Combining yoga and surfing for a tristana of benefits

I know it probably has to do with the 74 degree water here in Southern California lately, but I’ve been surfing a lot more than usual — at the expense of morning yoga practice.

As far as I can tell, though, that’s totally OK.

You can choose to parse yoga’s benefits however you want. I think a pretty good way is this tristana: physical health, mental health, spiritual well-being. And I suppose it is worth saying that, from my experience, Ashtanga maximizes these best.

There’s the vinyasa and asanas, the stretching and the strengthening that’s good for the body. There’s the breathing and mental focus that’s good for the mind and emotions. The spiritual effects perhaps can vary with the user. (Let’s just say I’m guessing there is more likely to be spiritual benefits from Ashtanga than Y7.)

For me, surfing combines all those, too. There’s the paddling and the heart workout when you’re on the wave. There’s the calm in between sets, moments of quiet while enveloped in nature. (This morning’s sunrise in Venice was a fiery orange that blazed the glassy water.) And the spiritual effects can vary with the surfer.

Also there’s this story from Outside magazine that talks about the benefits of surfing:

Nick Caddick, a psychologist at Loughborough University in the UK, spent 18 months studying the effects of surfing on British soldiers. One of Caddick’s subjects had been hatching concrete plans to hang himself from a tree in his yard, but every time he went surfing he put it off for at least another week. “Regular surfing,” Caddick wrote in a paper published last year, “was necessary for disrupting the cycle of PTSD symptoms that would otherwise remain a continuous or uninterrupted source of suffering.”

The reasons for this are not well understood. Rogers developed Ocean Therapy with psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory in mind. The physical exertion and intense focus required to surf often produces flow states, which flood the brain with neurochemicals like anandamide and serotonin, the same substances found in antidepressants. In addition, it’s believed that when people are submerged in water, their bodies alter the balance of epinephrine and dopamine to the levels achieved during meditation.

Some of that sound familiar?

It does to me. And while I didn’t need more rationales, it’s further reason why my sense of being able to blend yoga and surfing — do one a day, at least — into a foundational practice makes sense.

At least while the water temp remains in the 70s.

Posted by Steve

Surfing, yoga and treating PTSD

We’ve highlighted the beneficial treatment that yoga can provide in regards to PTSD. We’ll assume it is one of those topics that just makes sense to you (since you’re reading this blog).

We’ve also talked about the similarities between yoga and surfing, and so we’ll point you to this NPR story about the benefits of surfing when it comes to treating PTSD:

Lwandile Mntanywa is zipping up his wet suit. The tall, soft-spoken high school junior comes to Cape Town’s Monwabisi Beach almost every day after school and starts running when he sees the water. “I can see the waves are cooking, I will run fast as I can,” says the 18-year-old.

Before he began surfing, he was running as fast as he could — in the wrong direction.


Waves for Change is an innovative new program that uses surfing and therapy to promote mental health. It offers surf lessons, a safe space and a sense of family — together with life skills training and the opportunity to speak with a counselor. Nolwazi Makhuluphala, the head counselor, says children are taught how to recognize when they’re being overcome by anger or sadness, and how to control their impulses.

The program’s founder, Tim Conibear, says surfing is a great way to develop trust between kids and their coach: “Because [the ocean is] a superscary environment, and the bloke who takes you in or the girl who takes you in can make you feel safe immediately, if they do it in the right way.” The surf coaches are from the same community as the children and are encouraged to become mentors. Some are also being trained to do basic counseling.

It sounds like the makings for a really good yoga and surfing retreat are in there.

Finally, if you missed it, a link to this week’s Tim Miller blog.

Posted by Steve

The media keep figuring it out: Yoga helps veterans with PTSD

We’ve passed on a few of the times that mainstream media picks up the story that yoga can help veterans with PTSD as they heal from their wounds. The latest — and maybe the biggest — came earlier this week in the Los Angeles Times. Here’s the story from San Diego:

Army 1st Sgt. Chris Montera, who lost both legs above the knee and suffered third-degree burns over 60% of his body in a mortar attack in Afghanistan, is doing a headstand, guided by yoga instructor Sunny Keays.

“It takes a lot of pressure off my back and spine,” said Montera, 33, who was on his fourth combat tour when he was hurt. “It helps with the pain.”


To help military personnel overcome the physical and emotional wounds from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, hospitals run by the military and the Department of Veterans Affairs are increasingly turning to the ancient Hindu practice of yoga and other alternative therapies, including tai chi, transcendental meditation and Reiki.

Although not a cure-all, such therapies can be helpful when used in conjunction with Western methods of counseling, medication, and physical and occupational therapy, according to military officials.

Preliminary military studies have found that the calming effect of yoga can assist PTSD patients in dealing with the hypervigilance, flashbacks, depression and anxiety common to the condition. For veterans with traumatic amputations, yoga can help strengthen muscles and increase flexibility, the studies suggest.

The story goes on in the way these do: It probably will feel thin to you, who knows perhaps too much, but for those who don’t it offers a quick bit of insight. Oh, and isn’t there something else going on in San Diego involving yoga that this might be a counter to…? Although the instructors in this piece are Iyengar teachers.

Posted by Steve