Practising yoga is an excellent compliment to so many sports and physical activities. Any sportsman or woman can benefit from the physical aspects of yoga, and the reasons to incorporate yoga into your training regime are endless. But there are some sports that go hand in hand with yoga in a way that is much more than just the physicality of it. Rock climbing is one such sport, but yoga and surfing also go incredibly well together. So well that many surf camps offer yoga for surfers as an holistic approach to the sport.
The benefits of yoga for surfers
The physical, mental and spiritual benefits that can be gained from regular yoga practise have a very direct relevance for surfers, and transfer directly to surfing. Many pro-surfers practise yoga religiously to improve their performance in the water.
The physical benefits of yoga for surfers include:
- Improved balance for paddling and standing
- Increased flexibility for a good pop up and an unrestricted range of motion when paddling
- Improved strength for effective paddling and control of the board
- Improved muscular endurance to withstand long paddles out or rough conditions
The mental benefits of yoga for surfers include:
- Elevated levels of focus to ensure you are totally present when catching your chosen wave
- Improved determination and drive to push yourself outside of your comfort zone
- Increased mental strength when surfing in tough or challenging conditions
The spiritual benefits of yoga for surfers include:
- An increased awareness of the moment you are in
- Improved ability to clear the mind of anything other than your next wave
- The ability to deeply connect with nature
The best yoga poses for surfers
If you’re spending all your spare time in the water then it can be difficult to dedicate enough time to your yoga practice too, especially when there are so many excellent poses to choose from. So we asked yoga teacher and keen surfer Ady Hayhoe to share her favourite go-to yoga poses that she uses the most when she’s surfing regularly:
Surfing demands strength, flexibility and balance, all of which are key elements to the ancient practice of yoga. And so I could argue that all yoga poses benefit surfers to some extent.
I regularly use yoga to warm up for surfing and even use a few moves while on my board waiting for a wave!
So to really target the right muscle groups that surfers will need to stay strong and flexible, these 4 poses are a great place to start and are positions that compliment surfing really well. If you have some experience with yoga, then don’t be afraid to get creative and use other poses that you know will benefit you as an individual. We are all unique after all.
You can see huge spinal extension used by surfers when they are paddling and are about to pop up to standing. I often think of this position as a pre-wind to my pop and it requires a huge amount of strength in the back. The most obvious pose to help this is low cobra. The option I prefer is without using the arms for support, to use maximal back strength. But to start the progression, use the arms for support until your back is strong enough to hold the position without placing weight on them.
- Lie face down on your mat.
- Place your hands on the mat next to your shoulders with your fingers facing forwards.
- Keep your elbows in and drawing towards each other.
- On an exhale, slowly lift your chest off the floor keeping your ribs on the mat.
- Draw your shoulder blades towards each other to avoid your shoulders hunching up towards your ears.
- To make this pose slightly more difficult you could release your hands increasing the use of the muscles in the back.
- Pull in your belly muscles to support your lower back and breath as you hold the pose for 5 or so breaths.
- Keep your feet and legs relaxed.
- Exhale to slowly lower your chest back to the mat.
A strong core is essential for bringing greater balance to the body, something you need when balancing on your board. It also aids your initial step forward on the board. A great pose that strengthens the core whilst mimicking this step forward is downward dog with knee to nose. You can also play with this pose by taking the knee to each shoulder.
Downward dog with knee to nose
- Start in downward dog position.
- On an inhale lift your right leg back and up.
- Take a breath to make sure your hips are still aligned and your right hip isn’t lifted.
- As you exhale, shift your shoulders forward so that they are over your wrists and simultaneously bend your right knee and bring it underneath you towards to nose.
- To return to downward dog, inhale, extend your right leg up and back and shift your weight backwards.
- As you exhale place your right foot back onto the floor.
- Repeat with your left leg.
- This dynamic pose can be done on alternate sides or repeated on the same side before switching to the other side.
It’s pretty obvious that balance poses are going to help you once you are up and standing on your board. These poses reach all the tiny muscles which are often forgotten about but are essential for surfing. Any balance pose will compliment your surfing, but one which really targets each leg is the warrior 3 pose.
- Start with a forward bend – stand on your mat and place both hands on the floor in front of your feet. Bend your knees if you need to.
- Step the left leg back into a lunge.
- Pull the belly up and bring both hands onto the front (right) knee.
- Push off your left leg and shift all your weight into your front leg.
- Slowly start to straighten your right leg as you lift your left leg up and back.
- Take a breath or two to find your balance and then bring both arms up so that they are parallel with the floor and in a straight line with your torso and left leg (horizontal to with the floor).
- Hold the pose and take a couple of breaths.
- To come out of the pose, bring your arms down and slowly step your left leg back into a lunge and then step forward.
- Repeat the pose on the other side.
Rotation of the spine plays a very important part in turning the board when surfing. The rotation between hips and shoulders is what helps initiate the turns. If you watch pro-surfers you will see this powerful motion in action. Spinal rotations in yoga can be adopted to help with this and one I particularly like is seated twist. I find this is a really controlled spinal twist where you can isolate the rotation without moving other parts of the body.
- Sit on your mat with both legs out in front of you.
- Take your left leg and place is on the right side of your right thigh, keeping both sits bones on the floor if possible.
- Twist your torso towards the left and place your left hand on the floor next to your left hip, keeping your torso as upright as possible.
- Raise your right arm straight up and then bring it down so that your bent elbow is on the left side of your left knee.
- Slowly turn your torso towards to the left without straining your neck to increase the twist.
- Hold the pose for around 5 controlled breaths.
- To come out of the pose, release your right arm, slowly twist back to face the front of your mat and extend your left leg out in front of you.
- Repeat on the other side.
Movement aside, other elements of yoga can help connect the mind and body and create calmness which is key when hitting big swell. As well as strength, flexibility and balance, yoga will also improve mental focus and better breathing techniques in the water.
A simple technique to connect with the body and breath is Savasana (or corps pose).
- Lie on your back with your feet hip width apart, arms alongside the body with palms facing upwards.
- Gently tuck the pelvis forwards flattening the lower back, draw the shoulder blades down the back to open the chest and tuck the chin slightly lengthening the back of the neck.
- Connect with your belly breath here by being mindful of each breath. Draw the breath in deep, expanding the stomach, allow yourself to sink deeper into the mat on the out breath letting go of any muscles that feel tense.
- Allow stillness in the mind as well as body allowing any thought to drift on my.
- Sometimes using relaxing music or nature sounds may help to find this state but find something authentic to you.
As with most yoga poses, these positions all have benefits when practised independently. However, they can also be incorporated into your own flow by linking them with vinyasas (movement that makes one pose flow into another), and adding any additional poses that you find beneficial to your own practice.