WAVES OF LIGHT: Yogi and Surfer Lisa Brodrick Shares Yoga in Africa
“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all of your thoughts break their bonds. Your mind transcends limitations; your consciousness expands in every direction; and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive and you discover yourself to be a greater person than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”
At my local break there are a good amount of female surfers, sometimes on a good summer’s day, outnumbering the male population in the water. These fellow surfers come from a variety of lifestyle backgrounds, age ranges, and skill levels. What I’ve noticed over the past five years with the insurgence of more and more woman in the water is the undeniable distinct vibration these human beings bring to the line up. As a male, especially a guy my age who started surfing in the 1980s, through the influence of competitive surfing and the industry’s portrayal of “surfing”, I can’t help but feel I was led astray. Surfing, as I can remember from my earliest experiences, was presented as a “survival of the fittest” and aggressive pursuit by nature. Sadly, I held onto this distorted belief and approach for many years.
Women, by nature, bring a more loving and gracious energy to the realm of surfing. This energy reverberates throughout the surfing world and creates a paradigm for surfing as a service, instead of an activity of acquisition and selfishness. Surfer and Yogi, Lisa Broderick, is a representation of this exciting light that is being shed to reveal the soul of surfing. The very soul that had been buried under numerous ads by large corporations and the packaging they sold surfing to us in for years, is reemerging and I personally feel women are at the forefront of ushering it forth.
Most recently, Lisa traveled to South Africa to share the practice of Yoga with young people that live in conditions of poverty and struggle many of us could never imagine. The transformation that took place for these young people is beyond inspirational and is a testament to the power of the the human spirit.
Read on to find out more about Lisa’s trip to Africa and her own unique story of surfing, yoga, struggle, and triumph.
When did you start surfing and what are the earliest experiences you can recall riding waves?
As long as I can remember, the ocean has been a home for me. Throughout my life, I have had this recurring dream where I am speeding below the surface. I move in this flow with no need for air and feel like I could stay there forever.
As a child I grew up in many different places. My mother came to the United States as an exchange student from Argentina. She worked hard and has lived what you call the “American Dream” of building herself up and creating a life for her children. Consequently, my early years were spent between the U.S. and Argentina. I would play along the Rio Parana in Argentina with my cousins. We would take this tiny motorboat from the 70’s (which we still use) and a pair of sketchy water skis from the 70’s (which we all still use) and throw each other around. My cousins would try to make me fall, and while the current took me down river, they would ride around me, teasing about the piranhas while howler monkeys would scream from across the river in Paraguay. Then I would fold up these adventures, just as I would put the soles of my little feet in my shoes, returning to Sea Bright, NJ. I would spend hours getting tossed in white water on my boogie board or climbing in and around the seawall while my mom worked at the Peninsula House. From a young age I became very independent and had a broader cultural perspective.
What was your first surfboard and what are you riding now?
My first board was an 8’0” fun shape from Eastern Lines. Surfing was foreign to my family, and I certainly didn’t know any women that surfed. I was totally overwhelmed and intimidated the first time I set foot in a surf shop. This was some time before I could drive, because I would ride my bike and linger around Sunset Landing in Asbury Park. Finally, one day, Donna (one of the owners), told me to come back after they closed and she drove me to Eastern Lines in Belmar. I was so proud of buying myself that first board and was so grateful to be empowered to surf by another woman. After college, when I decided to up and drive to California, I sold that board at Island Style to pay for gas. That was a full circle moment, as Derf had been friends with my mom and knew me as a little girl (he still talks about how I broke my arm on his monkey bars)- and there I was, all grown up. Eventually, I landed a job working as a teacher/naturalist on the North Coast in California. One of our fellow TN’s and seriously epic surfer, Ben Vanderhueval, shaped boards under our house in the Redwoods. He shaped me a thin, light 8’3”, which was my best friend out there in waves I had never seen before. We would head out to the Bodega, Dillon Beach or Salmon Creek and throw ourselves into it up there. It was a little hectic and quite beautiful.
In the past few months, I decided to sell some boards and an SUP to help support my project in Africa. Since it’s been months of moderate swell leading up to my trip, I decided to hold on to my 9’4” Murphy singlefin with really neat fluted wing shape on the tail. I love it because it moves so gracefully with me. However, I already have my eye on a 7’0” singlefin mini Brewer also by Murphy for when I return to New Jersey. I’m also holding onto a beautiful balsa 8’6” that I put a single rainbow cutaway fin in, the board was shaped by my friend Jesse of Soultree Surfboards. I’ve had it out only a couple of times in just the right conditions and it rides like butter.
Do you see a connection between yoga and surfing? Yoga at its roots is more than simply a physical activity- it is a spiritual pursuit- do you consider surfing a spiritual pursuit as well?
