Ashtanga, surfing and the art of being in the moment

When I started practicing yoga, I had no deeper goals than trying to loosen myself up a bit in order to improve my surfing.

I wasn’t seeking to purify the Subtle Body. I had no thoughts about any Patanjali limbs. Samadhi, sh-amadhi.

Surfing great Gerry Lopez, from an ad in Yoga Journal; via

In that, I think I’m pretty typical.

But then one thing led to another; the yoga flow classes transitioned to Ashtanga, and then — as I’m sure you’ve experienced — the Ashtanga took over.

Dawn patrol? No can do — got to practice.

Sneak down for a sunset “glass-off” session? Other things managed to conspire against it.

Amazingly enough, after a few years of hit-and-miss surfing due in no small part to Ashtanga, Ashtanga itself came to the rescue.

A week slumming in Encinitas with Bobbie while she was in Tim Miller’s Second Series teacher training meant nine days in a row on the beach and five days in a row of surfing.

My best guess is it had been 21 years since I had surfed that many days in a row; it may have been even more.

Every weekend since, I’ve managed to get in the water at least once.

It’s thanks to what they call “stoke.” But it also has been due to something more.

To the art of being in the moment.

Last night, I was reading an article in The Surfer’s Journal (and, yes, I should have been reading something from our Yatra list), and the writer talked about riding a wave and how it involves being totally in the moment.

“Right,” I thought. “That’s part of what’s been different. I’m more ‘trained’ to be in the moment.”

This is definitely a place where yoga — meaning something beyond just asana, but certainly rooted heavily in it — and surfing meet. When surfing, being in the moment is about bringing you, your surfboard and the wave together — a union of form, function and flow. All become one; there is balance and equilibrium.

In yoga, it’s … well, yoga, right? Bringing mind, body (gross and subtle), pose, breath all together. Focusing enough on that moment so it opens up, widens, lengths, expands — lasts longer. But also, so it is more intense, so that you take more in, experience more. See, feel, taste, hear, smell more.

In the water lately, the waves have held that same sense of “more.” I’ve felt the turns and drops more, recognized the wave better, lived it up and enjoyed the moment. I just hadn’t put together why.

There’s something else, too. While all the glamour and glory of surfing begins when you paddle for a wave and ends when you pull out / wipeout, most of the time you’re either paddling back out to the peak or just sitting there waiting for the next wave. (Or, worst of all, paddling against the current to stay at the peak.)

Surfing also is an act of patience. And yoga — Ashtanga perhaps especially — teaches patience.

You breath your five breaths in a pose, hold it — while you’re waiting to move on, especially if the pose is challenging. But you learn to wait, to — again — be in the moment, but in this case as an act of not hastening things along.

You learn patience when you’re “stuck” on the same poses, the same sequence, waiting to advance to whatever is next. Your practice is what it is, and you patiently allow its development to come.

That’s pretty much surfing in a nutshell.

For the past six weeks, surfing has been more fun, thanks to yoga. And not just because I’m a bit more flexible, although that certainly helps.

To try to give a sense of what I’m taking about, I leave you with this. Sadly, it ain’t me:

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

3 thoughts on “Ashtanga, surfing and the art of being in the moment”

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