the clock at some point in the heat, but the application can be as relevant to any surfer who is just having a bad trip. In 5 calm minutes you can turn that around 180.
- Stress, nerves and breathing.
Big waves, shallow reefs, sharks and currents can all stress us out both physically and psychologically. Yoga breathing helps you to understand and influence the response of your central nervous system. Possibly the biggest benefit of yoga breathing when in a hectic situation is it allows you to remain calm both in mind but also physiologically. You slow your heart rate down and reduce the amount of oxygen you are using. This increases your capacity in hectic situations while making you feel calmer and more in control. It works well on the land too!
In yoga you learn to visualize the postures as you move into and out of them. Everything in the postures works around alignment and positioning the body. Sound familiar to surfing? It is.
- The integration of physical, mental and spiritual – oneness!
There are very few activities that allow you to pull your physical, mental and spiritual selves together so that they all walking in step. Surfing allows us to do that sometimes and so does yoga. It’s a balancing act though. Try too hard and you’ll chase it away. If you don’t have the right level of awareness you can’t get there. Make no mistake this is an elusive state, but you’ll know it when you feel it because you’ll recognize it as stoke.
- Recovery post exercise.
I worked with a physio once who was working on her thesis. Her whole deal was that post exercise stretching had immense benefits to the body and resulted in far faster recovery and greatly reduced injury. A few basic yoga postures after a surf, especially a heavy or long surf will come back to you tenfold in the realm of the recovery and prevention of injury.
- Warm up pre exercise.
I surf almost every single day of my life. Before I surf I always do a basic combination of yoga stretches based around the downward dog series of movements. I combine this with a short shoulder warm up I learned from Joel Parkinson. The result is I enter the water both more centered and with greater awareness than I did before, but also a physical energy level that is prepped to accept the offerings of that particular session.