The health and fitness industry has become so lucrative it’s hard to know who and what to believe sometimes. We are regularly fed with advertisement upon advertisement, aimed at luring us into the most current fad diet, the latest exercise routine and the hottest activewear, all promising us a perfectly working body. But what really is a perfectly working body? How can we keep our bodies moving and grooving with ease?
Surfing every day has kept me in pretty decent shape. For the most part, surfing is an incredible way to engage and work all the core muscle groups in the body. It’s a great low impact and high endurance activity that will keep you trim when you clock up all that water time.
I can honestly say I have learned most of my valuable life lessons through injuries. They always come with an uncertainty of being able to surf again or even just surf as well as I did before. The disciplined road to recovery has taught me to feel what my body is going through. Once you start listening to your body you’ll learn how to re-tune your movements and make your way toward a life free from injury.
At nearly 36 years old I’m still pushing my performance on a variety of crafts and counting on my body to keep up. Naturally, that has lead me down many different health and fitness roads. Trying to benefit from certain training techniques or specialized diets has worked in some cases. For example, my paddling would improve or I’d find more power in my turns when focusing on specialized routines. But, the key I have found through all of this has been to maintain total body movement whilst never compromising strength.
What I’m getting at here is that physical agility always comes first in surfing, as it also benefits you the same way in other sports. We begin the movement learning process from the time we are babies. We learn to roll over onto our chests and from there we learn to crawl. We begin to pull up and climb up things as we increase our range of movement. By doing this, we are constantly adding to the increasing data of muscle memory that is controlled and fired by the motor cortex, located in the dorsal precentral gyrus in the frontal lobe of our cerebral cortex. Eventually, we begin to walk, run, dance, surf and more. The learning never stops, but our daily rituals and habits from child to adult form repetitive movement patterns.
Many of these movement patterns form the building blocks of our days, from running to catch the bus, to smaller motions like brushing your teeth. But some repetitive movement patterns that, for the most part are positive and crucial for muscle memory growth, can start to create problems over time.
Repetitive movements in the body like paddling with a hyper extended back or surfing with the same foot forward can lead to muscular tensions and limiting a muscle’s range of movement. The same can be said of everyday chores like hunching at the sink while washing up, staring down at your phone or sitting askew on the sofa.
It’s incredibly important that we learn how to feel and listen to our body. The more we practice this the more attuned we become. We can learn to create a virtual map of our bodies and constantly keep a watchful eye on how we are feeling, both emotionally and physically. By becoming aware of these things, we can access information to monitor our movement patterns accordingly. For example, if we surf a lot, the motion of paddling causes tension in the shoulders and upper back, causing shoulders to fall forward. Similarly, if we suffer any emotional stress, our shoulders have the tendency to fall forward to protect the heart. Noticing these subtle changes allows us to maintain our total body movement.
This is one of the core teachings of yoga. It teaches us to listen to our bodies, our emotions, our actions and how that resonates with the world around us.
Using breathing techniques and meditations that quiet the mind, we start from a present state of awareness that allows us to reconnect with our bodies and the way we are feeling. From there, we can move through specific Asanas (poses) that awaken, trigger and work certain muscle groups to address these imbalances that hinder our total body movement.
Awareness is a great word to sum up what the practice of yoga can bring to your overall health and fitness. By constantly observing ourselves with the ability to apply simple changes and practices to our daily lives we can think, feel and move with greater confidence and clarity, all while knowing that we are taking steps to prevent loss of movement that would ultimately lead to discomfort, pain and injury. After all, prevention is key.