Surf Yoga: The Art of Poetical Movement

Practitioner’s note: spiritual master, Amit Ray, once famously said that yoga is the poetry of movements; once you understand the grammar of yoga, you can write your poetry of movements. Quite the affirmation, indeed. Yet, yoga is more than just poetry – it’s art. To use an analogy: the painter shall craft with physical utensils, whilst the yogi shall craft with his physical body. But imagine a craft where the ocean is one’s canvas, the body one’s brush, and its movement the paint. Yes, the surf yoga aesthetic. Let us divulge.

Yoga Surf

Surf Yoga: The Artistic Connection

In layman’s terms: Surf Yoga is a converging of two ancient art forms – surfing and yoga. Here we trade yoga mat for surfboard, and studio for ocean. And the method of practice? Answer: the surf yogi will synchronize the human physicality with the natural syntax of the waves; the practitioner’s movement is aligned with the breath – Sanskrit traditionalists call this the state of Vinyasa – and the physical body flows in symmetric synthesis with the ocean. Connoisseurs in the discourse of fine arts will often articulate on the elements of craft: balance, rhythm, and unity. And these very elements are the source of Surf Yoga, too. You see, the surf yogi practitioner functions as an architect, sculpting his physicality – with moment-to-moment finesse – to create a poetical movement; some may say the physical body becomes analogous to the grandeur of an iceberg. Indeed, to quote Ernest Hemingway: “The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.” The same applies here. You see, the museum of Surf Yoga is the coastal landscape. And, naturally, there are many spectators who appreciate this aesthetic – poetical movement. But the true vantage point is reserved for the practitioner, for it is he who senses the native mastery of the human spirit. To clarify: the visual angle of Surf Yoga is all but a fraction of the artistic circle.

Surf Yoga: Cognitive Theory

The surf yoga aesthetic is an esoteric art. Perhaps even more so for those inhabiting the Northern Hemisphere; alas, cool ocean temperatures render it a seasonal practice – let’s exclude the brave, here! I digress. Candidly speaking: Man is a perennial theoretician; it is through cognitive availability that he deciphers foreign material – psychologists call this the availability bias. To the contrary: the surf yoga sphere is the antithesis of this – it is mastered (read: understood) through practice, not theory. There are other aesthetics to reference here. Case in point: Stanislavski’s system. Perhaps, Jean Benedetti, said it best: “The Stanislavski system is not an abstraction; it is an activity and a practice.” To infer: “Anyone who imagines that the system will yield results through a purely intellectual, detached comprehension of its basic ideas will be disappointed.” Indeed, one can apply this methodology to Surf Yoga, too. In Surf Yoga terminology: be on the wave.

The Surf Yogic Code: Ethics and Values

The surf yoga practitioner comes from a school of thought that advocates the conservation of our oceanic environment. Indeed, it is surf yogic etiquette – law, even – to practice compassion towards marine biodiversity; there’s a collective duty to sustain the ecosystem that supports their art. After all, the ocean is their canvas. But what happens when this natural canvas becomes painted with sewage sludge? De facto: marine scientists report that 60% of our oceans have been degraded. Perhaps it’s time to offend a few people: anthropogenic activity is polluting our marine.

What we know

The progression of aquaculture: from 1950 to 2012, the world’s wild fish harvest climbed from 19 million tons to 90 million tons, (U.N Food and Agriculture Organisation, 2012).

Plastic pollution: oceanographers have forecast that there is 315 billion pounds of plastic waste in the ocean. In the pacific, plastic outweighs plankton by a ratio of 6:1, (Algalita Marine Research Institute, 2002).

Ocean acidification: approximately 25% of anthropogenic CO2 emissions are absorbed by the ocean. What this creates is acidic conditions, impacting marine biota and human food sources, (Calderia and Wickett, 2003).

The point here is to articulate the discourse that marine scientists have been broadcasting for the last few decades: biochemical changes to the aquatic environment will mean a uninhabitable ocean, for marine species, by 2050. Alas, we’re talking less than 40 years, here. And it’s a bleak outlook for pseudo-marine forms, too – i.e., Surf Yogis. Urban pollutants – heavy metals, toxic gas, litter, and oil – are being discharged from storm drains and contaminating the ocean. What this creates is a proliferation of parasites, bacteria, and virus; an aquatic landfill is a breeding ground for disease – unsafe for Surf Yoga.

We’re at risk of entering rant territory, here – let us deviate. You see, the art of Surf Yoga is the endowment of stillness it frames, above the chaotic conditions beneath the ocean canvas. The merging of Man and nature. Let’s refer to an ancient verse: ‘Even amidst fierce flames the golden lotus can be planted,’ (courtesy of 16th century, Chinese poet, Wu Ch’Eng-En.) To give a modern interpretation: the lotus flower grows from muddy waters, and yet, its petals emerge unblemished and pure. And then there’s its stem – delicate and flexible; the very artistic components one speaks of in the discourse of poetical movement. Perhaps that’s the opulence of the lotus flower. And, why Indeed, it is this lotus flower that symbolises the classic masterpiece we call Surf Yoga.


Works Cited

Benedetti, J. (2004). Stanislavski: An Introduction. New York: Methuen Drama.

Calderia, K., Wickett, M. (2003). Oceanography: Anthropogenic carbon and ocean pH. Nature, vol. 425., pp. 365.

Moore, C., Moore, L., et al. (2001). A Comparison of Plankton and Plastic in The North Pacific Gyre. Marine Pollution Bulletin, vol. 42., pp. 1297-1300.

