Mindfulness, Yoga & Surfing
For this spotlight we are venturing out of Southern California over to the South-East Coast to catch up with Will, the yoga teacher and surfer who finds mindfulness both in the water and on the mat.
There is a lot of crossover between surfing and yoga so we explored the topic with Will to see how the combination of the two can provide better mental health, physical wellness, and even improve our surfing.
Q. Tell us a little about yourself and what got you into yoga and surfing.
Will - I’m 40. I live in Savannah GA, and surf on Tybee Island. I’m a husband, father, and yoga teacher/yoga therapist. My experiences in yoga and surfing have all stemmed from my life as a skateboarder. I started skating when I was 8. In short, being injured led me to my first career as a Physical Therapist Assistant. That choice also kept me skating and competing. My wife and I learned to surf in Costa Rica, but on a surfing trip to Nicaragua when I took my first yoga class, my life changed completely. After the first class, I wanted to be a yoga teacher. The experience left an impact on my mind and body I have been chasing ever since.
Q. What similarities do you see between yoga and surfing?
Will - The main commonality they share is presence. For example, dropping into a wave requires complete awareness same as it does for a yogi who "drops" into practice through breath work, poses, and transitions. However, lacking this awareness could cause a surfer to miss the wave or a yogi to risk injury.
Q. How does practicing both yoga and surfing benefit the other and make you a better surfer and yogi?
Will - The physical practice of yoga is excellent for creating space in the body through the shoulders. Protraction, separation of the shoulder blades, allows for cleaner pop ups, and poses like Cobra or Locust strengthens the posterior chain of muscle in the entire back to help improve paddling posture. However, one of the more impactful aspects of yoga that has improved my surfing is breath work, particularly Ujjayi breath, a diaphragmatic breathing exercise that works the lungs while maintaining core control and increasing oxygenation in the blood increasing endurance.
If we flip the question around, surfing strengthens my ability to accept conditions as they are in real time. So, for example, on-shore choppy days might require me to paddle more or discard some of my preferred maneuvers in order to ride a wave. As for yoga, my internal landscape may not want to do spinal twists or backbends, but I've learned to accept it and move forward. Both surfing and yoga, forces me to deal with conditions as they are not as I wish them to be.
Q. What has meditation, yoga, and surfing taught you, and how has it shaped your outlook on life?
Will - Yoga is a “Stilling of the fluctuations of the mind.” The physical practice of poses, as well as surfing, feels like a moving meditation to me. Meditation, yoga, and surfing direct me to live an intentional life. I want to serve others and share the practice of yoga, and to do so, I take care of my body and mind through consistent Yoga practice. Surfing provides a spontaneous environment to harness both mental focus and physicality.
Q. How does starting your day with yoga or surfing affect your mood and mindset for the rest of the day?
Will - I LOVE starting my mornings surfing; nothing gets me out of bed earlier! Both yoga and surfing have a very positive effect on my mental health. I know that once I roll up my mat or walk my board back to the car, nothing will be as daunting or demanding as what I just experienced. The focus applied for both is more accessible for tasks later in the day.
Q. Any tips for someone trying to get into yoga or surfing?
Will - Be patient with yourself and consistent; commit to a daily realistic goal. I stress patience because even the greatest surfers and yogis in the world were once beginners, and it’s helpful to realize that it’s ok to be, dare I say, “not good” when starting something new. It may mean using yoga props like blocks or straps to access better alignment or using a board with more volume to paddle with less fatigue. Consistency and patience propel you toward your goals.