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Yoga for surfing

Life doesn’t necessarily cycle in years. Or days. Maybe clusters of days. By the stars? Or maybe our internal biology. And, of course, every breath is a new beginning.

I want to have something to say as 2023 comes to a close on the calendar, but I don’t feel a sense of finality. I feel distinctly a resistance to any finality or closing of the year and a desire instead to embrace it all as a series of waves.

It’s not because it was such a great year for me. While I enjoyed deepening my yoga practice by earning the first step of teaching certification, the RYT 200, my home studio—the first place in a long time I had begun to feel a sense of community—shut down (and I lost some money and some trust, temporarily). Also, our beloved family dog, Theo, passed away after sharing our lives for more than 15 years. That said, I did have the privilege of overseas travel, and in addition, 2023 was a year of professional and personal growth, coming out of darker days (years) on the edge of burnout, and leveling up in managing anxiety and the hormonal tides that are a part of life at a certain age. So, a mixed bag.

🌊 Before we go too deep into it, for those seeking a straightforward post on actual yoga poses for actual surfing, I recommend this from Surfer Today. I personally think sphinx, cobra, and low lunges, warrior-twos work well.

Most impactful in my life this year, though, was the value of yoga in general to riding the metaphoric waves of life.

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf,” a poster I have hanging in my home office reminds me. 2023 was a year that brought this to life for me. I love exploring deeper layers of meaning in words and considering what added nuance their origins might bring to light.

Surf, aside from the verb meaning to ride ocean waves with a surf board, means “crashing waves” seemingly tied to an obsolete Old English suff, of unknown origin, perhaps influenced by the spelling of surge. I like that, surge, because that’s how the physical hormonal feeling that comes sometimes from anxiety can feel, and what I have to manage day to day.

The word “yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit root “yuj,” meaning “to join”  or “to yoke or “to unite.” Yogic scriptures describe the practice of yoga as a pathway to the union of individual consciousness with that of the universal consciousness—a perfect harmony between the mind and body, humanity and nature.

My yoga practice awakened the mind-body connection for me, and through that connection, my sense of connection to others.

One of my proudest moments of 2023 was leading a yoga class during my work organization’s annual conference. Where previously, years ago, I had dreaded these conferences, as an insecure introvert, more comfortable behind-the-scenes, I have grown to relish the opportunity to strike up conversations with people—and be excited about learning more, rather than fearful of the unknown directions chatting could take. I’ve grown to enjoy making others feel comfortable, knowing how uncomfortable I used to feel and bringing that empathy to the situation.

My yoga teacher training journey gave me opportunities to practice speaking in front of people, presenting on the fly with the need to be able to change things up, and think on my feet. Plus, in learning how to hold space for others, I learned how to create space for myself as well. Prior to deepening my yoga practice, I had fallen into a grind of anxious workaholism. Having something official to be accountable for outside of work provided the lift I needed that would end up enhancing my professional life as well.

Among my most humbling moments were struggling with an actual surfing experience. I’m not in as great shape as I once was at my most athletic (I am working on it) and so it was particularly rough that we had to carry our boards about a half mile down the beach just to get started during our lesson while vacationing in Sao Miguel, Portugal. Then, the waves were really fast and furious that day. I’m absolutely a novice surfer—I’d gone out twice before and barely “got up” (you know, stand on the board without falling) for a few seconds. But it’s something my daughter and I like to try when we’re on vacation and the conditions are right.

I didn’t get up that day either, but I kept showing up to each opportunity to try with the class. Trudging out, paddling against the crashing waves for a chance to catch another one. I’d need more conditioning and practice to level up my surfing, but lessons from the mat in persistence shored up my fortitude to at least stay engaged for the duration of our class. In continuing to participate, though I was bone tired and pretty discouraged, I got a front row seat to my daughter’s triumph. She got up and stayed up for several seconds! She had come close to giving up, too, but an urging to go “just once more” led to the breakthrough that day.

So, as we head into a new year, I don’t have a grand statement or very aspirational set of resolutions. I’m going to just keep showing up and practicing riding the waves of life, one breath at a time.