Pauly, Daniel, et al. (2011). Fishing Down Marine Food Webs. Science, vol. 3., pp. 860.

Robbins, J. (2010). The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World. San Francisco, CA: Conari Press.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Located near the ocean periphery, Riviera is a Health Innovations Coach; model; and correspondent in the discourse of nutrition, oceanology and surf performance research.
Edited by Jordan, Misagh, Sean Z, Jon Lisi.

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  1. Tara Bryan

    I attended one of the Yoga classes in November and it was such an uplifting experience. The diversity, energy and positivity in the room was truly memorable.

  2. Natasha

    A cheery read on a freezing day in Ireland!

    • Riviera Handley
      Riviera De TyTy

      I imagine you shan’t be praciting Surf Yoga in the Irish Sea, then!

  3. Always… spiritual experience combined with adventure in the wild is very impactful.

  4. W. Patel

    I am in my early 50s and started daily yoga practice with DVDs last year after having done classes sporadically over the past few years. It has simply changed my life. I feel better physically and mentally and now cannot imagine skipping it. (It even helps if I am hungover or headache-y) I know I am a complete cliche, but I am inspired by my Indian aunties who have continued daily practice into their 80s and 90s. They are bright, determined and healthy.

    • Riviera Handley
      Riviera De TyTy

      Thank you for sharing that anecdote. That’s some very inspiring aunts you have there, W.Patel. Keep up the practice.

  5. Cameron Blair

    Hooray for yoga for everybody! Om shanti 🙂

  6. The image reminds me of Max Dupain’s photos of beach acrobatics. There must be something about the liminal space between the land and the sea, the solid and the liquid, that makes positioning and strength appear all the more poetic, fluctuating and vulnerable.

  7. I think it’s appropriate that the article about yoga became something more holistic: beyond the practice of people to look at the environment off the mat. Oh what is yoga if not something to lend to our greater awareness? Thank you.

  8. Wow! I had no idea this existed! Thank you for writing such a sensible piece.
    I did want to ask about the heading this was filed under, though. When does physical exercise qualify as art? Evidently ballet, or any other dance form, is widely considered an art. But is athleticism in and of itself artistic? I don’t think the two things are diametrically opposed, but I wondered whether there’s something in particular about surf yoga that makes it artistic or poetic in a way that, perhaps, basketball is not. I’d be curious to hear more about the differences between the two concepts.

  9. This was a very interesting read, I’ve never heard of Surf Yoga so this was all new to me. Yoga alone on a mat, has potential to be poetic once you have found your groove and breath to follow through your practice. Most of the times yoga is held in a room with no windows and I’ve always wondered why yoga studios can’t be more open? Well Surf Yoga opens up completely. I can only imagine how beautiful and peaceful Surf Yoga must be and how truly poetic it must be; with nature in harmony and balance to your own heartbeat and breath.

  10. Very original topic! It was great read, and the images are breathtaking. Wish I could do that!

  11. sjendoubi

    I really love the artistic perspective taken on this new way to practice yoga. Great article!

  12. Wow! This sounds pretty amazing. I’ve been meaning to get back into yoga myself. The only problem I would find with this is that I can’t swim, so as long as the water was not shallow, there’d be no worries. Would pools substitute? Although I would assume oceans would be so much more spiritual, especially given my ancestral history. Thanks for sharing!

  13. I think this is revolutionary. Art can take many forms, and be displayed across many different canvases. I like the parallel between the artist’s physical tool, say a paint brush, and an artist’s physical body. Both can be used in new and refreshing ways. The ocean as the canvas, the body as the tool, and the movement (yoga) as the paint, is compelling. I could go on about the innovativeness of this parallel, but it is also worthy to note that the poetry analogy can be applied anywhere and to anything–as said in the newest iPod Air commercial, life is a poem, and you can contribute a verse (you decide the verse, whether that be ocean yoga, or a painting).

  14. I love how you expressed the ability a physical activity can be an art form. And comparing a person’s body to a paint brush and the ocean as the canvas was a great visual when paired with the picture below it. Great writing 🙂

  15. Rogue

    Makes me wish I lived closer to the water…this sounds amazing. I do yoga in a studio and one of my favorite practices is early in the morning. Nothing like beating the sun to wake up 😉

  16. Mary Awad

    I’ve never heard of this before and it sounds incredible. Very eye-opening article and such an interesting topic. What a wonderful way to express such energies. ANd the pictures look absolutely elegant. Thank you for writing this!

  17. Emaloo

    Wow I’d never heard of this type of yoga. I’ve seen yoga on the beach, but certainly never in the water. How interesting! This article definitely makes me want to check out surf yoga for myself. I loved how you compared yoga with architecture or one crafting/shaping their body. It not only gave for a nice image, but I believed summed up the purpose of yoga itself.

  18. I enjoyed your writing style for this one. The voice you chose read like the rhythmic rush of ocean waves — the kind of speech cadences I heard from a yogi while I closed my eyes and pumped my calves in downward dog.

    But quick question: while I get that surf yoga (and one could argue most kinds of physical practice) is best experienced in the first-person, rather than described, what do you mean when you say “yoga is more than just poetry – it’s art.” Huh?

  19. I really enjoyed this piece. I have been practicing yoga for four years now and I’d really like to try surf or paddle board yoga. I live in Michigan where the lake is our “ocean” of sorts. My goal is to try paddle board yoga, when the warm weather finally hits.

  20. Yoga is a life changing art. I also love that surf yoga embodies ecology into the mediation and flow of the body. Heal the body, heal the ocean. Not for everyone, I can imagine, but definitely a beautiful yoga form.

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