The Healing Power of Yoga and Surfing: An Interview with Brett Lehr
“I gain this vibrant vision, enhanced senses, a calming and understanding that everything is right where it belongs and will be okay. It’s a magical feeling that has brought me to beautiful energetic vibrations and self realization in this life. It’s like a rebirth every time and gives me that comfort that I have always been looking for. It saves me from me and also serves everyone I come into contact with. It makes me a better human.” –Brett Lehr
Brett Lehr is a yogi and fellow surfer who I became friends with while working at a local yoga studio and vegan cafe some years back. Our connection was immediate and natural based on our love of surfing, good music, laughs and a freshly squeezed green juice.
I recently met with Brett as he agreed to share his yoga practice with us, along with a bit of his personal story: from turmoil to triumph, Brett found solace and inspiration in the practice of yoga and surfing to help him overcome drug addiction.
Now he will be sharing his story of hope in an upcoming in-depth book, with the hopes of helping others overcome their own obstacles on the way to the joyous and healthy life they deserve.
Read on to learn more about Lehr’s personal thoughts on surfing, yoga, recovery and the light he found at the end of the tunnel – and wishes to share with the world.
Zappo: How did you initially get turned onto surfing and what were your early years like in the water?
Lehr: I was raised in a small town deep in the beautiful south Jersey woods. When I was growing up, my family and I would take summer vacations, renting a shore house in Sea Isle City, NJ. I started to body board as a kid and loved the feeling I got when cruising down a wave, seeing the water flowing past me and how it felt on my fingertips. I soon started to stand up on my body board and the transformation began. My first board was a 6’1” Byrne thruster with fluorescent graphics down the sides, with an intense rocker. This is what I saw the pros riding in my Surfer magazine, so I figured this was the board to get. I soon learned I would need a bigger board to learn the basics of surfing, so I picked up a nice 7’6” Stewart fun shape. I loved it! I dialed right in with that board. When I was younger I always hung out with the older crowd. Since they could drive, we would take road trips to Atlantic City and Ocean City, New Jersey, to go surf. We would call Surfers Supplies in Ocean City and get the wave report. We would proceed to cut school, stack the boards on the car, crank up the tunes and just cruise down the Atlantic City expressway. There were seven or eight of us, a bunch of kids from the Pine Barrens. We had no surf lessons, no mentors, but completely taught ourselves how to surf through videos, pictures, trial and error and learning from each other. We all shared this passion to surf and were always so amped and stoked when done with our ocean bonding. Some of my best memories are from that stage in my life. I loved and still to this day love the whole spiritual ritual of surfing and vibe that follows.
Zappo: Currently what types of boards, fin set-ups, and shapes, are you enjoying?
Lehr: I’m always stoked to take out my 9’ noserider with my 10.25” hatchet fin when the waves are chill. But lately, my go-to board has been my locally shaped Charles Mencel 6’8” retro single fin. The board has a beak nose, fat floaty rails and nicely pulled in pintail. The fin that has been working best for me in that board has been a 7” RFC with a slight rake, I mount it about halfway in the box. This board just tunes in with my style of surfing and is definitely my “gem board”. I asked Charles to use his artistic intuition when making this board and the design was based only on a verbal discussion we had. I was so pumped when I picked up the board, it was exactly what I envisioned. Every time I ride it I find a deeper vibe and understanding of the board, the wave and myself. Charles Mencel is a very receptive, in-tune human and talented, amazing shaper. Everyone should have a vessel made by him.
Zappo: Surfing and yoga are very complimentary activities on the physical, mental, and spiritual level. Tell me about some of your personal realizations when it comes to yoga and surfing.
Lehr: This is constantly changing for me, and one of the things I love about yoga and surfing is that they never get repetitive. After a surf or a yoga session, I’m so mellow and deeply connected, full of gratitude and tuned in. Its like a psychedelic experience for me. I gain this vibrant vision, enhanced senses, a calming and understanding that everything is right where it belongs and will be okay. It’s a magical feeling that has brought me to beautiful energetic vibrations and self realization in this life. It’s like a rebirth every time and gives me that comfort that I have always been looking for. It saves me from me and also serves everyone I come into contact with. It makes me a better human.
Zappo: How does the practice of yoga benefit surfing and how does surfing possibly benefit your yoga practice?
