Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga (AND Surfing?): Yamas & Niyamas
Hopefully, on your first day of learning how to surf…
Your instructor taught you some basic surf etiquette, and if not, you might want to read-up on that before paddling out next time. Similar to these basic rules, the yamas and niyamas are sets of standards and practices a yogi is expected to embrace so that he or she is better able to live a more open, and authentic path. But, are they only useful for the devoted yogi? I think not….
Ahimsa (non-violence) ✌️
You would think this is pretty straight-forward. In fact, they all are really, but I bet you forget all the subtle ways we harm our self, and others, every day. In a more obvious way: physically harming someone in the ocean? That’s a big no-no. Critical comments in person (and social media)? Again, tisk-tisk. Kook_of_the_Day? Or Ultra Spiritual Life? As a sarcastic person who enjoys these both, tremendously, I can see both sides to this one, but for argument’s sake, be aware of this: A primary factor in what prevents so many from trying something new, like yoga or surfing, is the fear of embarrassment. We are all battling little gremlins inside and so it is of utmost importance that we find compassion for our self, first, as our attitude toward our self is what we reflect unto the rest of the world, including our inner kook.
Satya (truthfulness) 🚫🤥
Self-honesty is rarely easy, and especially amongst beginner-intermediate surfers. Being able to truthfully express your abilities, limitations, fitness, and comfort in the waves is an essential part of keeping your self and those around you safe. If you think about it, honesty in whatever you do impacts your rate of success or failure. If you are a beginner surfer, and you mange to paddle out, on a shortboard, in 6’ surf, not only will you flail around and scramble to get over the peak and out of the way, but when you fall, you may find you are in dire straits (with panic as your only companion). However, if you swallow that instant-gratification mentality, rock the foam board, and learn the most important part, technique, you may just progress at a surprising rate. Sometimes slow-and-steady wins the race, so a little bit of satya in your life, in whatever you do, could serve you well my friend.
Asteya (non-stealing) 🤝🤞
Thou shall not steal thy neighbor’s wave (and if you do, thou’st better genuinely, and humbly, apologize). And aside from literally not stealing a posession, Asteya is also the practice of unconditional sharing. Whether we share our waves, our knowledge, or time, sharing is caring, folks, and this world of ours can always use a little more of that. (Except when you find an amazing location. Share it with your homies, but please, keep that location secret on social media. “If you know, you know”. The excitement is in the journey, afterall, so share excitement but don’t share the secrets to the mass media for exploitation.)
Brahmacarya (moderation, continence) ⚖️😅
Simply, Brahmacarya is about the balance of extremes, living in moderation.(There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.) While it may sound blissful to be “surfed-out”, pushing the bounds of your physical and mental limits in the ocean can be dangerous. Your physical body can only handle so much before it alters your abilty to function in a necessary way in order to be responsible in the surf. Know when it’s time to paddle in: please don’t endanger your self or others. Brahmacarya, in its more common definition within the yamas, speaks of celibacy, but for brevity’s sake, I will let you have the fun of researching abstinence during athletic endeavors…
Aparigraha (non-possessiveness) 🤙
We do not own the sea. (And for that matter, do we really own the land?) Without going into localism (because that opens a massive can of worms), there are thousands of waves in the ocean, and somehow we still see those who paddle out and seemingly take wave after wave, denying others the opportunity. But apart from the surf, what else are you holding, grasping, or clinging onto that you have a fear of losing? (And why?) Your impression of what your surfing style should look like? Or, how about the stories you tell your self for why you “can’t” do/achieve some vision/goal? And let me leave you with this idea: what would happen if you just let all the melodramatics, ego, localism, fears, baggage, etc (all the things you feel, on some level, hold you together)…go?
Our 5 remaining practices are more…spiritual. They delve into the subtle undercurrents of our soul as we move beyond the physical and mental bodies. Without the niyamas in your yoga, or surfing, life, I can assure you that while you may be “doing” the yamas “right”, you will struggle to reach that higher plane of existential awareness. (Not to mention your body will probably feel like complete garbage). Our niyamas are what separate the Average Joe’s from the zen-like qualities of many of the professional surfers we admire and are inspired by today.
