Cat Woods is a yoga and barre instructor based in Melbourne, Australia. She deeply loves both yoga and surfing and the endless pursuit of knowledge, skill, and fluidity in both.
This is the goal with yoga - to move on the mat, and off the mat, with a light step and an easy, relaxed movement. Not unlike a wave rolling into shore, or the slip of a surfboard across the peak of a wave. Light, confident, almost floating but also deeply grounded from the core to the earth.
The human body is made up of approximately 72 percent water. It is only natural that we should be drawn to the salty sea. It is only natural that we should like to move with rhythm, smooth and fluid poses, transitions and pace.
Yoga teaches that we are the same as the universe, the same as one another, all one with nature, energy, and atmosphere.
When we let go of the ego-directed thoughts, feelings, and perspective so inherent to our lives here and now, we can connect to the deepest truth: that we are all harmoniously existing as one body, one energy, one creation. Uni: one. Verse: song. One song, one world: Uni Verse.
Out on the water, it is easy to release the restrictions of time and self. The illusion of still water, peaceful quietude hides the fierce universe of marine life underneath the rippling surface.
Sharks, whales, rainbow shades of coral, slugs, snails, schools of multi-hued, slimy scaled fish of all shapes and sizes. But the ocean looks effortless - the tides carry on, the waves keep coming.
Just as it takes enormous strength, skill, practice and focus for a human body to ride a plank across vast swathes of water, so it takes strength, practice, and attentiveness to be skilled in yoga, dance, movement of any type.
The Italians have a word that defines the art of making a challenging skill look effortless: "sprezzatura." Nature has achieved this - constant life, death, rejuvenation, devastation and survival. It happens with grace like all systems.
There is a divine alchemy to the patterns in nature, water, human bodies. We can only really be at peace in our bodies and spirits when we cease fighting our natural desire to eat, move, express and live according to seasons, heat, cold, tides, storms, searing heat.
One of my favorite surf photos by Australian Ray Collins catches a breaking wave - eminently powerful and ferocious but heart-stoppingly beautiful. The shot can be found in "The Best of the Best: Australia's Greatest Surf photographers" (Hachette Australia). Collins is only one of Australia's most talented and surf-obsessed artists.
I go back to Taylor Steele's epic surf movie "Missing" featuring none other than Mick Fanning whenever I entertain any doubts over the ability of the ocean and humans within it to become one fluid, fierce and beautiful force. The byline is "When you disappear, the world becomes clear."
The same can be said of yoga. According to the translation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Sutra 1.20: Sraddha - Virya - Smrti - Samadhi - Prajna - Purvakah - Itaresam), the five stages of freedom pursued by yogis are Faith, Vigor, Memory, Complete Absorption and Discernment.
Experience freedom through faith, embody it and live it. Whether rolling out a yoga mat or paddling out into the sea, be carried and be pummeled, rise and drop below the surface but most of all, keep surfing, keep moving, stay graceful. Stay light on the earth.