Come rain or shine, a walk along the seashore is a great way to reconnect with the inner self and find peace in a chaotic world.
Picture the scene: you step down from the concrete steps and onto the firm, white sand. You can feel the gritty texture through the sole of your shoe. You walk forward, slowly, allowing each footfall to place distance between you and the world of emails, phone calls and the constant news stream that you left behind when you shut the front door this morning. Each and every step takes you towards the sound of the sea – the rhythmic, heavy drag of the sand, the seagull’s keening cry, its slender shape falling across your eye line…
Before long, you are a million mindful miles away from the busy life you entered when you woke up and started scrolling through email and social media. You are stepping away from the onslaught of unsettling news stories, crime, unkindness, fear, the fake rendition of success, the wave of supposedly perfect families doing perfect family things in perfectly clean houses and exotic locations.
The clatter of your world begins to recede. In its place you begin to focus on the beach beneath your feet – small stones, shells, fossils. You slow your pace, focused and aware. You are fully in this moment. There is nothing but the sounds of the sea and the simple beauty of small things.
The seaside means different things to different people. Walk along many a beach nowadays and you’re as likely to see windsurfers, bodyboarders, canoeists and yogis practicing downward-facing dog as your walking your dogs throwing sticks for them to retrieve.
Whatever the reason for going there, the sea’s smells and sounds invariably evoke powerful memories and elicit strong emotional responses. The scrape of a bucket and spade on the sand; the sharp, salty smell of fish and chips; the jumbled, jingling music arcades and slot machines. All bring back memories. For many, these will be happy, relaxed family days, enjoying the sense of freedom holidays bring. And memories are powerful – a positive recollection is like a touchstone to emotional peace. It’s one of the reasons why being near the sea can benefit wellbeing.
A stroll along the beach can provide a natural antidote to stress – the clear, unobstructed light lends positivity to one’s mood. And consciously practicing mindfulness as you walk can make it all the more powerful. It doesn’t need to be strenuous or ritualized route. It’s about being mindful and noticing your surroundings, with the negative inner commentary switched off. This will enable the body and mind to be fully aware of the environment, without judging it.
Beachcombing is a good example. Several things happen when a person purposefully combs the beach for objects: a physical slowing down of the body and a focused gaze on the small things – pebbles, fossils, shells and discarded objects that would otherwise go unnoticed. The change of perspective is almost unspoken. The message? Even tiny things are beautiful in their own right. By focusing the mind on this idea and physically responding to it, the beachcomber enjoys a natural spell of mindfulness.
A trip to the seaside is within reach for most people living close to the coast of the United States. And you can reap the benefits just by sitting close to hear the sounds of the seashore. Simply quieten the inner voice, allowing the soundscape to wash over your mind. When you leave, ‘take’ the sea with you – store its sounds, smells, images and lightness in your mind. And when anxiety strikes – the constant striving and comparison that is part of the modern psyche – revisit this inner sea and find your own seaside calm in the chaos of life.
Here are five ways to practice mindfulness on the beach – each of the exercises should be performed for around 10 minutes ( for whatever you’re in the mood for)
1. Beach Bench Mediation
Find a place to sit where you can hear the sounds of the sea. A bench is perfect, but a big rock, a beach blanket or even just sitting in your car with the windows down will do. Place both feet flat on the ground and make sure you’re comfortable. You don’t have to close your eyes, but it can help to eliminate any distractions. Allow the sounds around you to drift into your mind. Don’t try to control them. Every time your inner voice pipes up, imagine it blowing away on sea breeze.
2. Sea-Rhythm Breathing
Sit comfortably, as above. Listen to the rhythm of the sea. Breathe in and out, echoing the ebb and flow of the water. Focus on your breathing, matching it to the sea. It should be roughly a count of six on the in-breath and the same on the out-breath. As you’re breathing, allow the thoughts and experiences of your day to rise up through you and imagine the waves carrying them out to sea.
3. Found Object Focus
Allow yourself to be drawn to an object. It could be a pebble, a shell or driftwood. It might even be a building, rock or tree. Allow your focus to rest gently on the object. Even if it’s a beach hut that you’ve seen before, look at it as if for the first time and visually explore its every facet. Imagine the object in the world and then being part of the world. Then think of yourself being in the world and being part of the world.
4. Walking Meditation
Being walking along the beach. Imagine there is no destination and that walking is the point. Slow your pace down so that it becomes deliberate – each movement an act of focus. Allow yourself to become immersed in the movement, focusing entirely on the physical sensations.
5. Touch Point
Once on the seashore, remove your shoes. Put both feet on the sand and concentrate on how the surface feels on the soles, the part of you that is physically grounded in the world. Focus on your feet and think about the texture of the sand – is it smooth or sharp, warm or cool, light or heavy? Feel the ebb and flow of the sea as the waves come in and are drawn out. Close your eyes and, if it’s safe to do so, immerse yourself in the feel of the sand on your feet- wriggle your toes under the sand or pebbles if need be. Then enjoy the memories and images it evokes.
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