Wednesday, October 25, 2017

How Surfing and Yoga Help to Build a Strong Body and Mind

How Surfing and Yoga Help to Build a Strong Body and Mind

I learned how to surf about three years ago, in Sri Lanka. I loved it. Every time I go back surfing my love for the sport and the lifestyle increases even more. But what really makes me fall in love with it is the effect that surfing, combined with yoga, has in my body and my mind.

I think surf and yoga combine perfectly with each other to help build a strong body and mind, and I mean this literally.

Surfing and The Mind

One of the things that I love the most about surfing is how mental the sport is. Surfing forces me to constantly challenge myself, not only physically but also mentally.

Every surf session is like a mental toughness training session for me, and I'm all about mental training. As a matter of fact, yoga is not just physical training. Yoga is, above all, mental training.

Although surfing is a very physical sport most of my energy goes into trying to remain calm, focused and to feel confident. The more confident you are the more waves you can catch and the better you can surf.

If you want to improve your surfing skills you need to develop your self-confidence, and by improving your surfing your self-confidence also goes up. It's a self-reinforcing cycle.

One of my biggest challenges, and probably the main challenge for other beginner and intermediate surfers, is to get on the right spot to catch the waves.

Even though you might know where the right spot is you still need to feel calm and confident to be able to paddle to that spot, either because of the size of the waves, the threat of reefs or rocks, or the presence of other more experienced surfers.

You also need to be able to remain calm and cool after missing a wave or getting wiped out. This is a really important skill. If you fail to do so then you'll inevitably get wiped out again, and again, and again.

That's the way the mind plays tricks with us. Although nobody likes to be embarrassed by getting wiped out right in front of other surfers' eyes, our fears inevitably have to manifests.

I suggest you read Why Sitting Still Doing Nothing is More Productive Than You Think, to understand how stress and anxiety affect our cognitive functions.

But it's not just an ego thing, it is also an important self-preservation mechanism. The more waves you miss, or the more you get wiped out, the less other surfers will respect your spot on the lineup.

This self-confidence comes with experience and practice, the more you surf the better you get at it, but it can also be trained and developed to make the process faster.

How Yoga Complements Surfing: The Mental Game

This is where yoga can help. A complete yoga practice teaches us how to breathe properly and it helps to develop self-awareness, not only of the physical body but also of our inner states.

The more aware we are about our emotional responses to different situations the more we are able to work with them or prepare for them in advance.

We can train our minds to develop self-confidence and to remain calm in specific challenging situations by using simple visualizations techniques and breathwork.

See yourself in one of those situations where your confidence is challenged, either in front of big waves, crowded lineups or whatever that is, and then using your imagination, replace those feelings by a sense of calm, tranquility and self-confidence.

This is done in combination with the breath.

While you do your visualization you want to keep a slow-deep-rhythmic-breathing pattern, using the diaphragm properly; no chest breathing. You want to keep the breath calm and relaxed to trigger the relaxation response.

Actually, before you start your visualization you should first observe this slow-deep-rhythmic-breathing pattern for at least five minutes.

If you do this properly you will certainly notice a difference next time you are out there in the lineup, but once you are out there, whenever you notice that anxiety or fear starts to impede your skills, take a little break to take a few slow deep breaths and calm yourself down.

It is not easy but it is possible.

You can also practice self-study by analyzing your emotional responses.

What about those situations that make you feel anxious or fearful? How is that fear serving you? You can use your spiritual journal to have a dialogue with yourself and to answer these questions.

When you are able to identify what are the unconscious believes that are holding you back, creating these emotional responses, you can replace those beliefs for the ones that you do want to have.

Yes, I have tried all this myself, that's why I can talk about it, and I can tell you that all these tips do help. Don't expect miracles, though.

Surfing and the Body

The other reason why I love surfing so much is because of the effect surfing has on my body.

So far I've been three times to Arugam Bay for surfing, and every single time my body goes through big changes.

I can perceive these changes in my body just after two or three weeks. My metabolism increases to levels that I have never experienced before.

It doesn't matter how much food I eat during the day, the next morning my belly feels as if I had fasted for a few days. And it doesn't matter how large my meals are, within thirty minutes to an hour I feel empty and hungry again.

My body seems to be burning fat even during my sleep, and even throughout the days when I'm not surfing but just resting.

My abdomen gets firm and flat. It actually feels as if I was sucking my belly in although I'm just relaxed. Even my body posture changes.

I've always done bodyweight training regularly, but when my body enters this high metabolic state, after surfing for just a few weeks, one push up has the result of thirty normal push-ups, and the effects seem to last much longer. I feel pumped throughout the day.

