Snowboard to Surfboard: Yoga for Surfers
Don’t get me wrong, I love winter. Cross country skiing, snowboarding, more downtime, more naps and more time to nurture yourself with quite time. But, like all animals in nature, we too need to think about the onset of spring and prepare ourselves. Which, for Women’s Quest, means swimming in Hawaii and surfing in Costa Rica!
One of our fantastic yoga instructors, Gretchen Spiro, has put together a sequence of yoga postures designed to help get you ready for a spring surf trip. And even if you can’t make it this spring, this sequence is great for building core strength and keeping you limber for whatever spring has in mind for you. Enjoy!
Founder of Women’s Quest Fitness Retreats
Yoga for Surfers: Core Strength & Balance
This is a yoga sequence to prepare your body for the glorious soul-enlivening adventure of SURFING! It’s a good basic routine for general flexibility and strength. (You don’t have to be headed to the surf spot to use this routine.) You might want to put on some music (any sort) if that helps keep you focused and moving. You’ll need a yoga mat and a blanket or towel for this 20 minute routine.
Child’s Pose. Begin sitting on your heels, torso folded forward gently over your thighs. If you head doesn’t easily touch the floor, place a folded blanket under your forehead. Align your intention for practicing, and take a few deep, cleansing breaths.
For surfing, your arms, back and core are your power for getting to the waves! Begin with some shoulder stretches to prepare your upper body for strengthening yoga postures. These are also great stretches to do when your arms feel like noodles from paddling.
Arms Overhead. Clasp your hands together with your palms facing the outwards. Stretch your arms overhead, fully straightening your elbows. Press up through the heels of your hands. Feel how this elongates the sides of your body—side ribs, armpits, and lat muscles (the ones you’ll use for paddling.) Smile.
Eagle Arms. Reach your arms in front of your chest, and wrap your forearms, bending the elbows so that your fingers face upwards. Draw both elbows forward, widening the upper back between your shoulder blades. Turn your head to each side to release your neck. Do both sides.
Arms Behind Back. Clasp your hands together behind your back. Straighten your arms down and back, and lift your chest forward and up. This stretches the fronts of your shoulders. Bring your chin towards your chest to elongate the back of your neck.
WARM-UP: Vinyasa I ~ Mini Sun Salutation
A vinyasa is a flowing sequence of yoga postures. Moving between the poses creates strength, especially as you learn to flow smoothly and stretch fully in each pose.
Downward Facing Dog. From child’s pose, reach both arms forward and place your hands shoulder width apart with fingers spread. Press through arms so that hips press back as far as possible. Your body is like an inverted V. If your hamstrings are tight, bend your knees slightly. The important thing is to press strongly through your arms so that your hips reach back as far as possible from your arms. This elongates your lower back, and strengthens and stretches your arms and torso while also stretching your wonderful legs.
High Plank. From downward dog, come forward into a pushup position, with your arms straight and your hands directly under your shoulders. Keep your torso in a straight line (don’t let your hips sag or lift—your entire body – heels, hips and shoulders – should be in a straight line.) Can you remain steady, breathing deeply for 10 seconds?
Low Plank. From plank, bend your elbows directly back (right next to your side ribs). See how long you can hold at the position with your elbows next to your ribs, and your shoulders no lower than your elbows- upper arm perpendicular to the floor. Place your knees on the floor if keeping the whole body straight is too challenging. This is a great pose for the upper arms, which are your paddling muscles! Try staying in low plank for 10 seconds!
Cobra Pose. From low plank, lower all the way torso down to the floor. Keep your hands in the same place (right next to your ribs), and raise your head, shoulders, and upper chest off the floor. At first, just raise as high as your lower ribs. After your back warms up and becomes more flexible, you might be able to go higher. Don’t push it—the aim is to strengthen your back so that you can look forward while you’re paddling, so it’s better to do more repetitions instead of trying to go too high. Raise up [inhale] and lower down [exhale] at least 5x.
Press back into child’s pose, and then back to downward dog pose.
Repeat entire sequence 5x. You’ll get warm, and begin to develop the endurance necessary for surfing.
Yup, you need a good amount of core strength and stability for surfing. Your whole body is used—paddling mostly works the arms and back, popping up to standing uses the core, standing on the board involves the lower body, with balance provided by your core and arms. It’s a whole-body adventure!
Popping up to Standing. The “burpee” is a strength training/aerobic exercise that has 4 steps. Do them as fast as you can.
1) Start standing tall with arms overhead, then drop into a squat position with your hands on the ground.
2) Jump both feet back in one quick motion to the high plank position. (For more challenge, you can add a push up here.)
3) Jump both feet forward into the squat position.
4) Quickly stand up (or, for more challenge, jump with arms overhead).
See how many “burpees” you can do in 1 minute. Do 3 sets.
