Yoga and surfing go together like Marmite and cheese! They complement each other on many levels, physically, mentally and perhaps even spiritually for some. There is a natural affinity between the two disciplines.
Surfing is an extremely physically and mentally demanding sport. To surf well and consistently requires high levels of strength, flexibility and mobility, as well as solid balance, coordination and body control. It goes without saying that the best training for surfing is of course surfing! However, there is a lot that can be done out of the water and this is where yoga plays a role.
A regular yoga routine can help you to:
· Alleviate aches and pains in the neck, shoulders and lower back
· Increase your flexibility making a lot of moves a lot easier
· Improve range of motion
· Develop core strength
· Work on single leg skills, improving balance and body awareness
· Decrease recovery time and risk of injury
· Better your posture
· Learn breath work which is extremely important for surfers
I am going to go through some of the most common issues suffered by surfers and list a few yoga poses that could be beneficial:
1. TIGHT HIPS
Tight hips are a common affliction amongst most people. Unfortunately, it is largely down to many routine factors that we suffer from tight hips: sitting all day, sports that involve running fast and changing direction quickly, and often a lack of stretching. For surfers this tension in the hips can be further aggravated by straddling the board, or even when you are riding a wave and your hips are not in an aligned position.
A full range of motion in your hips is crucial to surf well. Healthy happy hips will allow you to have a faster pop-up, have increased agility in turns, improve your general movement patterns, alleviate lower back pain, and massively reduce your risk of injury.
There are three factors that contribute to good hip health: flexibility, strength (stability) and mobility (range of motion). Your best plan of action is to warm up your hips before you surf, stretch post surf and build strength in the joints through yoga. Here are a few of my favourite hip opening poses:
2. PAINFUL NECK, UPPER BACK AND SHOULDERS
Paddling demands a lot from our neck, shoulders and upper back. Almost all surfers will suffer some form of aches and pains in this area. To paddle comfortably we need very good thoracic mobility to lift our chest up off the board. If you are lacking thoracic mobility your body will compensate by putting extra pressure on the muscles in your upper neck and back, not to mention the amount of work required from your shoulders!
It is imperative to warm up the muscles in the shoulders, neck and chest properly before you surf and release any tension post surf. Here are some great yoga poses that could help to build strength and open up your upper body.
Paddling undeniably develops serious shoulder strength. However, shoulders are extremely complex and paddling alone does not work the muscles of the shoulder evenly. Isometric holds are a great way to complement surf training:
· Bow Pose – Great shoulder opener
Neck and upper back
Our necks take a real beating during paddling, make sure to do a good warm up before heading into the water and stretch out after your come out of the water. Adrenaline can often kick in while we are doing sports like surfing and we often won’t feel any aches and pains until a lot later. Get ahead of yourself by stretching properly. Try out these yoga poses:
Many suffer from a stiff thoracic spine, and unfortunately it is an area that is often neglected by traditional stretching programs. Good thoracic mobility is key for surfing. A good range of motion in the spine is extremely important and will make a huge difference when you are trying to make fluid turns, or to adapt as fast as possible to the demands of the wave, or simply to maintain an ideal paddling position.
3. LOWER BACK PAIN
The lower back is a delicate area for many. While there can be many contributing factors, a weak core and poor posture (often from sitting all day) are two very common causes. Tight hips and hamstrings often play a role too. It is always crucial to figure out the root cause so that it can be correctly addressed. In most situations some gentle yoga can help to release some of the tightness and give you some relief.
4. CORE STRENGTH
Yoga is a fantastic tool for building serious core strength. Remember that your core is made up of more than just your abs, it comprises your obliques, lower back, hips and pelvis. A solid core will help to stabilize the whole spine and allow it to flex, extend and rotate. Surfing involves a huge amount of twisting and rotating, meaning that core strength plays a vital role in keeping you on your board. Additionally, a strong core will help you surf with more power, for longer and with less fatigue.
Balance plays a vital role in the progressions of both surfing performance and enjoyment. We can never predict what the waves will do next, the only way to prepare for these ever-changing conditions is to work on our balance skills. Yoga is a fantastic way to work on balance. There are two main elements of balance training in yoga. Arm balances, which strengthen the core and upper body and one-legged standing poses, which develop lower body strength and help to stabilise the hip joints.
Breath work is essential for surfing. It will help improve your paddling, help you increase you underwater endurance during hold down situations and generally improve overall health. You cannot afford to be caught by a big wave and not have done any breath training. Correct breath work will help to increase your lung capacity for any potential breath holds and will give you the capacity to appease your nervous system if a big wave holds you down. It is vital training. There is a lot of focus in yoga on our breath and on different breathing techniques, this is a great way to get started on breath work.
There are a number of different disciplines that can boost your surf training outside of the water. Many surfers will do some strength-based training, you can even improve board skills by wake surfing, swimming is also an essential tool for surfers.
Most of us don’t necessarily link yoga with surfing, as they initially appear to be two very distinct activities. Surprisingly though, participating in both can have a dynamic result on each. In order to be a strong surfer, we need concentration, a clear mind and a strong, lean body: three benefits that yoga has promoted for years! Learning to breathe, working on presence of mind, and hold yourself in strengthening poses to engage the necessary muscles, is a perfect off the water practice for all surfers!
A consistent yoga practice doesn’t merely endorse a healthy body; it creates one. The demands of surfing would be intolerable without discipline and body control. Start gently, aim to do about 15 minutes every day and gradually add to this. All of these poses can be practiced daily, before or after you get in the water, or even when there is no surf. Always make sure to warm up your body before going into any poses. Be sure to listen to your body and don’t push yourself beyond your limitations. Use your breath by inhaling and exhaling to get deeper into stretches.
Let us know how you get on with these yoga poses, or if there are any poses that you feel complement your surfing! Namaste!