Beach Yoga as a form of Eco-Therapy: calm, revive, reconnect
Can you please share your background with us?
I am an International Certified Mindfulness Mentor, healer practitioner, and experienced meditation and Yoga teacher, currently based in Portugal. From social education and social activism through to Yoga and meditation, I’ve travelled the world and lived abroad sharing my life mission to empower different communities and underprivileged groups, co-founding and managing social projects in Mozambique, Italy, and Australia. Throughout the years, I have been developing keystone work with international organizations; organizing and participating in Wellness and Healing retreats, events, trainings and workshops; also providing individual guidance also on a therapeutic level. Currently, I also teach online, having students from all over the world.
In terms of styles, I teach a variety of Yoga styles such as Yin, Restorative, Aerial,Pregnancy, Kids Yoga and a fusion of meditative and flowing Vinyasa Yoga classes. As I am a nature lover, I try to organize as many events and practices outdoors in special places (beach, forest, gardens etc). My classes are breath-focused integrating concise technical alignment, Yoga philosophy, and mindfulness. My sessions aim to rescue self-love, encouraging self-care for people to feel good about themselves.
“I truly believe that the transformational gift of Yoga should be available to as many people as possible.
To me, life is a horizontal and vertical journey, both outwards and inwards, with so much to be discovered, once we have the courage to search.“
Could there be a stronger experience of the ‘vital life force’ through doing Yoga on a beach setting, working in harmony with the ‘healing potential’ innate in each of us? Say in the case of people with burnout and adrenal fatigue. As opposed to practicing Yoga indoors in a studio?
There is a concept that I really follow, called “Biophilia Hypothesis” developed by the biologist E.O. Wilson in 1984. It contends how we humans have a biological need to connect with Nature and that we feel good in Nature because it has helped us to survive. As a species, we have lived for most of our existence outside. It is in our DNA to love the natural world, and our health and well-being increases when we are in it. There are also numerous research sources that prove the benefits for both physical and psychological human well- being, such as reducing stress and cortisol in the body; improving our mood; and feeling happier. From our fast-paced society to our busy lifestyles, it’s easy nowadays to disconnect from Nature.
The Yoga practice has physical, mental, emotional, and energetic benefits that can be enhanced when one is in contact with Nature. When outdoors in Nature, practicing Yoga and mindfulness, you can breathe deeply the fresh air at the same time, to reconnect with the elements and with our origins, paying attention to the present moment. As I live near the beach, I practice and teach many times in a beach setting, providing a deeper connection with the 5 elements: water – ocean; air – wind/breeze; earth – sand; fire – sun, charging our “batteries” and contributing to awaken the senses.
To listen to the sounds of the waves, the birds singing, to breathe the maritime breeze; to feel the sand on the feet, the warmth of the sun and the wind on the skin – intensifies the benefits and relaxes the self. To breathe deeply the fresh air from the ocean purifies the lungs and boosts our energy. Salty sea air has negative ions, which are very beneficial to our health as it helps the body absorb oxygen easier. According to researchers, once the negative electrons are in our bloodstream, serotonin is greatly produced, the symptoms of depression are reduced, stress is relieved and we feel energized.
Moreover, practicing Yoga on the sand brings more “instability” and therefore stimulates balance, concentration and double strengthens the muscles and ligaments. It definitely brings your vitality back.”
What elements of the beach or ocean specifically, can support a person with anxiety? For instance, how can we use the sounds and rhythms of the waves? Can we use any of these natural elements in our breathing techniques and meditation?
The practice of Mindfulness can actually create changes in the brain that are beneficial to your wellbeing and an optimal environment for mind and body balance and harmony. To be mindful is to be present, to pay close attention to the very precious present moment. At the beach, explore your 5 senses and pay attention to:
-the colours of the ocean
-the sand on your feet
-the sunshine and breeze on your skin
-the smell of the ocean
-the sound of the waves and seagulls
-the moistness of the air…
By bringing attention to our very present moment, the seaside can be a marvellous place to practice mindfulness, and therefore increasing joy and appreciation of the present. Wave rhythms promote relaxation, guiding you into a meditative state/mood. Breathing deeply, with awareness, helps to tranquilize the mind to bring more oxygen to the muscles. Aligning the rhythmic sound of ocean waves with your own breathing rhythms, can be powerful. Personally, and specially when I am in a calm environment or at the beach I like to ground Myself. This exercise can be done in Nature or an indoor setting. Through the meridians, nerves and points of tension, our feet receive electrons transferred by the earth, providing us with vitality and boosting our immune system:
-Stand firmly on your feet and feel your feet on the sand/ground.
-Visualize strong roots coming out from your tailbone, moving down through the legs, feet,
and penetrating the earth, moving down through the different layers of the earth.
-Inhale: visualize your roots absorbing the vital force energy (an earthy red colour energy) and moving up to the top of the head.
-Exhale: visualize yourself letting go of tensions and worries, eliminating this at the roots and allowing this to be transmuted by the earth.
-Repeat as much as you consider necessary.
If one doesn’t have access to a coastal setting, what can one do to enhance our Yoga Practice, as another form of ‘eco-therapy’, to better manage anxiety or burnout?
If you practice Yoga indoors, you can give more attention to certain details and prepare the environment to help you to feel safe and in contact with the elements of Nature. For your Yoga and meditation session, you can choose to have a calm background sound from Nature; to have an element or even the 5 elements of Nature near you; aromatherapy to choose a scent/essential oil to have it in the room or with you. Focus on the breath and body and trust that you are and have everything you need.
A very powerful technique that I do every morning at home (and of course when possible outdoors) is Grounding, as instructed above. Our minds are so creative and powerful that we can take ourselves to any place we desire, just by imagining it. Even when we can’t go to the ocean, we can still experience the warm sunshine and rhythmic waves within through guided imagery meditation and relaxation.
Below is a guided imagery meditation that might help you to feel in contact with the ocean and calm:
-Gently close your eyes and pay attention to the rise and fall of your breath.
-Visualize yourself on a beautiful beach. You can choose your favorite beach or imagine the perfect beach.
-Invision yourself there now.
-Imagine yourself receiving all the sunrays on your skin. Walking into the water… feeling the sand on your feet and toes. Feeling the water on your feet.
-Connect with the rhythm of the waves, helping you to relax. Inhale and exhale slowly. Allowing your muscles to relax.
-Relax more and more… As you breathe out, let any kind of frustrations go away. Breathe in: feel calm, serene and confident, whilst observing the waves coming and going. Your body is now relaxed; your mind is tranquil now, too. Breathe in deeply and slowly and allow the relaxation to flow to any part of your body that it needs most.
Your internal pharmacy returns to its natural pace.
In addition, here is a breathing technique that you can try out, called 2:1 which consists of lengthening the exhalation and aims to release anxiety and tension. When we are anxious, our breath gets shortened and activates the sympathetic nervous system responsible for the fight or flight response. However, we can mindfully change the breathing patterns. With this technique, we change the pattern activating the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for rest and wellbeing:
-Breathe slowly in and out through the nostrils.
-Inhale count to 3.
-Exhale count to 6.
-Repeat for about 5 cycles.
-As you like, you can progress to 4 for the inhale and 8 for the exhale.
–Interview by Nicolette Da Costa