Most of us know that yoga and surfing complement one another quite well: both are super fun, they both require you to be completely present, and each time you roll out your mat or paddle out for a surf you tend to learn a little bit more about yourself. But aside from making you feel good, a consistent yoga practice can also make you a better surfer. Yoga, especially a Vinyasa-style of yoga, is an amazing way for surfers to cross train: strengthening the core, building stamina, increasing lung capacity, sharpening coordination and creating flexibility. A regular yoga and meditation practice is also a powerful way for surfers to work through mental blocks, to restore their bodies after a tough session, and to help prevent injuries while out in the water.
I personally have seen the improvements in my surfing due to a regular yoga practice: not only am I stronger and more flexible physically, I’m a lot stronger and more flexible mentally. Just like surfing, yoga is a full-on, mind-body experience. You need physical strength, mental strength, endurance, flexibility, and total alertness if you really want to get serious in the waves.
Listed below are five of my favorite yoga poses for surfing. Now obviously there are many yoga poses that work for surfers, but these are five tend to be my go-to asanas before I paddle out. It’s really important to take some time, even if it’s just 5-10 minutes, before hitting the surf to actively stretch the body: warming up the muscles and ligaments, getting the heart pumping, and preparing the body for more strenuous movements and quick bursts of speed. So here they are. Do the poses in order, throw a few vinyasas in between poses, or take a few that you like and incorporate them into your own personal practice. Happy stretching, salties! Your body is going to thank you.
1. Downward Facing Dog // Adho Mukha Svanasana
Come onto the hands and knees. Tuck the toes and lift the hips. While keeping slightly bent knees begin to walk the hands forward and the feet backward, creating an upside-down “V” with the body. Hands should be shoulder-width distance apart, all ten fingers spread out into the mat, pressing evenly through the knuckles. Avoid collapsing into the wrists by drawing the shoulder blades together down the back and away from the ears and begin to press the chest towards the tops of the thighs. Tilt the sits bones up towards the sky and begin to stretch the heels back down towards the Earth. I personally like to “walk my Dog” by alternating bending the knees and giving the hips a little wiggle. Another great variation is Three-Legged Downward Dog.
Why? Downward Dog wakes up the ENTIRE body stretching the shoulders, back, hamstrings, and calves while activating and strengthening the arms and legs. A form of inversion, this pose helps to calm the brain (before paddling out on the big days) while relieving stress and even mild depression. This pose also helps to improve digestion and relieves headaches, insomnia, back pain and fatigue.
2. Upward Facing Dog // Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
From Downward Dog, move forward into a plank and slowly lower the body to the Earth. Untuck the toes bringing the tops of the feet flat onto the mat. Keeping the hands underneath the shoulders, on an inhale slide the chest through the arms, lifting the hips off of the Earth and straightening out the elbows. Be sure to keep the shoulders rolled down and back, away from the ears, and the core engaged. By pulling the belly button back towards the spine you help protect the low back. If you are still experiencing low back pain, modify down to a Cobra Pose//Bhujangasana by lowering the hips to the Earth, bending the elbows (squeeze the ribs with the elbows), still pulling the chest through the arms and rolling the shoulders down the back.
Why? Upward Dog stretches out the entire front side of the body, the chest, lungs and abdomen, while strengthening the spine, arms, wrists and glutes. This pose is known to help improve posture and relieve mild depression, fatigue, and sciatica. It’s nice to hold Upward Dog for a couple of deep breaths to really stretch out the chest (which tends to get tight from a lot of paddling) and the lungs (hello breath holding!).
3. Revolved Crescent Lunge // Parvritta Anjaneyasana
From Downward Facing Dog step the right foot forward coming into a low lunge – stay on the ball of the left foot, optional to keep the knee lifted or release the knee to the mat. Using the core (belly button to spine), on an inhale lift the arms overhead coming into a Crescent Lunge//Anjaneyasanakeeping the right knee stacked over the right ankle. Bring the hands together at the heart center and, with control, hook the left elbow outside of the right knee. Use the elbow against the knee to create a twist in the thoracic spine (responsible for paddling and shoulder mobility). You can play here with lifting the gaze up over the right shoulder or play with opening the arms Earth to Sky. If the left knee is lifted press through the heel of the foot to engage the lifted leg. If the left knee is on the Earth use your core for stability. Stay here for a few breaths (with each breath twist a little deeper) then switch sides.
