In the surfing world, there has been a real surge of interest in yoga, as professional surfers and enthusiasts realise the benefits that stretching and strengthening, breathing exercises and self-awareness can have when they paddle out into the water. I've tailored classes for surfers in the west coast of France, and they've told me they really enjoy the benefits of the yoga practice. Now I'd like to reverse the roles a little, and share some pointers that I think surfing can teach us yogis.
When I set off for France last year, I headed to the Atlantic coast with the idea that I would learn to surf. I took lessons whenever possible and made the commitment by getting my own board. I continued that commitment by choosing to live right by the beach outside of Bilbao, and whenever time and conditions permit it, I get in the water. I'm very much a beginner surfer, but you don't need to be a pro to enjoy the sensation of paddling out and hopefully catching a few waves. The buzz from finally catching a wave, the butterflies as a big one rolls in, or the calm between sets as you wait patiently, the thrill of seeing some fish swim by, when it's time to get out of the water you always feel like it was really worthwhile. Much like getting on your mat or going to a class.
Being a beginner at something has been a really refreshing opportunity. As adults, we tend to stick to what we're good at, and avoid potential failures (and therefore embarrassments) with great skill. We don't like looking stupid! In fact we often tell ourselves and others, even just subconsciously, that trying anything new now would be a waste of time, as we'll never really have the time to get good at it. We begin to develop really rigid ideas about what we can and can't do, and even cling to them, so as not to risk failure trying anything new. But there's something great about looking stupid! We stop taking ourselves so seriously, let go of the ego and expectations of our own performance. It doesn't have to be surfing, being a beginner at anything can provide these opportunities. However, as my own experience has been with surfing, I've seen a few points in particular that are really relevant to anyone who has an interest in yoga.
Look where you're going. I'm still struggling with this one on the board, but it's one of the first things that instructors correct beginners on once they've learned to stand up. To keep your balance and begin to have more control of the board, you've got to look where you're going. There's an idea of commitment in there too, like pick your direction and stick to it. In a typical yoga class you will be instructed where to focus your gaze, or drishti. As a student sometimes you can be focusing so hard on so much that occasionally you forget to give this component the attention it deserves. See if you can incorporate a more steady gaze into your practice, and remember it's not only where you're looking, but how you're looking (soft, relaxed focus, as opposed to eyebrows furrowed in concentration) is an important, if discreet part of your practice.
Stay with the Breath & Resist Reacting to Fear. For some students, breathwork & pranayama can be the part they like to skip. Just like the story of the monk who complained of boredom at his breathing meditation, suddenly breath becomes a lot more interesting when we're under the water, waiting for a chance to reach the surface. I'm not suggesting that you paddle out there in conditions beyond your abilities, but even in ideal beginner conditions, there is a part of our brain and body, that when untrained, will still have a instinctive fear reaction when we our below the surface, waiting to reach the air. This reaction provides an opportunity to observe our fear response, and learn to relax, developing our "witness", or the ability to self-observe.
I recently met some free-divers who were explaining to me all about holding your breath underwater, and the importance of total relaxation, as any tension will use up your energy forcing you to surface sooner. An interesting insight that is worth applying to our day-to-day living!
We often talk about confronting fear on our yoga mat, especially in arm balancing or back bending poses. Thankfully, after practice, we learn to let go of this fear. However, have we really learned to apply this lesson universally? Getting a reminder about of our instinctive reactions to fear help us to continue to work on this process on the mat. Being in the water allows us to test out if we can put this into practice off the mat.
Patience & Commitment. We need to have patience for the waves, and patience with our own bodies. Especially as beginners, a kind of surrendering is needed, allowing yourself to make mistakes, accepting that you're not going to do it right the first time around (or second or third!), and knowing that a certain amount of time is necessary. Still knowing that you have a long wait ahead, you've got to commit. If you start to go for that wave, commit fully, and similarly on your mat, commit to your practice, commit to that moment to really give it all of your effort.
Connecting to something bigger. When surfing, we're in an environment that's shared with many other people, not only that but teeming with life in many shapes and forms. The ocean is controlled by forces that are not subject to our desires, and conditions will always be beyond our control. This teaches us acceptance, and awareness of the forces bigger than ourselves. That paradoxically realising how small and insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things can leave us with a great sense of relief or contentment, like the same kind of feeling that you can get from looking up at a starry night's sky, or being in the mountains.
I know that I'm only just scratching the surface, but even just that has been enough to keep me coming back for more, just as has been with practicing yoga. I hope it's been enough to tempt you out of your comfort zone, whether that's into the sea or on your mat!
I'll leave you with a video of surfing legend Gerry Lopez, who is also a dedicated yogi.
gerund or present participle: basking
noun: Basque; plural noun: Basque
This pair of homonyms (english teacher now!) does a nice job of summing up the last 8 weeks. We arrived in Bilbao early September and managed to find ourselves jobs, a dream apartment and a great community of people who have so far made us feel very welcome. Sometimes I think I've stumbled upon paradise. Well that might be painting it a bit too rosy, as getting set up in a new country is hard work. Between job searching, getting social security numbers, bank accounts, internet, apartment hunting, all in my currently mediocre spanish has been challenging, as well as getting to grips with being a new English teacher. Include also adjusting to siesta hours and getting lost too many times to count, we've been a bit all over the place!
