In an endeavour to be as fit as we can to surf, we ask the experts about the benefits of their sport. We talk to yoga instructor Katie Austin, and ask her about the benefits of yoga for surfing.
It’s a common misconception that yoga is all about becoming more flexible, so that we can prise our limbs into the pretzel-like positions we see all over Instagram. However, yoga is actually a 5000 year-old Indian system of total mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing.
Not only will practising yoga help cultivate a strong, supple body, so we can paddle, twist and turn cat-like on our boards, but it also helps teach us how to keep cool and calm in the water.
For me, yoga and surfing go hand in hand. Just like yoga isn’t just about getting into fancy shapes, surfing isn’t all about looking cool on a board. It’s not just about how you look at all, it is about how it makes you feel. It’s about connecting with nature in the present moment, in all its magnificence. And I am not just talking about the ocean, but this miraculous thing you call home: your body and mind.
The Physical Benefits:
Let’s start with the most obvious benefit, flexibility. In a yoga class you move your body in as many different directions as it can go: folding forward, twisting, side stretching, back bending, opening and closing.
In particular, mobility created in the hips, spine and feet in yoga is vital for the dance-like movements necessary for moving our board across the waves and keeping our balance. Back bends and shoulder opening positions help to create space in the shoulders and chest, which are all vital for paddling, popping up and turning and twisting as we ride the waves.
Flow like Water Yoga Stretch
Join Sarah for this 25 minute full body yoga stretch to awaken your body and release any tension. You won’t need anything except a yoga mat and 25 minutes of time. Sarah will be guiding you through a gentle sequence perfect for all levels. The theme of this class is “flow like water” – so grab your yoga mat, put on a comfortable outfit and get ready to flow.
Stability and strength
The more dynamic styles of yoga, such as Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga, involve lots of pressing up and down from standing to the floor, which is great for building the strength and power for popping up.
Any yoga poses and movements where you are balanced on one leg are great for improving balance, stability and agility. All active styles of yoga will help you to build a strong core too, often targeting deeper core muscles that can get forgotten about in other core strengthening classes.
Surfer Flow for Strength
Try this 25 minute yoga flow with Yaiza, designed to improve your strength in the surf.
The Mental Benefits
When those big chunky sets are rolling in and your heart is racing and the adrenaline is pumping, it is so easy to freeze, start to panic and stop thinking clearly. Breathing techniques, or Pranayama, are an integral part of yoga. There are loads of powerful breath practices that are great for helping us to stay calm and think clearly when we are out of our comfort zone – either in bigger conditions or on a busy break with people everywhere! When we take smooth, deep and steady breaths, it helps to soothe our nervous system, switching on our parasympathetic or ‘rest and digest’ nervous system.
Yoga for Courage & Confidence
Repeat the affirmation ‘I am confident and courageous’ as you move through a confidence boosting, continuous flow. Strengthen your whole body and build self-belief, determination and courage while holding plank pose, rolling between boat pose and fierce pose, flying in crow pose and hopping in to handstand. Then cultivate your ability to step outside of your comfort zone as you challenge yourself to try clapping your hands and feet in fun balance poses!
Staying present and positive
When you practice yoga you are encouraged to stay present. So each time you notice that you are thinking about what you are having for tea or worrying that you will never be good enough to surf Nazaré, you bring yourself back to focus on the sounds of the waves and the sensations of your body and breath in the present without judging them. Building this muscle of mental awareness will not only help you not to miss that set rolling in, but also to keep negative thought patterns at bay. Each time you notice those sneaky negative thoughts, come back to your breath or body. You start to realise these thoughts aren’t you and you don’t have to believe them.
Yoga for Joy
Have fun with this joyful and feel-good yoga class with Jen Austin from Shine Yoga. Start by shaking out stress and negativity then breathe in joy with an energising breathing technique. Repeat the affirmation ‘I am joyful’ as you flow through a creative and playful sequence of beautiful side body openers and dance between warrior poses. You’ll step off of your mat feeling positive, uplifted and rejuvenated.
Sama Vriti (coherent breathing)
A simple breath practice to help calm you down and stay focused is deepening the breath by counting to 4 as you breath in, pausing for a moment at the top of the inhale, and then breathing out for the count of 6, and repeat.
What style of Yoga should I do?
There seems to be a dizzying number of yoga styles these days, from Goat Yoga to SUP Yoga – and it can be a bit bewildering looking at a yoga studio schedule and trying to decide which one is right for you. All the different styles will have different benefits, so it really depends on what you are looking to work on.
- To build power, strength, balance and core strength try Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Rocket or Forrest Yoga.
- For recovery and cultivating a calm, focused mind, I would recommend Yin or Restorative Yoga now, as part of a well-rounded wellness program.
Where should I start as a complete newbie?
A great place to start is with a beginners’ yoga course. Most studios will offer beginner-friendly classes with a strong focus on alignment. I would recommend getting your butt along to a group class if you can, as the teacher will help you to adapt the practice to suit you, but there are loads of amazing online videos out there, too.
Yoga will help you to:
- Gain flexibility in all directions your body can go, so you can dance cat-like down the waves.
- Build strength and stability to help popping up, paddling and staying balanced.
- Regulate your emotions through calming breath techniques.
- Stay focused and present by coming back to your body and breath and the sound of the sea.