I'm often asked about the connection between surf and yoga. I mean, everyone knows that yoga will help their surfing (if Kelly Slater is doing it then it must be doing something good, right?), but what are the real connection between the two?
The biggest misconception is that yoga is easy, or that it's just for older surfers who want to stop their bodies from getting cranky - all you do is a bit of stretching here and there right? What else can it go? Is it just physical or does it go deeper than that? How can something that doesn't seem too strenuous help such a physical thing like surfing?
Then say you've decided you're going to give it a go. You look up your nearest studio, or google videos of yoga classes and BOOM, suddenly you're asked what level you're at, do you want to do a Hatha class, or Astanga, or Yin? What this Vinyasa Flow, Meditation or Pranayama, Power Yoga, Kundilini and wait, did that just say Voga?! (Yes it did f.y.i).
Welcome, to the yoga world. It's huge, (and amazing), but all you wanted was to be a bit more like Kelly Slater.
Well, me too. And I get it. In fact I was one of those classic I-can't-do-yoga-my-mind-is-too-all-over-the-place cases so I needed a bit of a kick up the bum to go to my first class.
I'm going to share my experience (over a series of blogs) of how I came to realise the potential yoga has to help you, or anyone who surfs (whether they're just beginning or a seasoned pro) so that you can enjoy each session more, recover from the battering quicker, progress with your technique and find the same state of mind that surfing can give you. I'll also share how yoga helped keep my strength up and over come injures and how it gave me tools to make the decisions in my career and life.
First though, let's take it back to beginning, but don't worry, but I'll be as brief as I can...
When I was 16 I had my first surf lesson. I don't remember much except that my cousin and I both agreed that the surf instructor was "well fit", which must've distracted somewhat because I don't remember falling in love with the sport right there and then.
However, I persevered - as much as I could coming from landlocked-Oxford - and soon fell in love with the feeling of gliding across the wave, of being tumbled underwater when I fell (which happens often, so it was a good thing I enjoy it) and just sitting on my board with nothing by my board and water beneath me as I look back at the jagged shoreline.
At 21 I began my dance training at a contemporary dance school in North of England where my teachers highly recommended that I started yoga to help develop my strength and flexibility. By this stage I had progressed (if slowly) to my first fish surfboard and had made some guy friends (I'm afraid I couldn't convince and of my girlfriends) who were also crazy enough drive with me to the east coast of England to freeze our arses off while being pummeled (and I mean smashed) by the North Sea.
After giving yoga a few goes I took myself to an advanced class (I was a dancer after all and good at making shapes, but I really didn't know much about yoga at this stage) where the teacher guided us through a challenging (to say the least) sequence, while encouraging us to focus on our breath and technique. I seems obvious now (and if you've done yoga before, it would be obvious to you too) but this took my experience to a whole other level. This was my first "eureka moment". When I finished the class my mind had found a kind of stillness, and I thought to myself "I know this feeling. This is like surfing". Though I hadn't experienced this focus and awareness on my yoga mat before (and boy do I struggle calm my mind down from all the millions of things going on up there) I realised that I had experienced it when I was surfing, be it brief or infrequent.
When I graduated from my dance training I moved to London to be closer to all the auditions and touring dance companies. I was broke (most contemporary dancers are) but needed to keep fit and flexible while I auditioned, so I flyered for a (very good) yoga studio to get free classes, all the while shooting off to the coast whenever I could to squeeze in a surf here and there.
This Very Good yoga studio put me through my paces. I was challenged physically (which I was used to - I had just finished a gruelling 3 year dance training after all) but mentally too (I'll go more into this at a later day), and each time I went back to the sea I could see how all this was helping my surfing. My arms didn't ache so much from a long session (even if I'd had a long break since my previous surf) and my lower back became stronger so I was able to hold my chest up easily to paddle. All this body awareness from yoga and dance meant I found it easier to apply any surfing tips that my friends were giving me when we surfed together.
Over the next few years I danced and auditioned in London and Austria until the thought of being away from the ocean and surf for than a few weeks became too much and I decided to study to be a yoga teacher so I could pass on what I'd experienced to other surfers.
There's so much pass on, but for now, let me finish with one of my favourite sayings by Jon Kabat Zinn (a mindful-meditation teacher) that, I think, can be applied to both your surfing and your life.
"You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf."
And for my first piece of advise, if you're interested, is to remember to breath - both when you're surfing and doing yoga. It's always the first things to go, but it's one of the best tools you have, so use it!