Lehr: They both serve each other so much and should no doubt be combined. Yoga definitely helps with physical flexibility, and a lot of the movements/postures are very similar to surfing. Yoga helps most with gaining sensitivity to both your inner and outer environment. You learn how to stay calm and focused, and you can read the energy of your surroundings better. I find it to be like a meditation when you’re sitting on your board waiting for the next set. You become more receptive, which leads to a better connection with your board and the wave. Also, your decisions are more fluid and spontaneous. I could say surfing does the exact same thing for my yoga practice. Anyone who practices yoga for awhile realizes that there are increasing levels of subtlety to explore. There is the flow of your breathing, the opening of energetic blocks, the unfolding of third eye visions, and the releasing of trapped emotions. These all need to be navigated with skill and sensitivity, much like the art of riding a wave. My yoga teaching has benefited so much from surfing, as well. When I teach a class after surfing, there’s a huge difference in my energy, the way I move and talk, and the way people respond. The energy opens up and vibrates on a higher level. I think everyone benefits in a primal way from the energy of the ocean. It creates a magical blend of empowerment and humility, both of which are freeing.
Zappo: Do you consider the act of surfing a form of yoga, a way to unify with that which is “divine”?
Lehr: Yes, for sure I consider the act of surfing a form of yoga and also meditation. For me, the word “Divine” is difficult to really define. At times it seems like a feeling of love, or appreciation, a deep internal bliss and soul comfort. But I think I could sum it up as simply enjoying what’s in front of me. Giving my energy to that “which is”. What I seem to be looking for, and what everyone else seems to be looking for, is to just “be here”, to be happy, tuned in, joyous and free. Surfing and yoga serve me in this way every time. And yes, I believe that feeling to be very “Divine”.
Zappo: There was a phase in your life that was marked with drug addiction and abuse. What was that struggle like and how did the practice of yoga help you regain and maintain your balance?
Lehr: Drug “addiction” or “abuse” is like a leisure insanity. It has so many social conditions to what it “is” and can take on multiple forms and levels. Its something that NO ONE can imagine unless they are in it. I’m currently in the process of documenting those experiences, including the healing process. And it’s definitely way too much to even attempt to explain here. One of the things I can say at this point is that even though I’m clean now, and surfing and yoga were the most important part of that, my thoughts on my past are not black and white. There’s an interesting balance that I have to strike when I think about my past. On one hand, I have to get clear that my past behavior is not acceptable and old learned behaviors must be changed. The fact is, I’m still coming to terms with the ways in which my actions led to my own suffering and the suffering of my loved ones. This has been the hardest part for me, dealing with how I hurt very special people in my life. It can take a form of almost being possessed and when certain drugs are in your body I do believe we become completely powerless. Drugs will always do what they promise and most drugs will always promise you pain, misery and suffering. Healing from this is a continuous process that requires a lot of vulnerability and honesty. I’m always available to talk to anyone that is looking for a way out or maybe just needs to vent. On the other hand, I have to be clear that my past is perfect. Not only because it led me to where I am right now, but also because it gives me deeper insight into the spiritual path that’s most natural for me, and what my unique talents are. We all have a true purpose and are constantly finding our individual creature and tribal ways. I’ve taken my ability to create a comfortable space for myself and others to experience altered states of consciousness and have transferred it into the realm of yoga practice and teaching. I feel very blessed when I experience “pain body”, or suffering, because it helps me to serve others and myself in a deeper state. I believe most “healers” experience this shamanic process of suffering and then finding deeper consciousness. Overall, it’s a beautiful gift that has enabled me to appreciate the littlest of things and not worry about anything, really. But you don’t have go deep into drugs to find this. My purpose now is to help as many humans as I can because during my addiction I hurt many.
Zappo: You are currently working on a book, what is the basic idea behind the book and what are your hopes for it once it’s published?
Lehr: I have a friend, Dan Abbott, who is also a yoga instructor. He and I talk about all kinds of things, including some of the stories from my past. One day he told me that these stories are worth writing down, that people would be interested and would benefit from hearing about my life story. My father, Dennis, has always said the same thing to me, so I knew that this was something I had to do. We decided to collaborate on a book that outlines my life journey. Dan’s a great writer and is going to help me with the book (you can read some of his stuff at his website www.KalaPravinyaYoga.com). We’ve been working on it steadily over the past months, and it’s has been a very intense process.
The basic idea is to tell my story in an honest way that will hopefully be relevant to all kinds of people, regardless of their background. It describes my life from childhood till the present day and will involve everything I went through in a “tell all” book, including the battles of drug addiction, some very intense stories, the healing powers of yoga, the ocean and surfing and my many geographical changes, etc. The process of remembering, writing, and talking to Dan continues to bring up more things and has been very powerful in my “finding of self”. The story is still unfolding as I live each day and the ending will be known once we feel it’s done.
