The surfing community is well aware that there is a natural affinity between surfing and yoga. Both are vehicles for attuning to the present moment and transcending the patterns of the ego, and the physical practice of asana has the potential to soothe aching muscles and improve mobility on the surfboard.
But many surfers aren't sure where to begin or what type of yoga they should be doing. I have spent the past year working with surfers in the Philippines, tailoring sequences to meet their very specific physical needs. Many of the surfers I teach recognize their body's need for downtime and ask for sequences that allow them to release the tension that has built up in their bodies from all the paddling and pop-ups. And I always tell them the same thing: It's all about Yin Yoga.
Yin Yoga has become synonymous with long hold sequences in which the yogi explores each posture for roughly three to five minutes. Bringing the body into stillness allows for the less elastic tissues in the body such as the fascia, ligaments, and even the bones to be stressed. In the short term, this allows for a restorative releasing of tension that has built up in the body. As the breath deepens, the body responds by opening up. Over time, with continued practice, improved flexibility can occur.
One of the more challenging aspects of Yin Yoga is not necessarily limitations in the body but the way the mind will initially try to resist the posture. The key is to simply meet the body where it is in that moment, finding the edge of the posture and continuing to deepen the breath. Recognize that any sensations being felt are simply a signal that the body is starting to loosen up. We can bring our awareness to the sensations without judgment, bringing all of our focus to the present experience and allowing the breath to root our awareness in the here and now. Whenever the mind starts to wander, gently draw it back to the posture and the breath and continue to give yourself over to the posture, releasing any resistance moment by moment.
Here is a simple sequence to get you started. Although this is tailored for surfers, anyone can use this sequence to restore harmony to body and mind.
Take a moment to first of all connect with your natural breath waves. Recognize that the body and breath work in tandem. Feel each inhale create space and expansion in the body and watch the body respond to each exhalation, witnessing it release and soften. Start to deepen your natural breath cycles, cultivating Ujjayi breath. Seal the lips and inhale and exhale through the nostrils while creating a slight constriction in the base of the throat.
This will give the breath a rich ocean sound. Watch the body and mind respond to the deepening of the breath and continue to cultivate this throughout the sequence.
Come on to your hands and knees. With your knees hip-width apart and toes untucked, take an inhale. With your exhale, sink your glutes toward your heels, melt your heart over your thighs, and draw your forehead to the earth. Keep your arms extended in front of you. Start to deepen your breath, creating expansion between the ribs with each inhale and allowing each exhale to soften you further into the pose.
Child's pose allows the spine to return to its primary curve, naturally allowing for a release between the vertebrae. Sink further to the ground with each breath cycle, allowing the posture to ground you, nourish you, and draw your awareness inside of yourself. Spend 5 minutes here.
Thread The Needle
Bring yourself to your hands and knees, again making sure that your knees are hip-width apart, stacked underneath your hips. With an inhale, root down in your left hand and sweep your right hand up to the sky, stacking your shoulders and feeling a twisting coming from your core. With the exhale, thread your right arm underneath the left, bringing your right shoulder and right cheek down onto the earth.
Lightly press into your left hand so that you are drawing your left shoulder up toward the sky, immediately opening up space between the shoulder blades. Stay here for 3 minutes, deepening your awareness of the posture by continuously deepening the breath. With an inhale, press into your left hand and draw yourself up, once again sweeping your right arm up to the sky, unraveling your twist. With the exhale, bring your right hand back to the mat.
Do the same posture on the other side, sweeping your left arm up to the sky and bringing the left shoulder onto the mat. Again, stay for 3 minutes.
Seated Eagle Arms
Slowly and mindfully bring yourself to a cross-legged position. Draw your right arm under the left, bring the palms to touch, and draw your elbows toward your nose, immediately bringing your awareness to the sensation of broadening across the upper back.
As we abduct the shoulder blades, we release any tension built up from paddling. Continue to deepen your breath. After 3 minutes, release the arms. Draw your left arm under your right arm, bring the palms together, and once again draw the elbows upward. Once three minutes has passed, release the arms.
Many of the surfers I teach joke to me about how tight their hips are. They groan at me when I introduce hip openers and yet after a session they will nearly always remark on how good it felt to work these areas.
Butterfly works on opening up the hip adductors. Start by bringing the soles of your feet together, placing the outer edges of the feet onto the mat and drawing the heels in toward you as much as feels comfortable. Hold on to your big toes with your index fingers and thumbs and use an inhale to lengthen out the spine.
As you exhale, carve out your belly, fold forward at your hips, allowing the spine and the neck to hang heavy. Simply get curious about where you end up and immediately draw your awareness to the sensations of opening in the hips and releasing as you flex the spine.
There is no destination in this posture. Notice that as your deepen the breath your body might release a little bit more. Stay here for 5 minutes, exploring your breath and sinking deeper.