One way or another John Donahoe, a 60-something yoga teacher, has been in search of waves since he was 12 years old. His passion for surfing was actually the catalyst that inspired this life long athlete to give up endurance sports and weight lifting when he was 50 and give yoga a try.
Why? To surf better. It worked. He won the Grand Legends division of the East Coast Surfing Championships in 2013 and 2014. Along with the wins he developed a passion for yoga. Hitting it hard, eventually becoming a yoga teacher, and these days you can find him teaching yoga at Integral Yoga Institute and surfing at the local beaches, especially Long Beach Long Island or Jersey Shore, and combining his two passions for a retreat in Costa Rica this fall.
Yoga City's Dar Dowling caught up with John between waves, to find out more about how yoga and surfing can make a perfect team.
Dar Dowling: Why do you think yoga and surfing complement each other?
John Donahoe: Simply put yoga develops flexibility – and the more flexible you are the better you surf. When you look at great surfers you can see that they often have a natural flexibility which helps them in the water. It helps them flow with the waves, because no wave is the same and to be able to adapt to what the ocean throws at you – you have to be flexible.
Developing your paddling is also huge for a surfer – and the more yoga I did the longer I could stay out and not be in pain the next day, which was huge for me. I found that yoga developed my strength in a more flexible way, so I could surf better.
I did lots of strength training and it never helped my paddling because it was very muscle specific; when you're working your shoulders in yoga you're also working your core, so its all encompassing. It's funny, I've studied and worked at Integral Yoga for years and only just realized why its called Integral yoga – yoga integrates my whole body so its strong and flexible.
DD: Is surfing a meditative practice for you?
JD: All you're thinking about is the ocean, which is a symbol of life. There is a meditative aspect of it that I find hard to explain. I am convinced that when you surfing you're feeling the oceans energy, or prana, moving through the board, through your feet, and into your whole body. Giving you the same energy that you get from tai chi, yoga or any kind of energy practice. Once you feel a wave its addictive, you want more. There is a real sense of joy you get from riding a wave.
DD: What first drew you to yoga?
JD: After my 1st trip to Costa Rica for my 50th birthday my shoulders were so tight I was worried about how I was going to keep surfing. When I came back I had to make a change so I took a yoga class, and after my first class I felt the effects. I gave up all resistance and endurance training, which I had been doing since my 20's to stay in shape for surfing, and decided to focus on yoga. I started taking yoga all over the city, and the more yoga I did the more I got drawn in.
Frankly I couldn't get enough of it, and practiced for 5 or 6 years going from yoga studio to yoga studio – and I was surfing better at 60 than I did at 55. After seven years at a student I zeroed in on Integral Yoga institute, as being “the” place I wanted to practice. I took the teacher training as a way to deepen my practice and along the way discovered that I love teaching yoga. After basic training I took the intermediate and advanced training's, as well as the training for Cardiac Yoga. All of which not only helped me go deeper into yoga but also helped me learn more about myself.
DD: You have a surfing and yoga retreat coming up in the fall – can anyone go? Or do you have to be a seasoned yogi and surfer?
JD: Anyone can come even if you've never surfed before. We are going to Nosara in Costa Rica, a beach town that is a hot bed of yoga and surfing. The beach is so adaptable for any level of experience, so its great for beginners and experienced surfers and anyone in between. Experienced surfers will become better surfers, and if you never been on a board before you will get the thrill of riding a wave.
People who come will get a deeper understanding of their yoga practice due to the fact that Swami Ashokananda will be teaching yoga every day. He is one of the coolest guys you're ever going to meet, because he has been a yogi since his teens and is totally absorbed with yoga. He is a super chill guy – and he has never surfed, so I have promised him that he will stand up and ride a wave!
To find out more about the retreat, which happens from October 31- November 7th (butyou have to sign up before September 1st ) Check out the Integral Yoga Institute website for more information and to find out more about John, click here.