An unexpected comment

Last time I was in A-Bay, back in July, after teaching one of my yoga classes at Hideaway, a resort in A-Bay, one guy approached me and asked me what I do to keep my body so toned. Then he specifically asked me what I would recommend to get that same definition in his arms.

First I laughed when he said that. I was like, "What? Who? Me?" I think I'm too skinny, still trying to put on weight, but I was definitely aware that my body had changed a lot in those few weeks in A-Bay.

So I told him that the secret is surfing. I definitely didn't look that way before reaching Sri Lanka. If I got a bit lean or toned it all happened in A-Bay.

I wasn't sure though how exactly I looked, but a few days later when my friend Tobi made some photos of me while surfing and while teaching yoga, I was able to understand what that dude in my yoga class was talking about.

Yoga Class for Surfers at Arugam Bay

Yoga Class for Surfers at Arugam Bay

Surfing at Okanda Beach

Please don't think that I'm sharing this story and these photos to show off. I just want to share my experience and illustrate my point.

I shared that next photo on my Instagram because I was impressed myself. I know I never looked like that before and unless I go back to surfing, or find a good training regime, I will probably never look like that again. It was like a once in a lifetime event, lol. You know, everything is impermanent.

What causes these changes?

I have always been very active. I practice yoga, I do bodyweight training, I used to go to the gym when I was living a "normal life," but I've never ever looked or felt the same way that I have felt after surfing for a few weeks.

I'm not 100% sure what exactly causes these changes in my body but I guess it is due to a combination of different factors, which I'll explain below. The main one is of course surfing.

Surfing as Hight Intensity Interval Training

I think surfing, like sprinting, probably falls in the category of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).

"HIIT is a cardio session arranged as short bursts of very hard work. The whole point of high-intensity training is to kick up the intensity of your cardio. In order to qualify as true HIIT, you’ll need to push yourself to the max during every set. That’s why they’re short—anywhere from 20 to 90 seconds, typically."

"Numerous studies have shown that working your hardest is key when it comes to boosting endurance, increasing metabolism, regulating insulin levels, and losing body fat. “All exercise helps burn fat by burning calories,” says fitness expert and celebrity trainer Rob Sulaver. But, he adds, “more intense exercise burns more fat,” and that's part of the reason HIIT is so popular."

"Recovering before the next interval is essential, and here’s the reason why: Forcing your body to repeatedly acclimate between two very different states provides excellent cardio conditioning. “When the body works to adapt from the anaerobic (high-intensity) period to the low-intensity recovery period in HIIT, this workload results in high caloric expenditure, which can lead to fat loss,” explains Cohen."


Every time that you paddle to catch a wave, or whenever you want to paddle back to the lineup, you exert yourself with intensity for shorts periods of time, and then you rest till the next wave comes.

And since surfing is so fun and addictive you do this for at least two hours with no problem at all!

High Doses of Vitamin D

Another key factor that I'm 100% sure influences this response in my body is the sun.

I feel that when I surf during the day, bearing the strong sun rays, my metabolism increases even more. It might not be good for the skin but for sure it feels amazing in the rest of my body.

During my second visit to A-Bay, I was surfing mainly in the afternoons, around 4 pm. I did notice the difference. I didn't feel the increase in my metabolism as I did on the other two occasions, that's for sure.

Beach Diet

The third main reason is the beach diet.

I don't have any specific diet. Since I'm a nomad yoga teacher my diet changes depending on the place where I'm living, but it is usually mainly a vegetarian diet.

I normally try to eat as healthy and as conscious as I can, but at the same time, I try to give my body whatever I think it needs.

When I visited A-Bay for the first time I was having a vegetarian diet for a long while, maybe more than a year.

I wanted to stay vegetarian but after ten days of surfing two to four hours per day, I realized that that diet was definitely not sustainable, at least not the Sri Lankan vegetarian diet.

My body needed more than just rice, veg curry and coconut sambol, the typical Sri Lankan lunch. I had to add more protein to my diet so I decided to start eating fish, and ever since that's what I do whenever I'm back at the beach for surfing.

During my last visit to A-Bay I tried to eat more fat and less sugar, dairy and wheat (please notice that I said, "less" and not "zero"). It was very clear though that I had to eat that peanut butter toast to keep up!

