In recent years, yoga and surfing have become a bit of an item. When googling ‘surf-trips’, you often end up with a long list of surf retreats where yoga is offered as part of the whole package, and there’s a good reason for that.
Surfing is strenuous on our bodies. It demands a lot of flexibility, balance, strength, and awareness. We put a lot of pressure on the lower back and have a tendency for a ‘closed-chest’. It’s also common to overuse the hip rotators, resulting in tightness in the hip area, while the paddling motion often leads to stiffness in both neck and shoulders. On top of that, surfing can be particularly stressful on the spine. We spend a lot of time arching the spine upwards, resulting in a lot of pressure created in the area.
Yoga focuses on lengthening and releasing pressure, whilst also increasing muscle strength and improving the posture. It’s also a great way to open up the chest and the hips, and a generally good way to rebalance the body.
By holding ourselves in different poses and staying aligned throughout a practice, yoga helps us to build strength. Different poses target different areas, building strength in the arms, legs, back, shoulders, core and wrists, all of which play a vital part in surfing.
While physical strength is important in surfing, so is flexibility. With increased flexibility, you’ll be able to manoeuvre more easily. This will also reduce stiffness in the body.
By both strengthening the body and improving flexibility you’ll become less prone to injuries, and your recovery time will grow shorter.
Balance is another key part of both surfing and yoga. By using your breath and staying focused in the yoga poses, you’ll slowly be able to build up a balance, which will benefit you in surfing too.
We’ve all had moments of panic in the water, resulting in shortness of breath – something which only increases the panic. We have a tendency to hold our breath in stressful situations, hence the importance of being aware of our breathing.
Focusing on breathing throughout yoga is important. The heightened awareness created on the mat will stick with you in the water, allowing your mind to relax. By learning to control our breathing, we can learn to control our minds and thus learn not to panic in the water.
Practicing yoga isn’t just about building physical strength. Surfing challenges our mental side as much as it does the physical. There’s nothing more important than keeping calm in the water and working towards a clear mind is one of the biggest benefits of yoga.
Practicing yoga teaches us to stay focused in challenging postures, which is of great benefit in surfing, where moment-to-moment awareness is crucial. Yoga also teaches us patience. Just like learning to surf, yoga poses take time to master. We’re continuously building up strength and flexibility, and mastering poses can take years to get right. Dedication is key, and understanding that development takes time, whether it was on the mat or in the water.
Through movement and breathing, yoga connects the physical with the mental. Remember to listen to your body, do what feels right in the moment. Everybody is different, and so are our bodies and imbalances. Learn to recognise these so you can work on them. This will benefit you in both surfing and yoga.
Below, we’ve listed our favourite yoga poses for surfing.
Downward facing dog
The downward-facing dog is probably the best-known yoga pose, and for the naked eye, it looks quite simple. Unfortunately, it’s a bit more complex than you’d assume. The pose lengthens the spine, the hamstrings, and the calves while stretching the shoulders, hands, and the arches of the feet.
The pose increases strength in the arms, wrists, upper body, and legs while relieving back pain and fatigue. It also calms down our brain and nervous system.
If you’re just picking up yoga, try and bend your knees, this will make it easier.
By repeatedly pushing yourself up into the Plank Pose you can improve your ability to ‘pop-up’ onto your surfboard. Try and keep as straight and still as possible when holding the plank. The pose engages the abdominal area, while also strengthening your arms, shoulders and wrists. This is also a great pose to improve your balance and posture with.
Alternating between the downward dog and the plank pose is another great way to engage the core.
The ones who want to add some spice into the mix can give ‘Vasisthasana’, the side plank, a go.
If you’re not quite there yet with the Plank Pose, you can build up strength by practicing the ‘forearm plank’. This will also work for practicing your side plank.
Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)
From your plank pose, try and lower down to ‘Chaturanga’, and then push yourself back up to plank. If this is too hard, you can drop your knees and try the modified version of this challenging pose.
Alternating between the plank pose and chaturanga is also a great way to build more power and add speed to your ‘pop-ups’.
Upward Facing Dog
The Upward Facing dog lengthens the spine, opens up the chest and shoulders, whilst stretching the neck and the front of the thighs. It also increases flexibility in your back and helps to avoid muscle soreness in the lower back.
Extended Puppy Pose
The extended puppy pose is another great pose that lengthens the spine, shoulders and both sides of the body. This pose isn’t so much about building physical strength, but rather about stretching and creating a calm mind.
Tight hip flexors can be extremely painful and result in a lot of tightness in the rest of the body too. The Pigeon Pose is one of the deepest and most effective ways to help open up the hip area. It stretches the glutes, groins and psoas muscle, while also allowing space for our chest and shoulders to open up. The pose also increases the blood flow throughout the whole body.
When getting into your pose, bear in mind that our bodies are shaped differently and thus work in different ways. When placing your bent leg in front of you, remember that you don’t have to be able to place it at a 90-degree angle. If you can, great, but do not force this, especially if it causes any sharp pain in the front knee.
This is a pose that benefits your whole body. It increases physical strength, balance, focus and endurance. Warrior 2 stretches the legs, ankles, hips and groins. It also stimulates the abs and opens up the chest and shoulders.
Always try to get deeper into the pose by bending the front leg. Be mindful of the front knee though, and don’t let it collapse inwards. Try and hold the pose for as long as you can.
Extended Side Angle Pose
By creating a straight line between the heel and the fingertips, the extended side angle pose lengthens the sides of your body. This helps to strengthen the legs, ankles and knees while stretching out the groin, spinal column, chest and shoulders.
If you want to work on your balance, the Eagle Pose is one of the best postures to help you do so. This pose requires a lot of focus, as you have to balance on one leg at a time, strengthening both your ankles and calves. You’ll also get a nice stretch in the thighs, hips, shoulders and upper back.
Boat Pose (Navasana)
The boat pose is a killer for the abs and core as it requires you to stay balanced and to engage the core in order to not fall out of the pose. This is where the importance of breathing really plays a part. Focus on your breath and this will help you not to lose your balance.
The gentle backbend in the locust pose stretches both shoulders and the neck while strengthening the entire backside of your body – everything from the legs and the spine to the neck and the arms will be tested here.
For a modified variation, lift up the upper part of your body and leave the legs down on the mat for now.
The Seated Forward Bend
You might recognise the Seated Forward Bend, also known as ‘Paschimottanasana’, from PE. This ‘basic’ stretch stretches the entire backside of your body, and lengthens everything from the hamstrings and calves, to the lower back and hips, upper back, arms and neck.
If you can’t get your legs straight bend the knees a little in order to get a little forward bend going. This pose isn’t about getting the nose into the knees, it is about lengthening the spine so be mindful of not curving the back.
Child’s Pose is one of the most relaxing poses in yoga, so if you ever feel like you need a break from the more strenuous postures, take a child’s pose. Not only is this a good ‘recovery’ pose, but it also opens up your posterior chain while giving you a deep stretch in the hips, quads and ankles, making it a great way to end your practice.
You can choose between a ‘wide-legged’ or ‘narrow-legged’ child’s pose, depending on what your body needs.