Surfers are particularly prone to sprains, strains, and dislocations in the shoulders, neck, lower back, knees and ankles. Fortunately, much can be done to prevent these injuries simply by keeping these areas strong and flexible. Yoga has a focus on building strength, flexibility and balance—a perfect complement to key skills needed out on the water.
The following ten poses are particularly effective at improving the strength and flexibility of the muscle groups most often injured while surfing. Incorporating them into your daily before-and-after surf routine will go a long way toward preventing soreness, stiffness and surf related injuries.
Downward Facing Dog
Downward Facing Dog, or Adho Mukha Svanasana, may well be the quintessential pose that everyone associates with yoga. There is an excellent reason that this is so. This pose is good for your entire body, providing strengthening and lengthening from head to toe. It tones the arms, trains the shoulder girdle to stay in its place, straightens the spine and provides an excellent stretch for the hands, shoulders, hamstrings, calves and arches of your feet. All of this has the bonus effect of relieving back pain and fatigue, energizing the body and reducing stress by calming the nervous system. Downward Dog is commonly used as a transition pose. Add it in between each of the following poses to make a killer warm-up routine before your next surfing outing.
This one is a must before and after long paddling sessions. Eagle Pose, or Garudasana, with the arms only, is perhaps one of the best stretches for the upper back, shoulders and outer triceps that you will find. Add the full expression of the pose to improve balance and core strength as well. This move strengthens and stretches the latissimus dorsi, deltoids and trapezius muscles, which are some of the main meat behind your paddling strength and stamina. Treat these guys with regular love!
Four-Limbed Staff Pose
Four-Limbed Staff Pose, or Chaturanga Dandasana, is THE pose to practice for faster, stronger pop-ups. This pose is a more challenging version of plank and is a master for strengthening the core and upper body. When done properly, you’ll feel an exquisite burn through your triceps, shoulders and core.
Flow into Locust Pose, or Shalabhasana, from either Four-Limbed Staff Pose or Downward Facing Dog. This pose is another excellent one for surfers as it strengthens the entire back of the body, including the arms and legs. It tightens the core and expands the lungs. Most importantly, it simulates the position of the arched back that happens when paddling for waves, building strength and flexibility for the muscle groups involved in maintaining this position without injury.
Upward Facing Dog
You can see from the photo why Upward Facing Dog, or Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, is a good pose for surfers. Like the Locust Pose above, this pose mimics moves you regularly ask your body to perform while you're surfing. In this case, the motion you’re perfecting is the one you make when you get up onto your surfboard. Practicing this move improves flexibility in your spine, opens your chest, shoulders and throat while stretching the front of your thighs. This pose counteracts all the forward reaching you do while paddling and will make your pop-ups more fluid. You will also be less sore in your lower back after a long session on the water.
Squat or Garland Pose
The benefits of your basic squat cannot be overstated! Squats build core strength and balance, grounding the body through the feet. They provide a wake up for those oh-so-tight hip flexors and a wonderful stretch for the back, neck and back of the lower legs. The yogic form, Garland Pose, or Malasana, adds the hands in prayer position for greater stability. Most importantly, this pose is one of the best poses you can do to prevent cramps in your hips gained from sitting in the water on your board for extended periods of time.
Cow Face Pose
Your hips are great at stabilizing you on your board, but heavy use can lead to serious stiffness if regular stretching isn’t involved. Enter Cow Face Pose, or Gomukhasana, which provides an even better stretch for your hip flexors than the one described above. Add your upper body into the fray by doing Gomukhasana variations such as a twist, forward fold or side stretch.
One Legged King Pigeon Pose
When discussing the best hip opening poses, One Legged King Pigeon Pose, or Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, may take the cake no matter how open the above poses made you feel. This move provides a deep stretch to the thighs, groin and iliopsoas muscle group. It is considered one of the deepest and most effective hip openers yoga has to offer, counteracting the forward-bending surfer’s posture. This move has the added benefit of opening the chest and shoulders while increasing blood flow and giving your system a jolt of energy.
Revolved Wide-Legged Standing Forward Fold
“Revolved Wide-Legged Standing Forward Fold” or Parivrtta Prasarita Padottanasana, is excellent for relieving neck and shoulder tension. It strengthens the upper back, shoulders and legs and encourages rotation of the torso. It draws the shoulder blades together, opening the chest, shoulders, and hips. This pose promotes a calm mind and is a nice way to come out of the deeper poses described above, in preparation for the day's activities.
Warrior 2, or Virabhadrasana, is the final pose we’ll discuss today. Similar to the stance you use when standing on your board, this pose benefits the entire body. It vastly improves your balance, stamina and concentration while stretching the arms, shoulders, chest, hips, groin, legs, ankles, and feet. It improves circulation and respiration, relieving backaches and energizing tired limbs. Warrior II is considered to be one of the strongest and most grounding yoga poses and is an excellent way to end your pre or post-surf yoga workout.
Yoga for Surfers: Guidelines and Cautions
You can injure yourself doing yoga just as easily as you can doing any physical activity. The importance of proper breathing, alignment and listening to your body’s limits cannot be overstressed. These moves are a great way to get started, but you would be best served by finding a local class and deepening your knowledge in person. There is a vast diversity of yogic moves that will both help your surfing ability now, and keep your body in condition to enjoy it for a lifetime.