Sauca (cleanliness of the body and mind) 🥗😌
The cleaner your diet, the more functional your body becomes. The clearer your mindset and the more receptive it is to optimism, the more resilient you will become in times of difficulty and defeat. In yoga it is believed that the body is a temple, and you should care for that temple with clean nutrition and light thoughts. With diet/mind conscious surfers like Kelly Slater, Dave Rastavich, Sally Fitzgibbbons, Jack Johnson, Alana Blanchard, Greg Long, Stephanie Gilmore, and the man himself, Gerry Lopez….If clean eating and positive thinking is wrong, then I don’t want to be right…
Santosa (contentment) ☺️🙏
Santosa is more than just “contentment”: it is about being constantly, presently, accepting, with gratitude, of what you have, where you have it, and who you have it with, but above all else, it is about accepting who you are, at this very moment. Enoughness. Am I enough? Is this good enough? Enough with enough! It is all too easy to get a case of FOMO while scrolling through social media, wishing you were anywhere/anyone but here/you. Oh how the ocean is bluer on the other side! What if you found a way to relax into your life? What would that do to your surfing? I am not telling you to be ambitionless, merely to keep the future on the horizon as you presently, happily, paddle toward it.
Tapas (discipline, spiritual austerity) 😇💪✔️
Do I really need to explain how the art of spiritual discipline is relevant to surfing? I don’t just mean the whole “practice makes perfect”adage, but the intentional, present, honest practice of having awareness during the challenges, motivations, blockages, distractions, etc. That means showing-up for your self, every day, even when you don’t want to. Surfing is a spiritual rollercoaster! One minute we are having the time of our life and the next, we get caught on the inside and take a 3-wave set on the head, unsure if we will ever see our moms again. (or if Daenerys and Jon Snow will unite the Seven Kingdoms!!) And then, assuming you are uninjured, you are suppose to paddle back out, un-phased and do it again? Tell me it didn’t take tapas for Greg Long to surf big waves again after his near-death incident at Cortes Bank, or for Bethany Hamilton to ever set foot in the ocean again, let alone return to professional surfing. You cannot be a surfer without practicing tapas in some way, shape, or form.
Svadhyaya (self-study) 🤔✍️
I think it can be safely said that present generations depend on external validation for their sense of worth and esteem a great deal (Hello social media!!!!) We have raised generations on the approval of not just their parents, but their teachers, coaches, and, most influentially, their peers. But somewhere over the years, we have forgotten how to teach our children to self-validate. Svadhyaya teaches us how to reflect internally. How did I feel on my board today? Why did I not commit to that last wave, where did that doubt come from, and why did I allow it in? Am I nourishing my body as I should? You get the point. By being able to sit in a state of self-study, you are better able to identify your blockages and fears more intimately than by simply relying on the viewpoints and the opinions of an outsider.
Isvarapranidhara (surrender, acceptance) 🌊🕉
“___ grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the strength to know the difference” -Reinhold Niebuhr
Whether you choose to relinquish control to a higher power, or the more secular approach of mere acceptance, the ability to surrender is one of the most challenging and liberating practices out of the niyamas. Of all sports, I think what makes surfing so difficult, and consequently, so appealing is its ever-changing nature. The ocean is one of the most powerful, unpredictable, and deadly forces on our planet and yet we can find such stillness and joy in her waters. At some point in your surfing, you will be faced with a few heavy wipeouts that shake you to your core. If you can learn to accept this possibility long before you enter the water, you have already begun the practice of isvarapranidhara. By overriding the need to control, therby relaxing the body and mind, you can prevent injury in this relaxed state, but you can also conserve oxygen, and remain clear-headed for when your opportunity comes between the sets. Surrender can save your life in the ocean. Plain and simple. What we resist, persist.
Let’s put it together shall we? 🔗
Imagine: After you’ve had a nutritious meal before you paddle out, be sure to be on the appropriate board for your level and paddle out to waves you can handle. Drop-in when it is your turn, and if you accidentally drop-in on someone, or someone drops-in on you, apologize, or accept an apology with some compassion. (Everyone makes mistakes, right?) When you’ve had your share and begin to feel tired, paddle in, even if you were the only one who didn’t stand-up or catch a barrel. Refuel your self with a wholesome meal with good company, and before you lay your head to rest, take a moment to reflect on the day: how your body felt, how you handled your triumphs and let-downs and what action you can take to improve it. Tomorrow is a new day, and while today may not have been your best, tomorrow could be your last, so for now, you take comfort in knowing that chances are, “everything is gonna be alright”. Afterall, any day you get to surf is a good day indeed.
Join me next week as we visit two familiar faces in the yogic path of enlightenment: Asana & Pranayama!