At first glance, you would say that surfing is extroverted. Your senses have to be tuned to the external environment — for example, my eyes are constantly scanning the horizon for that first darkening hint of blue, which would mean a wave is coming. And, as much as some people would say that surfing is in individual sport, there is a quite a social aspect to it. When we are waiting for waves, the natural tendency is just to chat with the person sitting next to you. Over the years, surfing has made me quite a bit more extroverted, meaning that it has become easier for me to start a conversation with someone I’ve never seen before (a sure sign that I’m an introvert), share a joke or two, have a good laugh.
I think of sunny days when the waves are mellow, maybe only 2 to 3 feet, the water is warm, and conversations are everywhere. Or those serene and glassy mornings, when I paddle out for dawn patrol, and see the familiar crew of faces over the 13 years I have surfed at my favorite break. You get to know folks after a while. Sometimes the conversations are similar to those in the shala — we ask about each other’s kids, commiserate about the busyness of life, remark on how pleasant (or unpleasant) the weather is. But surfers can also be quite a garrulous and rowdy bunch, something which my rebellious side likes very much! There are days when curse words abound and lively stories of hangovers or crazy deeds float through the lineup. “Aw, yeah, I’m trying to get over my hangover from last night!” was something I heard this morning. I had to say it made me smile…hey, I’m not the only one! Then, when a big wave approaches, someone inevitable will yell, “Outside!” All the chatter stops and the frantic paddling begins!
In yoga it is quite different. It is quiet in the shala, punctuated only with the resonant sound of Ujjayi breath, perhaps a cue here or there from Andrew (our teacher). We line up our yoga mats neatly, and though it is a physical practice, our focus is purely internal with the focus of breath and drishti. And that’s the other thing — in surfing, I’m constantly moving and strategizing, jockeying for position, always keeping my eye out for others who might be trying to out-position me when a good wave comes. But in yoga, you pick your place and that’s it. All the movement is really inside your mind…as I try to breathe through difficult postures, I don’t notice what is around me as much as what is going on inside of me, mentally, physically (my back hurts!! ow!! with kapotasana) and emotionally (here am I again! why? why? what’s my problem?? with tic tocs).
The energy in yoga feels different…silent, yet full and rich…sometimes it has a tinge of anxiety, sometimes it is full of good energy from all the folks focused on practice. Mostly it is quiet; in Ashtanga, we are taught to focus on our internal experience, to draw our gaze inward. But through practice, I’ve gained a bit of confidence and I’d say that yoga has made me more extroverted too. The conversations are different — less about hangovers and crushes and who did what crazy thing or crazy silly jokes in the lineup (years ago one of my female surfing friends screamed out the word “Vagina!!” repeatedly and effectively scared off all the men from the inside corner of our line up)…but more gentle, focusing on feelings, technique, and what comes up when we come up against a very difficult posture.
Silliness and craziness aside, though, surfing can take you into an internal space although the route is external. It’s that wonderful feeling you have, after being out in the salt water, thinking about that last beautiful wave you had, or a meanginful interaction/conversation you had with a friend in the line up. And for all the internal focus in yoga, you can’t help but to reach out and connect with those that you see everyday, sharing stories about what certain poses bring up for us, and just sharing a bit from our personal lives.
Jung talks about the numinous — something which can be beautiful and terrifying at the same time, something that carries an immense power, something to which we are inexplicably drawn. The waves and the yoga practice open doors to the numinous for me, and for a lot of others as well, I am sure. And in this unique place, extroversion and introversion intersect; we reach out to the external, and we connect with the internal.