PHOTOGRAPHY by: Megan McCullor
Surf is incredible. The raw elemental energy of being in the ocean and chasing waves creates a feeling inside like no other. Physically one of the best upper body and abdominal workouts I have ever experienced, plus the rush of adrenaline that comes from riding a wave and harnessing the awesome power of the sea.
So what effect does this have on our bodies?
Spending extended time in an adrenalized state causes the sympathetic nervous system to go into overdrive. This is a necessary function for our survival, our “fight or flight” mode. Air passages dilate and blood vessels contract, providing more oxygen to muscles and blood flow to the heart and lungs. Awareness is heightened and strength and performance increase, all part of our body’s natural functions that get us out of dangerous situations alive…aka beast mode! If we’re lucky enough to be travelling yogis and surfers in this lifetime, chances are we are not often using this function for pure survival; we’re in it just for the thrill of it. Our body’s ability to perform activities like surfing and other high-energy aerobic workouts depend on the sympathetic nervous system. But we need some yin to this yang, to understand that our softer sides play an equally important role in our lives.
Enter the parasympathetic nervous system. Of course our super awesome physical bodies have the natural solution. Sometimes referred to as “rest and digest” mode, the parasympathetic nervous system is the relaxed place in which our bodies can truly rest, restore and rejuvenate all the spent energy that occurs in the opposing state.
So how can we access this cooler, calmer place?
In any style of yoga practice our breath is the primary pillar on which all other elements can balance. Through our breath we can release excess heat and energy. Fresh oxygen is supplied to the blood and tissues and our nervous system responds. By practicing calming, supported, gentle postures in combination with deep cooling breaths we can access this restorative state. Think ujjayi, but without heat and constriction in the throat. Deep sighs through the mouth can be done at times throughout this kind of practice.
Ujjayi = Ocean breath; steady, full and gently audible like rolling waves.
As yogis, we strive for balance in our practice, lives and bodies. Post surf yoga session, my favorite poses are grounding, cooling, supported and opening. There are many poses and sequencing options to create this effect on the body, these are my top 10:
1. Garudasana (Eagle Pose) – opens upper back, neck and shoulders. Centring, grounding balance poses create acute focus within our practice and help develop ease in balancing on your board.
2. Supported Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog on the railing) – great shoulder opening stretch without putting pressure on wrists and arms. Helpful in feeling all the actions involved in creating an aligned downward dog, without the challenge of supporting your own weight. Try to connect to externally rotating the upper arms and spreading the shoulder blades, creating space in the upper back.
3. Supported Side Stretch – move from DD on the railing (a counter top or kitchen table works too!) to turn to the side and press hips away from your supporting hand. Opens side body and outer chain of back muscles, brings spine into its side bending range of motion.
4. Utkata Konasana (Goddess Pose) – grounding and activating for the legs and quads, helpful to feel balanced in a wide stance. Stretches groins and hips.
5. Prasarita Padotanasana C – opens low back, hamstrings, chest and shoulders. Forward folds are calming and cooling. With an added chest and shoulder opener this is a juicy post surf pose.
6. Malasana – narrow the stance of your feet and come to a low squat. Stretches the achilles and calves, opens groins and hips.
7. Supported Matsyandrasana – there’s nothing like a good twist after a surf sesh. This supported version is also calming, and grounding. Allow your weight to soften onto the blocks and hold for 2 mins each side.
8. Supported Savasana – my favorite chest opening heart lifting supported back bend ever. Completely counter to the movements and actions required for paddling and riding a wave. If you do one pose post surf, let this be it. One block goes directly under the shoulder blades, the other supports the back of the head.
9. Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand or legs up the wall) – this cooling, energy balancing inversion feels amazing on the shoulders and upper back after a day in the waves. Finish your practice with circulating calming energy. Hold for 10-15 deep breath cycles. This can be done supported, with legs up the wall for 2-5 mins.
10. Savasana – lay it out, splay it out, melt onto your mat like butter on toast. Rest and digest for tomorrow is a new wave.
Lynn Alexander is a yogi, surfer and Thai massage practitioner living in Costa Rica. Learn more about Lynn and connect with her directly here: