Sofa to Surf: SHANTI SURF
As surfers we know the incredible, positive benefits a lifestyle filled with surfing brings with it – a strong, fit body, an appreciation and understanding of mother nature and a community of surf girls to share sessions with.
By Nat Fox
Shanti in sanscrit means peace – it is a prayer that is said after many yoga classes and a mantra said to illuminate our being and others with compassion. Only surfers know the feeling of being completely at peace when poised and riding a wave, it is “the moment” of pure awareness when you “become” the wave. Perhaps, because of this, surfing been coined a spiritual practice, similar to yoga or mediation by certain surfers like Gerry Lopez, Jamail Yogis and Rochelle Ballard. Those who feel the connection to the ocean to be the greatest gift of surfing are most likely to recognise the correlations between surfing and yoga. After all, surfing was originally an activity for the Pacific Island dwelling Polynesians to connect with their Gods and deities.
Yoga is an ancient, spiritual practice derived from India, and traditionally explored by holy men or renunciates seeking to explore self realization and liberation from suffering. It has undergone a transformation to be packaged and promoted in the Western world and evolved to be represented by unicorn leggings on Instagram over thousands of years but its lineage is still honoured in many styles through the poses (asana), breathing (pranayama), chanting (kirtan) and by saying Namaste (a sanskrit blessing).Through anatomical, neurological and psychological advancements in modern research and medicine, yoga is now attributed to being a wonderful addition to health and wellbeing practices. It encourages us to breathe, to move, to flex and to strengthen – to build body awareness, to rest our nervous system and to find skeletal, structural alignment. And in doing so we can trigger our bodies natural, innate power to heal, restore and energise itself.
So what are the key aspects from yoga that can help us develop as surfers:
Pranayama to help breath holding skills
Wiping out and going under the water can sometimes feel like a lifetime, when in reality you’re only down there for a couple of seconds. “Prana” means vital life-force and “yama” means to control – so through yogic breathing techniques we learn to move energy around the body using just our breath!
Next time you are under the water, try to relax, you will use less oxygen if you become stiller and less panicked. You will come to the surface in no time. On dry land practice developing your length of breath, counting in for 4 or 5, holding your breath for 1 and then exhaling for 4 or 5. The more comfortable you are holding your breath, the less likely you will be to react negatively if you unexpectedly receive a hold down.
Vinyasa to encourage coordination of breath with movement and develop present moment awareness
The foundation of yoga is the breath. Which might be a surprise to some people. The notion that conscious breathing allows us to be more present in our body is at the root of the physical practice, it is a moving meditation. Meditation is not a case of simply “not thinking”, our minds are always active (unless we’re asleep!). This is called the “monkey mind”, but by becoming aware of thoughts, feelings and emotions rather than being consumed by them we are able to transcend the hold they have over us.
Rather than think about what you’re having for dinner when you’re stretching, attune your minds eye to the inward and outward flow of breath just above the top lip. Focus your attention on this place for as long as you can until your mind wanders, and as soon as you realise, start the process again. The ujjai breath is used to accompany all vinyasa practice, it comes from the little diaphragm called the epiglottis in the windpipe being constricted and results in an audible, rasping breath. Work on this as much as you work on your postures. I also use this breath when I’m paddling out to big surf, to keep me focussed and calm.
Dynamic/Yang yoga to strengthen the core, arms and legs
Unfortunately, our sedentary lifestyle encourages a lot of sitting which has lead on to various ailments and diseases. Yoga anatomy has shown us our bodies are completely connected and it is the important “core” muscles – the abdominals, but also the obliques, back muscles, the perineum and the psoas – that help us to have the ability and agility to move with functionality. Many yoga postures mimic the minute movements we perform on our surfboard.
Every morning or before every surf, wake up your core muscles with a couple of rounds of sun salutations. This sequence is excellent for toning and activating many of the muscles and joints we use to paddle and pop up. The plank position gets the core stabilizing muscles fired up, which support our lower back. The cobra or upward dog helps to open and lengthen the spine, getting more flexibility in the front of the torso and is a practice for how we lie on our surfboard. The down dog position wakes up the arms and brings awareness into the root – the pelvis – as we reach toward the sky with our sit bones.
Yin yoga to create flexibility in the joints, fascia and connective tissue
Not only does yoga target the muscles but yin specifically works with the deeper tissues around the joints, such as ligaments and tendons. These can be very delicate and also tend to get pulled easily, with a long recovery process. Keeping joints mobile will help to be aware of the range of movement you already have and hopefully not to push things too hard.
If you feel completely exhausted from paddling or are in recovery, do a couple of yin stretches right before you go to bed. The principles are: to hold the pose for 2-5 minutes, to be still, using a deep abdominal breath the calm the nervous system and to go towards an appropriate depth – not pushing or pulling, but allowing gravity to draw gradually you deeper. You can have access to yin resources at www.yinyoga.com thanks to master teacher Bernie Clark.
Savasana to help rest, relax and restore
I’m assuming most SurfGirls would prefer to surf rather than sunbathe, but don’t underestimate the power of lying horizontal! Being able to relax is an integral part of practicing yoga and the corpse pose is noted at the most important pose of all!
Lying on your back take your feet to shoulder distance, allow the hips to rotate out slightly and the arms to lie along side the torso with the palms face up. Close your eyes and exhale deeply out of the mouth, continue with a soft, natural breath.
You can add in a guided yoga nidra (someone talking you through relaxing each part of the body), a scented eye pillow, a blanket or a bolster under your knees – anything to help to retreat into your own little world. See if you can stay awake, yet utterly relaxed, with the intention of not moving for at least 10 minutes, coming out gently, without rushing to get to your next activity!