Why? A deep twist, Revolved Crescent Lunge stimulates the organs of the belly, detoxifying and aiding in healthy waste elimination. This pose also feels great on the shoulders and back, stretching and strengthening the spine, chest, lungs, groins, knees and ankles (think late drops, floaters and airs). Practice this pose to help increase stamina and improve your balance.
4. Eagle Pose // Garudasana
From standing, bring a bend to the left knee and begin to shift the weight into the left foot. Lifting the right leg, cross the right leg over the left leg coming into a “kickstand” (where the right toes stay on the mat for stability) or into a “bind” (wrapping the right foot around the left ankle). The more you bend your left knee, the more accessible the bind will be. Lifting the arms to shoulder height, bring the right arm underneath the left arm working the palms to touch. If the shoulders are tight, just bring the forearms together. Stack the shoulders over the hips, engage the core, and roll the shoulders down the back away from the ears (while keeping the elbows at shoulder height). Use your core and gaze to stabilize. Open up the shoulders by carefully pulling the hands away from the face. Stay here for a few breaths then switch sides.
Why? One of my favorites! A great pose pre- or post-surf. This pose strengthens and stretches the upper back, shoulders, hips, thighs, and ankles. Eagle is a killer pose for improving concentration and your sense of balance and proprioception – especially of the feet (proprioceptionis essentially the awareness of the position of the body and its parts as well as the strength of the force being exerted – so think about taking off, getting to your feet and getting them in the right spots on the board, transitioning through turns, adjusting your feet in the barrel, etc.).
5. Half Pigeon (with Twist) // Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
From Downward Facing Dog bring the right knee towards the right wrist, bringing the right shin as close to parallel with the front of your mat or towel. Keep the left leg extended long behind you, top of the foot flat on the Earth, ankle, knee and hip in line. Use the front knee as a “release valve,” the closer you bring the ankle into the groin the more relief is given to the hips, but try to keep that front knee in line with the front hip. I like to walk my hands back towards my hips, take a big breath in and lift my heart towards the sky, before walking my hands forward bringing my belly over my front leg and my forehead to the Earth. If your hips are tight maybe you stay on the hands or forearms. If your hips are really tight, give a Reclined Half Pigeon Pose (aka Thread the Needle) a try. To incorporate the twist, weave the left arm underneath the right armpit coming onto left shoulder and dropping that left hip just a little bit closer to the Earth. Stay here for as many breaths as you need (I recommend 8-10) then switch sides.
Why? Unfortunately, the act of surfing – sitting on your board and squatting down low – tends to create really tight hips. And the funny thing is that flexible hips are super important to your surfing. From taking off and dropping in, to pumping down the line, to throwing buckets on your cutback… You need open hips. And I’ll be honest, this pose hurts so good! Half Pigeon opens up the muscles of the hip flexors (hello, psoas!), the groins and the hip rotator muscles. Pigeon is said to relieve sciatic nerve tension as well as ease chronic pain of the lumbar spine (low back). Bringing this twist into your Half Pigeon (as pictured above) or incorporating a bind into your Pigeon (like King Pigeon or Mermaid Pose – not pictured) opens up the chest and shoulders. Practice pigeon before and after your surf sessions. Happy hips make for better sessions.
So go stretch and then shred some waves! And as always, learn to listen to your body. Do what feels good, and avoid the poses that don’t. Practice compassion for your body, for this incredible, well-oiled machine that you’ve been given. Our bodies are capable of so much more when we give them a little tender, loving care. I hope the swell is pumping wherever you are. If it’s not, at least you have some yoga poses to practice.