When I got back from Murano, the thing I most wanted to do was yoga with my nurturing teacher, Anita. It felt so good to be back, focusing on form, breathing, and the meditation that comes with Shavasana. Despite my efforts to focus, I drifted off, thinking back to my first time surfing, and it’s connection to my favorite form of meditation and exercise – yoga. It inspired me to share an excerpt from my book, Manifesting Paradise:
December 22, 2011. This year we popped over to Maui for a few days during the girls’ holiday break. It’s just one island over – inexpensive as Hawai‘i vacations go. The girls wanted surfing lessons as their Christmas gift, but they were hesitant unless a parent went along. Much like the horseback riding adventure last year, I “won the toss.”
Paying $25 extra, we bought a private lesson, and got lucky with our instructor Johnny, a young surfer with a patient, “you can do it” attitude. With his blond hair sticking out of his red cap, broad smile and confidence, he easily won us over. We were excited to start. Well, the girls were excited. I was apprehensive until I saw I could use my yoga training.
We started practicing with a board on dry land. As Johnny demonstrated the moves, I translated each one into yoga. First, assume Plank position to situate yourself onto the back end of the board. Lie down, paddle, turn around and face shore. When the wave feels right, paddle hard, then follow through with an Up-dog. Pull your knees forward and plant your foot forward firmly, as if you were about to do a Warrior Lunge.
Quickly plant your back foot at a 45° angle and rise up into Warrior Two. Now ride the wave to shore! If you begin to fall assume the Shavasana position to create a big surface area and break the fall on the water’s surface, rather than on the coral beneath. With that tutorial and the confidence I gained from relating surfing to yoga, I was ready to surf.
My younger daughter went first. She was a natural. Having danced ballet for many years, she has good form and excellent balance. She scrambled up and coasted to shore.
Her older sister went next. With the confidence of her natural athletic abilities, she nimbly stood and rode her wave. While I waited for my turn, I pondered what the hell I was doing, and cursed my hubris. What’s an almost 60-year-old doing on a surf board? I was tired just paddling out there! Thankfully, Johnny chose a fat, old, stable board for a fat, old, unstable broad.
I said a quick prayer to God that I wouldn’t break any bones, then readied myself. Johnny talked to me calmly and confidently as we waited for the right wave. When it came, he shoved my board and I was off. I paddled, did the Up-dog, pulled myself into a kneeling position . . . and froze.
But I rode my wave to shore, smiling all the way. I didn’t even get my hair wet, for which Johnny congratulated me when I paddled back out.
Next time, I again pulled into the kneeling position, but saw a child directly in my path. I quickly executed the technique Johnny taught us; look away and your board will follow you in that direction. It worked! I didn’t collide with the boy and made it to shore without wetting my hair or my pants! No Shavasana needed. Johnny congratulated me on avoiding the collision.
With my third wave, I planted my front foot in the lunge position. But that took me so long, I landed on shore before I could do any more.
Paddling back out, I felt exhausted. It dawned on me that this would have to be my last wave. When I told Johnny, he said we’d try something different. He instructed me to start in the kneeling position to give me more time to stand before I reached shore.
He gave me a strong shove, and with the resolve that came from knowing this was my last chance, I pulled my front foot forward, planted my back foot and stood up. WAHOO, I was surfing!! Look at me! I’m surfing! It wasn’t pretty or graceful, but it was exhilarating: the wind in my face, the approaching shoreline, and my family cheering me. I was grateful when the wave petered out near shore and I stepped off the board, dizzy and disoriented, but hair dry to the very end!
Triumphantly, I dragged my board up the beach, where I collapsed near my husband and put my glasses on. Now I could see the girls more clearly as they gracefully cruised into shore.
When the lesson ended we had high fives all around. It’s a sweet, proud memory, and I’ve crossed one more thing off my bucket list. But I would not have made it without the yoga I learned from my dear teachers. The muscle memory was there. And my teachers were there, too, cheering me on inside my head.
Yoga has taught me breathing, meditation, balance, core strength, flexibility and patience. Well, I’m still working on patience. But now I can say it taught me surfing, too. Call me Surfer Girl. (End of reprint.)
This essay is dedicated to my three yoga mentors: Alice Stevens (my teacher 1987-2000), Shahadah Fredericks (my teacher 2001 – 2011), and Anita Stith (my teacher 2009 – present).
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