Surfer-writer-adventurer Jaimal Yogis brings mindfulness to his outdoor passions.
Surfing requires both patience and hypervigilance to the changing landscape of the ocean. Most of surfing is waiting. “To catch a wave takes so much energy and time. Very little time surfing is spent riding a wave. It’s spent waiting to catch a wave. It’s similar to fishing,” says Jaimal Yogis. “So much of it is in the setup. That setup is a meditation on its own.” Yogis equates mindfulness to that same waiting. When difficult emotions strike, a mindful person can truly ride through the wave.
Yogis has written three books on surfing and mindfulness: Saltwater Buddha, All Our Waves Are Water, and his latest, a children’s book called Mop Rides the Waves of Life.
“We challenge ourselves … regardless if it’s painting or golf because it puts us out of our comfort zone,” he says. He decided to surf Mavericks, a massive wave in Northern California, even though it was beyond his ability level at the time.
“I think it would have been very irresponsible to just say, ‘Well, I feel really anxious and afraid of surfing Mavericks, but I’m just going to do it because fear is just in my mind,’” says Yogis.
Mavericks is genuinely dangerous and has claimed the lives of accomplished surfers. Yogis listed all his specific fears: “fear of losing my board a mile out to sea, fear of being held down too long and running out of air, and so on.”
“The ones I could train for, I did,” he says. “This methodical way of identifying fears and preparing for them can be applied to everyday life. We fear that when we give our fears names, we are giving them power. Instead, we are giving the power to ourselves to overcome them.”
Of course, not every variable can (or should) be prepared for. Sometimes, great white sharks are spotted near Mavericks, but worrying about them does no good; whether or not a shark is in the water is out of the control of the surfer.
Yogis crossed out these fears: “Letting go of the weight of things we cannot control will lighten us to truly be able to move forward through our fear.”
There is also the fear of failing. Like all emotions, it comes with a choice. “You can choose to go into the thoughts of ‘I’m a lousy surfer’ or ‘I feel frustrated,’” he says. “Or you can just say ‘What did I do wrong? What can I do better?’ It’s about mindset. The best way to learn is through reframing mistakes as learning opportunities.” In this mindset, failures are opportunities to learn, to fail forward.
Yogis coaches children on mindfulness in his latest book, using the metaphor of emotions passing like waves. “Mindfulness is a catchall term for awareness, and what I’ve noticed in young children is they’re super-aware already,” says Yogis.
Children feel their emotional highs and lows very intensely and act out because they’re so caught up in those feelings. “The issue is that children are often taught in school how to behave—not how to understand the landscape of their emotions and the importance of understanding why they are angry or sad.”
Humans have a very intuitive connection to water. “The ocean surface is so complex; it stimulates the brain like nothing ever does. Parts of your brain get massaged that don’t normally. That’s why we feel so at peace in the ocean and nature.” Yogis proposes a simple mantra for times of trouble: “I am the ocean; I let the waves pass through me.”
BOOK PICKS FROM JAIMAL YOGIS
“My go-to that I read over and over again is Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. It’s a series of his lectures, and I love the simplicity of it. Peace Is Every Step by Nhat Hanh is the first mindfulness book I ever read as a teenager. I’ll pick it up and read a page every now and again, and it feels like it cuts through and gets back to basics so well. Even after 20 years of meditating every day, I find his teachings so grounding.”