Overcoming your fear in surfing can make all the difference between having an exciting session, or being frustrated and withdrawing, tail between legs. You probably already know that yoga exercise can help you get your body surf-fit and flexible, but have you thought about how much some simple yoga exercises can also help you calm your nerves? We asked avid surfer and passionate yogini, Shaini Verdon, to explain what happens in our bodies when we feel anxious and what we can do to overcome fear and doubt before hitting the waves.
“When feelings of doubt arise before hitting the water, or when you are in the line up and realise that the waves are a bit bigger than you expected… The body, as an effect of these feelings, closes. Your shoulders change from being relaxed to a state of ending up by your ears, and subconsciously you close your chest and heart area. This makes the area of your chest become a restrictive space for the heart and lungs. The lungs won’t be able to expand completely to receive a deep, full breath; and the blood flow to and within the heart becomes limited.
Luckily enough, there’s a very simple exercise that you can do, both before your surf and while you’re in the water, to help these sensations subside. In Sanskrit this exercise, or asana, is called paschima baddhanguliyasana, meaning ‘back of body bound finger pose’.
A very easy and fun way of practising this is while checking out the surf and watching how big the sets are – which in itself is a very good practice; one I’ve skipped on occasion and wished I hadn’t, once I realised I was way out of my comfort zone…
To do this asana, stand firmly with feet hip-width apart and clasp your hands behind your back, straightening your arms (when the shoulders are tight, from perhaps too much surfing J, it might be harder to straighten the arms, but even so try to straighten them as much as possible without overstraining), then roll your shoulders back and down away from your ears, and create maximum lift from your chest to your chin, creating a strong opening upwards in the chest and heart area.
You can also do this while sitting on your board, either in between sets or by paddling out past where the waves are breaking.
Combining this asana with conscious breath work is one of the best things you can do before and during your surf, as it improves the movement of the rib cage and opens the heart space. Any time you feel slight doubt or challenge, this usually results in holding the breath or breathing in shallow, erratic patterns. These breath patterns cause muscle tightness in the very areas you’re trying to open. While doing your asana, practice slow, gently expansive breathing (while avoiding aggressive action, such as pushing or forcing the breath). You’ll help the chest and heart space to open and the feelings of fear to subside. By telling your mind through the body and breath that it’s ok, the mind will follow. Or like one of the most famous yogis of our time, BKS Iyengar, said, “We all know that mind affects body. So why not try it the other way around – access mind through body.”
We met Shaini, in the water of course, a couple of years ago at her favourite surf break and we’ve stayed in touch ever since.
She’s an Iyengar-based yoga teacher and practitioner, living on the southwest coast of Portugal with her boyfriend and dogs, where she runs Yoga, Surf & Nourish Retreats, teaches weekly classes, and surfs as much as she can.
Check out her blog stories, classes and retreats on Yogaion.
All photos: Shaini Verdon & Yogaion