Honestly, my experience with surfing is limited. In fact, I've always had a small fear when it comes to the ocean, but that never stopped me from my two or three vacations a year to splash around in her vastness. Nor did it stop me from learning to surf in Nicaragua in 2009, which consisted of me playing in the white wash toying with popping up to my feet. Miraculously, I did get to my feet and only on the fourth try! The feeling was exhilarating, yet followed by a looming "now what do I do" thought that connected so abruptly to my body that I fell off the board, emerging from the water with a giant smile on my face.
Needless to say, I am no expert to the art of surfing or for that matter, much of a beginner. What I am educated on and well versed in however, is in the field of health and wellness, yoga and meditation. I am a certified SmartFLOW® Yoga teacher and an affiliate with Yoga Alliance as a 200 Hour E-RYT, as well as a licensed massage therapist. So when my yoga students first asked me to host a Yoga Surf Retreat, naturally, I thought, "yes!" As I drove home from the studio that day intrigued by this next adventure in my life, I began to hear that little voice of self-doubt enter my thoughts. Who was I to host a Yoga Retreat that included Surfing with my minute knowledge of surf?
Abhyasa is a Sanskrit word that means "practice". Quickly, after I began to doubt myself I remembered this word and how on the path of yoga it is all a practice and the practice is in learning how to ride the wave of life on and off the mat. When the universe presents obstacles or challenges on our path, we can either learn from them and grow or run away in fear like I have for so many years when it came to surfing in the big ocean! So, I decided to keep practicing, facing my internal fears of the ocean head on, whilst leading this retreat.
I have found that over the years, when you really put your heart into something with a real and raw intention, the universe helps you along the way. Luckily for me, I had lots of help on this new and exciting endeavor. Being honest about your own limitations is important in life and I knew right away that I needed a talented surfer who I trusted and could take myself and all these wonderful yogis surfing, teaching us the waves, the ride and the vinyasa of the ocean. I found the well-spoken, patient and witty James Bengala to be our Surf Instructor. In actuality, he wasn't really that hard to find since he is my loving partner. Lucky me.
So what do yoga and surfing have in common? And why have we linked them up together? As a yoga teacher and practitioner, I often use the ocean as a way to describe the breath. The breath has a rhythm moving steadily from its inhales and turning its way back around to its exhales, much like the ocean waves when it glides its way onto the beach only to turn back around being sucked back into her depths. The sound we make with our breath is very similar to the oceans pulsations onto the beach. This is a beautiful analogy, but I wanted to understand the connection of yoga and surfing more, so I decided to interview James about this topic. Let's see what he has to say!
KK: How long have you been surfing?
JB: 16 years
KK: Where & why did you start?
JB: Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. I started because my parents had just gotten separated and it was an outlet for me to put my energies into something positive.
KK: How did you learn?
JB: I learned through friends of mine who were already surfing. They had a car and could drive and I couldn't yet. Watching surfers a lot, that were really good. Like a kid watches his parents to learn, I loved to watch and take it in. I also watched a lot of surf videos.
KK: Where else have you surfed?
JB: Atlantic Beach, entire North Carolina Coast, OBX, East Coast, Costa Rica, Trinidad, Tobago, California, Indonesia, Mexico and the Colorado River.
KK: What do you love about surfing? What does it provide you with?
JB: It give me a chance to disconnect from the "daily grind" and unplug. It gives me a chance to really tune in with nature. And I get to really connect and tune in with myself.
KK: How is that different than other sports?
JB: This is really cliche to say, but its true. The fact that you are out there floating around in the ocean and these powerful swells are getting pushed into you from thousands of miles out in the ocean, it is a really positive feeling that you are getting, you are tuned in with nature. You and natures energies are connecting and they have to be if you are going to be successful at surfing! Surfing is about a FLOW, fluidity and its really about taking what you are being given and not forcing something to happen. So if you take your super structured lifestyle into the water, it doesn't work. Those two don't jive.
KK: So, you practice yoga as well, do you see a correlation between yoga and surfing and if so, how and what?
JB: Yes. Absolutely. I think in this day and age, so many of the professional surfers that are on tour, they have gotten the memo and they are all practicing yoga. Um, the reason being, that connection to your inner self during your practice or surf session and the more you tune in and the more effort you put in to tuning in, the greater the return.
KK: What do you mean by "return"?
JB: Its two things: Mental and Physical. In a yoga sense, physically, you've really been working hard to strengthen and the return is that you can be in a pose longer or you can get into a pose that you were not strong enough to get into. Mentally, its very similar, the fact that the more you dedicate and tune in to your practice, the stronger you have become in the mind to be in the present moment. And that is really inspiring and it builds your confidence.
KK: And you find this in surfing as well?
JB: Absolutely. Its really easy when you are out in the line up surfing to let your mind drift. But, as soon as that next set starts approaching, you have to check in, tune in immediately.
KK: So, as a Surf Instructor, you deal with people of all levels. How do you teach beginners?
JB: Step 1. If you are not having fun, you're not doing it right. Regardless of your skill level. Some of my fondest memories and the most fun were spending the whole day at the beach just trying to stand up on the surf board. Step 2. You have to be checked in. You have to be living in that moment. There are so many outside variables, from your equipment, to the tide, the wind, the size of the surf, other people in the line up, you have to focus and be in the present moment.
KK: What other things do you instruct to your students while they are learning?
JB: In surfing, I need to instruct the students on wind, tide and swell patterns, surf etiquette, as well as proper technique and form. All of those, the student must be checking and understand what is happening to really maximize their experience in the water.
KK: In yoga, we use a term "Abhyasa" and it means "practice, practice, practice". Would you say that surfing is more of a linear, goal oriented sport or an ever evolving sport, which takes practice?
JB: It can be seen as either. You've got your competition surfers out there that have one thing in mind. It is to compete and be the best in the world and that is their focus. However, even those surfers will be surfing well into their 80's and will be ever progressing. I think surfing has been much more of a lifestyle than a sport for decades. So, I would say it is much more a life long ever evolving activity much like yoga.
KK: Do you have anything else that you would like to share with us about yoga, surf or both?
JB: I would say that with any beginner in yoga and/or surf, they can both be intimidating. I think that remembering that they're very healthy, positive activities for the mind and body and that even the most advanced yogis or pro surfers where once beginners also is important.
KK: Why would you suggest for someone to go on a Yoga Surf Retreat?
JB: Step 1: It gets you out of your every day routine breaking down your barriers to try new things and it brings you together with a other people who are doing the same.
Step 2: It weaves together the practice of yoga and of surfing to help you learn the benefits that one has on the other. It forces you while you are there to put in the effort - to paddle out in the ocean, to do the yoga practice.
Step 3: To enjoy every minute of it.
And lastly, I think that at the end of the week of something like this, you will notice huge transformations mentally, physically and spiritually.
By, Kristina Kuzmich.
Licensed Massage Therapist,
SmartFLOW® Yoga Teacher
and creator of Mindful Evolution Yoga