Hi Nat, what are bandhas and how can they help our surfing?
Unless you’re a seasoned yogi you might not be familiar with the term bandhas. In yoga, bandhas refer to energy locks which we engage throughout our body to support correct alignment and in order to allow the upward flow of energy during our practice.
These energy locks are uncannily transferrable to surfing and by bringing more awareness into these areas of our bodies we can progress in the area of surfing that can instantly transform us into a better surfer: the pop up.
The pop up takes us from a lying down, prone position, straight into the surfing stance. The quicker and smoother we can jump to our feet, the more dynamic our surfing is. The more time and energy we have to drive into a bottom turn and more the fluid our movement becomes, the less likely we are to stack it, so we can enjoy moving along the wave with speed, poise and grace, doing some radical manoeuvres along the way or just enjoying the glide.
So what bandhas can we use and how will they change our surfing?
Hasta bandha … hands
In theory: We tend to think popping up is all about having strong biceps and triceps, but strength does not always equal agility so we also need to think about how we can lift up and away from the surfboard rather than dumping all our weight into the wrists in order to push up. Consider how we flow through sun salutations – we need to spread weight evenly throughout the body and avoid injuries by engaging the core and lifting up at the perineum (root of the body). The more we develop the upper body technique for popping up, the less we need to rely on using our feet or knees (and can go straight from lying down).
In practice: Limp hands are exactly that. Limp. Engage all the muscles in your fingerpads, fingers, knuckles and palms – by pressing DOWN we are drawing the energy UP. This means less weight on the delicate wrist joints and more weight spread across the smaller muscles in the hands. Especially press into the first finger knuckles. Bring your hands right back to by your rib cage, middle fingers pointing forward, and have your elbows at 90 degree angle, as this helps the leverage. I know there’s a lot going on when you’re about to pop up, so get into practice by doing this in between waves, place your hands in the right spot and go to lift up. Soon it will become second nature.
TIP: Warm up your wrists before entering the water, it’s not often the hands are positioned 90 degrees to the forearm. Try rotating them, moving all the fingers and doing some yoga stretches like down dog, up dog and even handstands to get you in the groove pre surf.
Pada bandha … feet
In theory: Balancing on the feet can feel more tricky than it sounds, especially on a moving surfboard. The trick is to imagine the surfboard as a yoga mat, and to secure our feet into the right spot first time. There are over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments in the feet and 25% of all the bones in the body are in the feet, so they are complicated fellows! In order to support the weight of the body, there are a series of domes or arches made up by the bones and joints, and it is this structure we need to imagine grounding down through the edges of, in order to lift up against gravity.
In practice: In yoga we are taught to press down through the 4 corners of the feet and lift up through the inner arches. Many beginner surfers insist on standing on tip toes when they are first standing up (as if wearing high heels) which makes this motion impossible. Get a friend to assess you or take video footage so you can rule out that habit early on. Our feet are responsible for weight distribution in order to turn or move up and down the board, so whether its shortboard shredding or traditional cross stepping – the more muscles activated in the foot, the more activated our legs and the more control we have over these manoeuvres.
TIP: If you’re sitting down now, take off your shoes and try loosening the muscles in your feet by putting your fingers in between each toe – as if your fingers are a nail polish toe separator – this counteracts the squishing that shoes do to our feet. Whenever you’re in bare feet practice lifting up and separating the toes (yogi toes), encouraging more flexibility and strength.
So whether you’re on your hands or your feet, remember that bandhas hold the key to balance and by strengthening our connection to them off our surfboard, we can utilise and use them to advance our surfing.
To learn more about the connection between surfing and yoga, and take both your surfing and yoga to the next level with a yin/yang workshop focussing on building balance, awareness and knowledge, join Roxy ambassador Nat Fox at Swan Dive
Pilates & Yoga, Wesley Yard, Newquay on Sunday 12th June, 2-4.30pm, £22.