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July 18, 2014

How Surfing & Yoga Can Change Our Lives. ~ David Flores

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Surfing.

We all know the amazing movies, photographs and hype for this super-stoked sport. It can become a way of life, or even a religious pursuit, all for the perfect wave or the deepest barrel.

It is something to admire for us average human beings who don’t charge the 60-foot waves of Jaws or mavericks.

My childhood dream was to marry a surfer girl and live at the beach drinking coconuts all day, laying on a hammock and playing the ukulele. On the other hand, during my teenage rebel years, I remember making fun of my dad for going to yoga class and doing a bunch of silly poses.

I never imagined how a combination of the two disciplines would stir my life in an amazing turn of events that would uncover my true path.

So, for the sake of this article I’ll get to the highlights and keep it short, because this is one of those long stories.  Besides, after browsing elephant for other surfing-related articles, I found only one other moving story that was something I could relate to.

So I figured that it was appropriate to share the lessons that I learned both on the board and on the mat, after all, we’re all here to learn and experience clarity, joy, peace and love.

Spoiler alert: skip the next seven paragraphs if you want to get straight to the valuable life lessons.

I was following the plan, going to college and fitting in. I loved my major, but the endless cycles of stress and partying, accompanied by unhealthy eating habits and sitting down for long periods of time was a wake up call from my body; Normally I would fuel my surf sessions with junk food and camping hangovers, with not so good results,. I wasn’t getting any waves.

It was June 2013, the semester had just ended and there was a big Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) six-star tournament in Cabo. I was drawn to see the pros in action. I figured I’d be seen with a nice board, so I sold my iPhone, bought a new board and paddled out at night on the super full moon.

I got one wave, a wave that changed everything.

I asked one question to myself: what do the pro surfers do to be where they are? What is their secret? I set off to find out, a quick Google search revealed diets, training routines and the fact that they’d been surfing since they were little kids.

There was something else, and it was yoga.

And what did I do? The next semester I changed my morning schedule to the afternoon and signed up at a nearby gym for yoga classes, It was three minutes away from home, so I almost never missed a class.  Within one month, I started seeing changes in my flexibility, strength and most surprisingly, state of mind.

Yoga kick started my body into craving healthier foods and correcting my course in life, to straightening up and facing my fears. I found peace, serenity and a great way to work out.

Meanwhile at school, I couldn’t have been more grateful for learning about Histology, Anatomy, Physiology (which proved to be an amazing background for my later yoga teacher training) and in that particular semester, philosophy.

We all know the typical “bad-ass teacher” stereotype they show in movies, saying things without restraint and leaving students speechless.  My philosophy teacher basically proved how our current scientific paradigms are as dogmatic as some religions and he emphasized that the eastern mystic philosophies had already figured out how the universe worked.

The difference was they chose to use an even more striking and poetic language, which would be passed on more effectively.

All I could think about was India, yoga and New Age-y stuff.

Then I woke up.

It was a couple of very decisive weeks where I had been working on a pre-thesis project that would pretty much define my line of research.

It was carrying capacity and researching about it led me to knowing about the Venus project and eventually locking myself down, not going to school and watching eye-opening documentary marathons. I began to see things as they really are,

My third eye went boom.

We’re putting the last piece of the puzzle here. I started reading the right books, going to yoga class twice a day, five days a week and sticking around with real surfers, by the next open surf tournament a year later, here’s what I returned to the lineup with (besides my beaten-up-sun-yellowed surfboard) and never paddle out without.

Surrender

Whether you fall into the whitewater while paddling for a wave, or at the end of the ride, you still get rag-dolled, tossed and swished inside a natural Neti pot, it doesn’t matter if you don’t surf, life can be the same way.

For example, I used to get angry and frustrated when my score on a test came lower than I expected. Yoga taught me how to relax, loosen up and let go. True surrender does not mean giving up or quitting, it’s all about choosing to conserve your energy and find peace among the chaos.

Like Bob Marley says, “some people feel the rain, others just get wet.” Even if it feels that life is throwing storms at you,  close your eyes, look up and in, and feel every single drop.

Patience

Waves are not constantly arriving on the shore and in busy line-ups it can be hours until you’re able to catch something.

Sitting on a board bobbing up and down, looking at the vast ocean in front of you, there is no better place to clear the mind and practice patience, because it does take practice. In busy cities like New York or Hong Kong, there are lines for everything!! We “lose” our time just waiting for things to happen.

Instead, choose to cultivate the habit of being grateful for what’s coming your way, and maybe take the opportunity to practice pranayama, repeat a mantra or just zone out. Great rewards come to those who can wait, but greater is the reward of being able to wait patiently.

Courage

I remember my first wave, the sun was setting over Cerritos beach and it was just me and a sun-tanned, tattooed-all over, old, local dude. He told me to paddle for a wave that scared me the most.

It is the fear that you feel as the huge face of the wave starts rising above and behind you that you gather the courage to fuel your willpower and just go for it.

So, when you feel the fear when applying for a new job, having a tough conversation or trying something new, remember that you can transmute that feeling to fuel your determination and just go for it. You’ll be surprised of what you can accomplish.

Just drop in!

Self Love

Before yoga came to my life, I used to have all this negative self talk after a bad surf session, bad grades, bad relationships—anything that didn’t go my way. So I took a break for one whole year and embraced practices of brahmacharya while finding positive things to do and say to myself after doing them.

I found refuge and somewhat learned to love myself by embracing and loving solitude. Whether you are single or in a relationship, try having some “me time”, take yourself out on dates, write yourself love letters and repeat loving affirmations in front of a mirror. It does make a difference; after all, all we need is love—take the example of one-armed soul-surfer Bethany Hamilton.

Balance

I have a balance trainer called an Indoboard, which strengthens muscles and improves coordination, but that’s not the balance I’m talking about. I’m still young and I‘m not ready yet to escape from Western society’s luring lifestyle of partying, doing drugs and being a rebel while you can, but I’ve found a sense of balance by doing things mindfully instead of just “sheepin’ along.”

Balance came from incorporating healthier habits and making time everyday for a little yoga and meditation.  (Insert cheesy quote by Albert Einstein about “life being like a bicycle, and in order to keep your balance you must keep moving” here).

Flow

I love philosophic analogies that relate to water, rivers and oceans. By studying marine biology, I learned that biological processes are constantly shifting and flowing in observable patterns. I started experiencing the same flow in surfing and practicing yoga. When I stopped resisting and let go, life sent along the right people, situations and opportunities that led me to becoming a yoga teacher, re-connecting with nature and becoming a writer.

If you are feeling stuck or restricted, close your eyes, breathe deeply and look within. You’ll eventually realize that your so-called “obstacles” are mere rocks on the riverbed, don’t beat your head against them.

Remember that if you let life flow, you will always reach the ocean, isn’t that right, Robert Brault?

If you are a surfer and haven’t done a lot of yoga, I definitely recommend investing some time, money and energy on it. The reward is totally worth it.

If you are a yogi and have never tried surfing, plan your next holiday or yoga retreat at a place you can get lessons, or try some SUP yoga if you live by a lake. And to finish off with a grand finale, remember that thoughts, feelings, emotions and situations are like waves.

Some come from the far-fetched emotional storms from your past, and others are created by the day to day living short range winds; As Jon Kabat-Zinn put it: “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf.” 

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Apprentice Editor: Bronwyn Petry / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Martin Cox, Flickr Creative Commons

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