This was my typical diet last time I was surfing in Arugam Bay

  • Breakfast: Avocado, banana, dates juice. Two fried eggs or fried fish.
  • Lunch: Sri Lankan fish rice and curry. Typically lots of rice, two vegetable curries, and fried fish or fish curry.
  • Snack: Peanut butter toast or guacamole toast (right after lunch). Oh, I love the peanut butter toast at Beach Hut.
  • Dinner: Sri Lankan fish rice and curry. Once in awhile pasta, pizza or fish deviled.

Increased levels of physical activity

The fourth reason is simply being very active.

Like I mentioned before I do bodyweight training about three times a week, and I practice yoga about six times per week. I think all that physical activity on top of surfing makes the difference.

Since I'm living a nomadic lifestyle I have a very simple bodyweight training routine but it is only when I am surfing that I can really see and feel the changes in my body after doing this routine.

I normally train for about forty-five min to one hour max. Basically, I do either upper body training or lower body training, three sets of each exercise.

Upper Body
  • Push-ups
  • Biceps with elastic bands
  • Dips with two chairs
  • Shoulder push-ups
  • Handstands
Lower Body
  • Squats
  • Lounges
  • One-legged squats

How Yoga Complements Surfing: Working the Body

Staying strong and supple

Although I don't consider yoga part of my fitness routine, it does add up. The practice of yoga asanas (postures) does help to develop stamina, to keep a strong core and toned muscles.

But a good yoga practice also helps to prepare the body for surfing, and it especially helps to overcome the negative effects of surfing. All that paddling and sitting in your board for hours make your shoulders and hip joints super tight.

Practicing yoga regularly helps to maintain the mobility and flexibility that I need in order to feel comfortable when surfing, which is also really important to prevent injuries.

If I didn't practice yoga I would probably feel stiff as a surfboard. Lol.

The power of breath

The other main benefit of yoga is breath training, one of the key aspects of a good yoga practice.

Learning how to breath by using the diaphragm to its full capacity, becoming conscious of the three-dimensional movement of the diaphragm, helps enormously to keep up with the intensity of the sport.

By activating the diaphragm properly you are able to use more of your lung capacity without much effort, starting your inhalations focusing on the bottom part of the lungs, the larger area of the lungs.

Staying Calm

Another way yoga helps is by learning to keep the body and the mind relaxed.

As you learn how to maximize your lung capacity with yogic breathing practices you are also able to hold your breath longer during the inevitable wipeouts. But it is also important to remain calm so that you can hold your breath longer without struggling.

Oh yes, I've been there many times. It's not a pleasant feeling but it does help when I relax and let the wave pass.

I always wonder how big wave surfers survive though. Those tiny waves that I've surfed, in comparison, already make me feel like I'm almost drowning. Lol.

And a lot more

There are many other ways how yoga complements surfing, mentally and physically, like with whole-body awareness, coordination, balance, core power and a lot more. I wrote about all these in more detail in:

So these are the two main reasons why I love surfing so much and why I think surf and yoga are the perfect match. Surf and yoga definitely help to build a strong body and mind.

Of course, there are many other reasons why I love surfing.

Well, simply put, beach life is a great life. I always feel my best at the beach. The sea breeze, the sun, watching the sunrise or the sunset while you are seating on your surfboard... What can be better than this?

Surfing at Okanda
Surfing at Okanda Beach, a beautiful spot near Arugam Bay

Putting it into practice

If you would like to discover by yourself how yoga and surfing help to build a strong body and mind, then I think a good way to do that is by booking a surf and yoga retreat.

In a retreat like this, you'll get to practice yoga once or sometimes twice a day.  Little by little you'll be experiencing the benefits I mentioned above.

Of course, Sri Lanka is a wonderful country to do just that.  It has perfect sunny weather, paradise beaches, and waves for all levels.

You can visit my article 7 Unique Yoga Retreats in Sri Lanka to find some really awesome options.

The first four retreats are by the beach, on the south coast of Sri Lanka, where you can easily find surf schools and many surfing spots for all levels.

What about you?

Have you already tried both, surf and yoga? What is your experience? How do they complement each other? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

And, if you haven't tried surf and yoga yet... what are you waiting for? Perhaps you and your friends can join me in one of my future surf and yoga retreats.

You can sign up for my mailing list so that I can send you a direct message as soon as my next retreat is ready. Oh, and btw, you will receive as a gift a link to download my meditation eBook. Isn't that a good deal?


  1. I just spent a week in Arugam Bay learning to surf and doing Yoga. Stayed at the Hideaway Resort. Maybe someday soon we'll bump in to each other on the beaches of A-Bay ��

    1. Hi Chetna, Yeah, that would be wonderful! Hopefully I'll be there in July next year, but not sure at all. Take care