We live in Sopelana, we chose a commute in exchange for a sea view. Metro here is cheap and efficient, and gives me lots of time to read! The upside is that we can literally walk from our apartment wetsuit clad surfboards in hand and be in the water in less than 10 minutes. For climbing we have got a small crag a 30 minute walk away, and then there are tons of good spots reachable by car. We had to bring the trusty little yaris back to Ireland a few weeks ago, and we're currently on the hunt for a new van.
The trip back to Ireland was a bit rushed on the whole, but it was nice to get home sooner than expected and see family and friends, and we were amazed that the journey from Bilbao to Cherbourg was easily doable with one night stop. We got to visit Rennes on the way, having studied so many photos of it in college it was nice to finally enter the cathedral.
For me, living in Sopelana and working in Bilbao allows me to have one foot in city living and the other bare in the sand! I've often wondered how would I reconcile this pull and push relationship with cities, and at least right now this is the perfect fit. There's the Guggenheim, Fine Arts Museum, so many little pintxo bars, the historical Casco Viejo. I get my fill during the week and then spend the weekend by the sea.
And Yoga? Now it's easy to feel inspired to practice in this amazing location, but it was difficult in the first few weeks. When everything was all over the place made it really difficult to keep to any kind of routine, and I really felt the consequences. My back got really stiff and when I tried to climb again everything felt so disconnected. There seems to be a couple of studios dotted around Bilbao and one very close to me here in Sopelana. I hope to get my Spanish up to a level where I can teach here. Now that we're settled and have a sea view I'm excited to get properly back on the mat, especially having learnt so much from Caroline's Yoga this summer. I've taken up dancing lessons at the encouragement of some new friends here, so I'm learning all the caribbean dances, it's great fun! Between this, surfing and skating I'm really enjoying learning new ways of moving.
It's lashing. My vision of France had not included a single drop of rain, and so accordingly, I left my rain jacket behind in Dublin. Rookie mistake. Honestly I don't think I left it at home on purpose, but it was possibly some subconscious wishful thinking. Anyway, turns out it would have been pretty useful. This is day 3 of solid rain, and there's more due tomorrow.
Were we mad to turn down a job in St. Tropez?
After much deliberation and a u-turn at the last minute, we headed west to the Atlantic. Despite the rain, I know we made the right decision, because it's where we really wanted to go, and we knew that it had an element of the unknown, that's what makes it an adventure!
Seek and you shall find. People are so helpful once you get chatting. The man who sold us our phone gave me all sorts of tips for getting a yoga class started over here, and the irish guys we met who are working in a bar in Hossegor offered us contacts for winter season work. We've kept the ball rolling writing CVs in our very best french, and getting set up with a french mobile phone, and a few work leads here and there. However, while it's still raining we'll hold off on intensive job searching, it's not enough to be in the right place, you need to be there at the right time. Also drowned rats don't look very presentable.
In the meantime we've also explored a bit, Bordeaux was really cool and the amazing water feature at Place de la Bourse made for some interesting yoga. On the foodie side of things, apparently people here are really into japanese cuisine, there are sushi bars all over the place and they even deliver. We tried an authentic noodle bar, Fufu, which was yum. So authentic it even had a toilet imported from Japan! I'm writing this post from a place called Cafe Ono, which sounds and looks japanese, beautiful wooden tables and stools everywhere, turns out to our disappointment though no noodles. Still it's a cool aesthetic, nice place to have a coffee or pomegranate green tea, (are we in the States or France??)
We visited the Museum of Decorative Arts (once an art history student, always an art history student....) where they had a cool exhibition that paired new design objects with much older pieces, nice idea for an exhibition. We've been swimming in the Ocean and getting our frisbee skills up, and plan to get some surfing in tomorrow. I've got some serious van envy, there are a lot of people here with nice set ups, it's all inspiration!
I'll keep you posted on how our first surf session goes and if we've got anything closer to some work.......
The journey has begun. We departed Ireland on Tuesday evening after a long day's packing up the car (ehm sorry John).
If you know me, you'll know I'm a bit of an organisational nerd. If you've lived out a car (especially a toyota yaris) for any period of time you'll know how tight things can get. I'm pretty chuffed with the system we've got going in the car, we found these duffel bags in Ikea for €2, which were exactly what we needed to keep all the clothes seperate and contained, and we've set up the boot so that all of our cooking & food supplies are easy to access. We're using plastic storage boxes, which means we can't fit as much in, but the stuff is easier to navigate. With only two of us in the car it's definitely a good trade-off, there's nothing worse than having to search through the entire car for that one fork/jumper/needle in a haystack. Also the boxes work as seats and tables. Multifunctional. Before we left I got really inspired watching George Clarke's Amazing Spaces for ideas on multifunctional design and compact living. Even more food for thought was the Tiny House Movement and related documentaries. In a dream world I'm a really sleek minimalist designer, but in reality I have too much of a love for interesting objects. Perhaps I'm bound to an eternal conflict between the two, or maybe I'll find a happy medium one day.
We had a good night's sleep on the floor of the ferry but arrived pretty hungry at 16.30 (an hour late) in France. We wanted to get on the road asap (cue mantra: drive on the right, drive on the right, drive on the right) but eventually achy bodies needed a stretch, so we visited Bayeux, and then decided to take a little deviation to the town of Honfleur, where we had our first meal of the trip (moules et frites) right where you can see in the photo above. Feeling buzzed up from some food we decided to drive through the night to Fontainebleau. Good listening material from This American Life and BBC4's History of the World in 100 objects kept us awake. A shower at a pit stop refreshed us halfway and finally at 4 am we pitched a tent in the forest. Psyched to climb the next day. And then it rained. Hence this blog post!