This is an interesting question. I can honestly say that yoga and surfing have given me the strength, courage and pure will to continue to live each day with the fierce determination to be aligned to what is in my heart and soul. A few years ago, there was a period of time where I found myself unable to do any physical yoga, let alone surf. I will always remember the moment that I was teaching a class and suddenly felt weakness and numbness in parts of my body. I went directly to the hospital where they did a scan of my brain. Prior to this day, there had been strange incidents including vertigo, but all these seemed isolated events. When the scan came back, I was told my immune system had attacked my brain and what they found was scarring or sclerosis. I was devastated. I was left with the question, “If my brain turned on me, if my personality ceased to exist, then who am I?”. There were days where it was all I could do just to walk my dog to the mailbox. I turned to holistic medicine, nutritional healing and meditation. For several months, I woke up early just to lie down and practice a guided mediation called yoga nidra for an hour. These practices have been very healing for me, and I am extremely grateful for my health and my strength. What I have realized from this time period is that I never stopped the yoga or surfing even lying in my bed. Getting slowly back on my mat and especially getting back in the water became a practice in humility and a tremendous lesson in allowing and self-acceptance.
Close your eyes. Who do you become? Ask yourself, are you still there? Now breathe in and breathe out. Simply observe. Listen to the breath, feel it and witness. Maybe your mind starts to think of a million things. This is what the mind does-we can live a million lifetimes just walking from the bed to the bathroom. Just continue to watch and breath. Perhaps eventually the mind is quiet enough for you to take in the lessons of the breath. The molecules in the air you are breathing are ancient and have been circulating since even before the beginning of time.
Perhaps you begin to feel the essence of the breath, and the life force called prana, moving through you, giving itself freely to you, sustaining you for as long as you are here. Soon outside judgments, outside views that have shaped who you think yourself to be, fade away… for the breath contains no culture, stereotype, language, race or sex. As this happens, a tremendous vastness opens within. Suddenly there is space for the expression of your true inner nature. The essence of your soul sings. Breathing becomes an act of true love. Moving your body in tune with the breath becomes an act of grace: honoring this love, honoring the spirit, honoring your nature. There is an awakening of the inner journey. And you are faced with the question: “Are you willing to give your heart permission to swell beyond the sky?” And whatever the answer is for you, you already know that it is shaping your life, your thoughts, your every move. For a moment, all pain and suffering fall away into a quiver of bioluminescence fading into the sea. And you cannot help but dedicate yourself to fiercely living inspired… in spirit.
This IS yoga. This IS surfing.
In essence, it is all very simple. We are already whole, holy… We just need to see ourselves that way. Those moments when you are in tune, everything connects in the water or on the mat- and you are in the flow, you remember who you really are.
Children are already closer to their source than we are as adults. Teaching children yoga is about joy and connecting in this way. For those whose lights may have dimmed due to their life circumstances, we simply become guides to help them remember how amazing they already are. This is why it is so important as a teacher to have your own practice. I am absolutely filled with joy when I hear children walk away singing yoga songs such as: “I am brave, I am bold, I am safe, I am strong… to my own spirit I belong.” In knowing the stories of some of the children I have worked with, it feels extraordinary to hear them sing such positive affirmations and know that empowerment can be so simple. As with adults, in children’s yoga we are sharing tools for life. The opportunity to do this is a gift.
You recently left for an extended stay in Africa- Where exactly are you staying and what is your mission there?
The mission itself is very simple: Come to South Africa, give children’s yoga teacher training to 40 Vochelli counselors that volunteer for Global Camps Africa (an organization that gives life skills, HIV educations and hope to some of Africa’s most vulnerable youths; servicing over 6,000 youths in the past 10 years) and stay on teaching alongside the Vochellis-as a Vochelli.
For the first part of the trip, I was staying in Johannesburg. These young adults made tremendous strides to come to the training from the Soweto and the other townships, showing up daily open and willing. For some of them, the food we provided during training was the only food they would have that day. Some are already living with HIV and have experienced the traumas of their culture: violence, rape, abuse and death. For some in the room, their friends are their only living family. Yet, these amazing humans are planning for their futures, trying to find themselves, their hopes and dreams. In a few words, I will say that the yoga brought up a lot for many. It became apparent from our check-in and personal conversations that the yoga had brought about a deep connection within themselves and inspired a hope to bring it to their community. Only two decades since the end of apartheid, I never dreamed that in a small way, yoga would approach racial and socioeconomic boundaries, boundaries of HIV/AIDS and the lives of genuine, beautiful human beings trying to find what they can with their lives. On the last day of training, I heard, “I didn’t know yoga could be for black people.” “It’s so expensive… I didn’t know it could be for people like us.” “I could never dream of how much this would help the community.” Some of the young people were thanking me for bringing peace back into their lives. My tears that day were of humility and pure joy.
Describe your experience thus far? What do you find challenging? What do you find inspiring?
As I am writing you from Africa, I am just finishing my life as a Vochelli with the children. (The next step for me is to travel to Capetown to give one more training-and surf!)
Every day at the camp is inspiring. You wake up to song, there is singing all day and until we sing to sleep. The voices, the languages and the harmony are incredible. It seems that song is a way for expression here. Anytime something emotional is happening-conversation, anything-everyone breaks into song.