When it’s published, my hope is for people to be inspired not only to do yoga, but to understand on a deeper level, the value of understanding their own nature or creature in this lifetime. And ultimately, it’s all a reflection of myself. It’s me who needs healing. That I know. But there’s something powerful about sharing the process. It takes only one person to be transparent and vulnerable to allow others to feel permission to do the same. And healing isn’t possible without vulnerability. If the book takes off then it might lead to more opportunity to reach more people through yoga and talks. I’m so grateful to have met so many amazing and inspiring people in the Jersey Shore area. I can only imagine how it would feel to be able to work with people all over the world.
Zappo: Who are some of your mentors and people you look to for inspiration be it in yoga, surfing, etc.?
Lehr: I heard a quote one time that has always stuck with me and is my favorite saying, “Everyone is your mirror”. I believe every person that is put in front of me in this life is my mentor, my teacher, a kind of guru. I find inspiration from my students at Summertime Surf camp.They don’t care what the waves are like or what they are riding. They just love the beach and being in the ocean. That’s what it’s really all about, to be stoked no matter what. But it is a beautiful thing when it’s head high and tubing for sure! I am also inspired by the local surfers and all involved in the art of yoga around me. As far as people in the “spotlight” or masters of their craft…Anthony Kiedis for his music talents and style and commitment to staying clean; Dharma Mittra for his radiant love, childlike playfulness, yoga teachings and message that is very calming; Jim Morrison for his music, poetry and “no filter” attitude; Bruce Lee for his dedication, commitment, style and art of the body; Gerry Lopez for his yoga teachings, epic surf style and kind spirit; Trent Reznor for his amazing composing of music, his sound and lyrics; Rob Dyrdek for his big heart, business hustle and always having a fun attitude towards this life; Dave Rastovich for his conservation towards the earth and wildlife, and surf style, of course. But mainly, whomever is in front of me.
Zappo: Last year you went to Mexico for a surf and yoga related trip, do you have anything planned for this upcoming year in the way of travel?
Lehr: I have nothing planned as of now. I would love to travel to Nicaragua for my next surf journey. My intentions right now are to stay around the Jersey Shore and share my yoga, Thai yoga massage, work on my book and surf the empty winter lineups. Currently, I’m also working on putting together a surf and yoga retreat. My website, luvlifeyoga.com has all of my recent updates and schedule.
Zappo: Describe your last surf session.
Lehr: A chill longboard sesh with knee to stomach high waves, super light offshore wind. Constant sun on my face, 55 degrees outside and water temp 51. Only three other people out with great vibes and everyone trading off wave after wave. Each ride you would take right to the jetty and then the rip would just take you right back out with about six fluid paddles. At one point, I looked up and noticed hundreds of birds riding a thermal and it was so peaceful to just lay back on my board and watch this silent display of natural art. It was just a no rush to go in and no rush to get out perfect surf session. As I was getting out there were lots of families on the beach (I’m guessing because yesterday was Thanksgiving). Kids were playing, dogs were running around and I had a great ten minute conversation about surfing with a family from Boston. It felt good to share the stoke with people who don’t surf, but really appreciate your craft. Then I levitated back home to my hot shower.
Zappo: Last words of wisdom, shout outs or thanks?
Lehr: Be nice to your fellow humans. Don’t judge others. Stay away from social conditioning. Don’t be disrespectful in the water. Always hoot a stranger’s wave. Enjoy what’s in front of you , you may never see it again. Everything is always right where it belongs. Shout outs and Respect to Dan Abbott for his friendship, artistic ways and helping the humans. All the yogis, yoga teachers and studios in the Jersey Shore area for spreading the healing vibes. Charles Mencel of Mencel Surfboards (Manasquan, NJ) for giving us all beautiful creations to surf and tune in with. All the local Jersey surfers especially of Belmar for allowing me to be part of the tribe – Charlie Van Der Linde, The McGillis crew, Beach Marshall Wolfy, Shaun McGrath and the Summertimesurf.com family. And to you, Shawn Zappo, for your inspiring surf abilities, creative mind, amazing articles and dedication to bringing true beauty to everyone’s individual self through your interviews and writing. My epic family for always believing in me and standing by me through my journey. When I think of my family, I feel like one of the luckiest men alive. If I didn’t have them, I would have never gotten to this point. Remember we all have the power to change, help others, modify our behaviors, find our true creatures and become a beautiful being of energy. Please contact me to get into the healings of yoga, Thai yoga massage, or just to talk or vent. I’m here for you. The time is now, Right Now. Om…
Contact Brett Lehr: firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Brett Lehr: luvlifeyoga.com
All photos: Christor Lukasiewicz
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