It seemed that the common thread that drew us to these activities was that both are conducive to full immersion in the present moment. Whether it’s the slight bit of danger, or the concentration required to be successful, surfing, scuba diving, and motorcycle riding offer an intense, in-the-moment experience. The physical sensation of moving forward, and at the same time 100% immersed in the details of the task at hand, soothes the mind.
Many people who participate in activities that combine physical movement with the risk or the uncertainty of nature share the same opinion. Sports like rock climbing, free diving, and downhill skiing come to mind. The same might go for activities that require a balance of intense effort and relaxation such as archery, martial arts or horseracing. Those who practice sports that involve repetitive motions, such as rowing, running, or cycling, have also reported that what they love the most is the FLOW – the ability to be completely immersed in the present moment.
The nature of the mind is the mind that exists when we drop out of the ‘thinking mind.’ The thinking mind, the conceptualizing mind, layers drama, stories, thoughts, worry and other emotions atop what, in its true nature, is an open, spacious, clear and relaxed state of mind.
What makes yoga and surfing both appealing, and what makes them complement each other so well, is that they are both conducive to the experience of the nature of the mind - a full-body experience which rides on intuition, breath and a union with the world around us.
Surf & Flow
A recent article in the Atlantic presents a debate on surfing as a sport versus religion. In the article, the author refers to spiritual metaphors regarding water and the ways in which both sport and religion incorporate water into a spiritual experience. I get it, but although the experience of flow is symbolically related to water, I believe it’s the experience of pure present-moment existence, and not water itself, which elevates us to a flow state.
In surfing, we experience a combination of awe (being in nature among beautiful surroundings), danger (big waves, shallow reefs or wildlife), the need to pay attention to the task at hand (mindfulness) and the union (samadhi) of literally riding the energy of the earth. We are in control and not in control. We play with a balance of calculated and intuitive physical movements. To be ‘in the zone’ is to be in the nature of the mind.
Surfing gives us the opportunity to approach the nature of the mind through physical achievement and physical awareness. For many of us, when we involve body, breath, movement, the surrounding ocean, and the clear blue sky, we are able to slip more easily out of the conceptualizing mind than if we were seated at home on a meditation cushion. Yet, the effect is the same, and when we get ‘in the zone’, we want to try it again.
Yoga & Calm Abiding
Yoga chitta vritti nirodha. The practice of yoga is the practice of quieting the mind.
When the mind is settled, we drop the stories that cause us to rehash the past and we drop the stories that cause us to overthink the future. This freedom allows us to become fully immersed in our current actions and state of being. We can reach this in-the-moment state through consistent daily meditation practice.
The physical practice of yoga can assist the mind in achieving this state by moving the body. Our yoga, or our moving meditation, better prepares the body for the experience of enlightenment. Like surfing, a regular yoga practice can assist us with experiencing the nature of the mind.
Tradition tells us that, through movement, the winds of energy that act as obstacles to our experience of calm abiding, or resting in the nature of the mind, are purified. In yoga, as we work to hold poses more comfortably, maintain a neutral spine, and train our breath, our bodies become better prepared for the experience of flow. We achieve discipline, insight, stability, and spaciousness. We move outside our usual planes of existence and invite the energy within us to move in new ways as well.
Surf & Yoga Union
No one body movement or meditation has exclusivity on recognizing the nature of the mind. But, there is something about surf and yoga that encourages a common attraction. Maybe it’s no more than the nature of a free spirit, willing to spend their time trying new things, moving their bodies and being challenged by nature. Maybe it’s no more than the attraction of the beach, travel and the sound of the waves. But I think it’s more.
Are you more likely to have a glimpse of the nature of the mind when, after 20 minutes of drifting in the open ocean, you finally paddle flawlessly into a wave, slide weightlessly down the face, and ride the energy of the ocean as it guides you towards shore? I think so. And it’s the yogi, the spiritual seeker, inside me that keeps wanting to try.
*This article was originally published on Baja Surf Yoga’s blog.
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