After the teacher training in Johannesburg, I came up to a location rented by Global Camps Africa in the Magaliesburg Mountains northwest of Johannesburg called Camp Sizanani. Sizanani means to help each other in Zulu. About 150 children from Soweto are brought to the camp. Two of the Vochellis that I trained, Aphiwe and Lwazi, were my co-teachers. We taught six classes per day in age groups ranging from 10-12 to 18-20 years old in class sizes of 25- 30.
The first challenge was the space, materials and language. I had been able to purchase yoga mats for the Vochellis, so they donated their mats and then we used camp beds. We had to move with the sun, flies and fire ants. The day it rained, we had a room that only fit a circle of chairs. Though many of the young people spoke some English, it is not their first language-there was Zulu, Xhosa and many others. Yet we found a way and carried on.
The next challenge was reading the groups. As the days went on, you could feel some of the young adults were going through a lot mentally and emotionally. Remember, this is an intentional camp and they are receiving life skills and other powerful activities. In the grand scheme of 150 children, the fact is in every class you knew there were children and young adults that had been victims of rape, violence, trauma, HIV and abuse-and at the end of the program, these children are going back.
The question became, “What could we offer another human being in such a short time?”. Yoga teaches you to become steadfast. In sharing and guiding others in yoga, there is only one way- to be authentic and remember that it is all about self-discovery. So that’s what we did. We talked about the breath, your inner teacher, and we played, laughed and breathed some more. Every day brought its own lesson and its own form of joy. Each day from sunrise to sunset, there was a tremendous amount of singing.
Then, something happened that I never expected: the young people began to deeply integrate what we were doing. The lessons of the yoga came pouring out of them in their words and songs without me ever saying ‘feel this’ or ‘think that’ They were thinking and feeling on their own, and I realized that there could be nothing more important than that-these tools for life that we are sharing through yoga. The real inspiration comes from the words of the young people:
“I have found the inner me…that I haven’t seen in a long time…”
“I have always been a violent person, and then I tried the yoga when we went on that morning hike…I found peace. No one can ever disturb me.”
“I found hope. And now I know I can walk around unashamed of who I am… I don’t have to feel ashamed that I am an orphan.”
“I didn’t know I had an inner teacher. Yoga helps me listen on the inside.”
I have video of some of the young men speaking in their native languages about yoga-how we connect with nature, our inner teacher. I realized it didn’t matter that we spoke different languages.
Through yoga, we are moving beyond the scars of race, violence, hatred and prejudice.
What are your hopes for your work with the people of Africa? How do you think yoga and surfing can help the people of Africa?
There are seven centers in Soweto that offer extension programs through Saturday kids clubs. Part of the fundraising went to educational/yoga materials for the seven centers. The next step is follow through with the Vochellis so that they all finish the last part of their teacher training and mentor so that the yoga can continue in the clubs. As we teach teachers and mentors, the program can become sustainable. Everyone experienced how transformative yoga and developmentally appropriate practices can be for the youth and young adults in the week-long programs. As Global Camps has the opportunity to expand into the other provinces, there are also organizations and individual surfers that are dedicating time to bringing surfing to township youths. Surfing and yoga bring valuable life skills on an individual physical and health, mental/ emotional health, and community level. At Camp Sizanani, we had swimming. You witness in a second, the joy that just water brings. Children hit the water and the smile occupies their whole face (while you are saying, “close your mouth so you don’t swallow water!”). The union of both has great expansive potential. I feel something has really happened here and I really don’t know what the future will bring. For now, all I can say is that I am determined to see it through.
Any final words of wisdom? Thoughts or thanks?
From the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: II.35 “When there is natural firmness in non-violence (ahimsa) all hostility comes to an end in its very presence. Conflict ceases in such a mind.”
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” – Nelson Mandela
It has been a great honor to be in South Africa during the passing of Madiba and the celebration of his life by all the people. At the camps, we were quite remote and not privy to television or media. However, you could feel the joy, hope and love as the children spoke of him. The youth, the locals, everyone really has been pulsing with inspiration. Even crime has dropped in this time. There is really so much more to say, but for now, I am taking it all in. I will also have more to share on the project and everything else (photos, video, etc.) as it unfolds at www.joyrepublic.tumblr.com
I would like to thank the Vochellis for being brave and open to yoga. I am honored to have lived and worked alongside them for several weeks. From the depths of my heart, I am blessed with friendship and love each one dearly. I am extremely grateful for the children who are the inspiration for this work. They are the true warriors of light. We have much to learn from them.
I send gratitude to Shakta Khalsa, founder of Radiant Child Yoga and Phil Lilienthal, founder of Global Camps Africa, and to every single person who found it in their heart to have helped make this project possible through fundraising and donations. This work is your work. This joy is your joy. Together we are holding a space of peace on the planet.
There are so many more to thank, but I especially want to thank my teachers-in particular Shakta Khalsa, Dharma Mittra and mother ocean for lighting a path and inspiring purpose in my life.
And by the end of camp, the yoga team were no longer a Vochellis…we became the “Yo – Chellis.”