Elbow Plank. Clasp your hands and place your forearms on the floor, with your forearms in an inverted V. Your elbows should be right under your shoulders. Keep your shoulder blades neutral on your back (not spread apart or pinched together). Remain stable here for at least 10 seconds. You can challenge yourself by stepping your legs from wide to narrow, or by lifting one leg. It’s great for core and arm strength—basically like plank pose, but on the forearms (good for women whose wrists don’t like too much plank pose).
Cobra Pose Variations (Back Lifts). “Core strength” is not just abdominals—it means a strong back as well. Developing this back strength using small extensions is good training for surfing, where you will be paddling prone (belly-down) on your board.
Variation 1. Lie on your belly, with your arms by your sides, reach your arms back along side your hips, raising your upper body (off the floor.) Do 5-8x
Variation 2. Reach both arms forward. Alternate raising the opposite arm and leg. Avoid lifting your arms and legs high off the floor; the aim is to reach long (parallel to the floor), and develop coordination and strength for paddling. Do about 8-12x on each side, moving rhythmically with the pelvis stable on the floor.
Surfing requires strong legs. Standing yoga postures are great for balancing strength with flexibility and balance. Check in with your local yoga teacher for details and for individual alignment tips for these 3 postures—I’ve just listed a few notes for each pose. These are great ones for surfing—Warrior II is similar to the stance you’ll have on your board; Warrior I builds strong back and arm muscles, while stretching your calves and hips; Warrior III is a fabulous pose to cultivate balance and poise.
Pretend your yoga mat is a surfboard and cultivate grace in your transitions between postures. Work on each of these individually, then link the 3 poses into a little sequence. Hips facing side in Warrior II, then turn hips forward into Warrior I, then step forward onto the front foot and balance in Warrior III…return by stepping back into Warrior I, and then open up to Warrior II… Then, for the other side, pivot your feet so you begin with Warrior II on the second side.)
Warrior II. Forward leg bent to 90 degrees, with knee right over the ankle. Reach strongly into each leg—weight should be evenly distributed between the two feet. Torso aligned vertically, shoulders above pelvis. Arms reach parallel to the ground, like a horizon, at shoulder level. Look out over the front arm—pretend to be surfing.
Warrior I. Face pelvis forward, but don’t force the back hip if this causes discomfort in your lower back. Front leg bent to 90 degrees, rear leg foot slightly turned out with heel on the ground. Reach with vigor into upraised arms, which stretches the torso and lifts the frontal hip bones. Draw the tailbone down and the belly up and into the body (avoid pressing the belly forward, which can overarch the lower back).
Warrior III. Aim to have the torso and back leg parallel to the floor. If balance is challenging with your arms forward, take your arms to the sides (like a soaring bird). Straighten your standing leg, without “locking” your knee. Pelvis level to the floor (the hip of the leg which is raised is often higher; sense whether you can level the pelvis so that the frontal hip bones are parallel to the floor). The torso should feel strong and stable, like it did in plank pose.
Twisting is a good way to release tight back and chest muscles. It’s also an important movement for surfing—imagine sitting on your board waiting for that perfect wave…you have to twist around to see it comin’!
Seated Twist. Sit cross-legged on a folded blanket or towel. Ideally your knees are not higher than your hips. (You’ll need to fold your blanket or into a square, and possibly use another one for additional height.) Have a yoga block behind you if you can’t reach the floor. Reach your hand to your opposite knee, and use the back arm on the block. Make keeping your spine straight your main priority, twisting only as far as you can without rounding your back. Breathe deeply.
Relaxation. Ahhha. Place a rolled blanket or towel under your knees (this helps the lower back be more comfortable). You can also put a small folded blanket or towel under your head—don’t make your pillow too high—your forehead should be no higher than your chin. Open your arms out to your sides, a little lower than your shoulders, palms up, and relax deeply for at least 5 minutes. You can pretend you are basking in the sun (with sunscreen on, of course), after a great surf session.
Remember, the key for a healthy body and mind is the cultivation of JOY. If you can find ways to make your movement fun, you’ll want to do it and your exercises will generate joy. Think of this routine as a as “joy-generator!” If any of the movements cause pain, make modifications, or move onto the next one. Consult a qualified yoga teacher if you have questions about any of the postures. This sequence is only a brief sketch explaining the wonderful depth that is possible when exploring yoga postures.
Sequence by Gretchen Spiro, Women’s Quest Yoga Instructor. Gretchen Spiro, MA, has been teaching yoga since 1989. Trained originally in Iyengar yoga, she fuses the precision and joy of precise alignment with the flow and rigor of Ashtanga and Vinyasa styles. She is also a dancer, Gyrotonic trainer and body-centered psychotherapist. She lives in the mountains outside Boulder, CO and is the mother of a vibrant 4-year-old daughter. Yoga helps her discover more and more ways to be happy in her body.