Emerging research reveals that the ocean can reduce stress
Beach yoga enhances the already calming technique of being near water
Dana Santas is the creator of Radius Yoga Conditioning, a yoga style designed to help athletes move, breathe and focus better. She’s the yoga trainer for the Atlanta Braves, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Tampa Bay Rays, Tampa Bay Lightning, Orlando Magic and dozens of pros in the National Football League, National Hockey League, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball.
Soothing, inspiring and restorative: That’s how beachgoers and yogis alike describe their favorite pastimes. Rightfully so, as there can be stress-busting health benefits of both. Why not take your yoga practice to the coast to boost your beach bliss and your overall well-being?
Over the past decade, numerous studies have shown that yoga can quell our stress response, enhance our mood and improve our health. Now, emerging research is revealing the ocean’s power to do the same.
“It’s not a new idea that spending time by water calms us, reduces stress, boosts creativity … but neuroscientists and psychologists are beginning to study the science behind why this is true,” said Wallace J. Nichols, author of The New York Times best-seller, “Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do.”
In his book, Nichols, a researcher and marine biologist, uses research and anecdotal experience to explain how the sensory aspects of water – the sight, sound, feel, smell and taste – affect our brains to produce what he calls a “blue mind” state of calm inspiration.
To leverage the power of our “blue mind” along with the stress-relieving properties of practicing yoga, here are 10 basic, accessible poses most anyone can do at the beach without feeling like an exhibitionist.
The poses are in sequential order, but you don’t need to do all 10; simply practice the ones that help you best connect with your body, mind and environment.
Easy seated pose
Sit cross-legged, facing the ocean. Rest your hands on your legs. Practice yoga’s jnana mudra, a symbolic hand gesture of wisdom, by touching your thumb and index finger together. Breathe deeply for five or more breaths, taking in all aspects of your surroundings with your five senses.
Easy seated twist
From easy seated pose, place your right hand on your left leg. Inhale as you lengthen your spine. Exhale as you rotate from your mid-back to look over your left shoulder and place your left hand down behind you. Take a breath or two. Repeat on the other side.
Half lord of the fishes twist
While seated, slide your right heel back toward your left hip. Cross your left leg over your right, pressing your left foot down. Wrap your right arm around your left shin. Inhale to lengthen your spine and exhale to rotate from your mid back and look over your left shoulder, placing your left hand behind you. Hold for a breath or two. Repeat on the other side.
Stand facing the water with your feet hip distance apart. Raise both arms above your head in a triumphant “Y” position – the same pose you’d take if you just won a race. Hold for three to five long, deep breaths.
From standing with your feet hip distance, exhale as you bend forward, flexing from your pelvis – not your lower back. Bend your knees as much as needed for comfort. Hold opposite elbows and hang inverted for two or three breaths.
Standing straddle twist
Standing with feet as wide apart as you can while still feeling stable, bend forward to place your right hand on the ground in front of you. Reach your left arm forward and then rotate from your shoulder, ribcage and mid-back to reach skyward. Keep your hips and low back level while trying to align your shoulders vertically. Hold for two or three breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Step your right leg back into a lunge position. Drop your right heel and turn your toes out to 90 degrees. Bend your left knee above your ankle while keeping your back leg straight. Align your shoulders above your hips as you reach your right arm back and left arm forward with your palms down. Look past your front hand and take three long, deep breaths. Repeat on the other side.
From warrior two, with your left foot forward, inhale as you reach your left arm up and back, extending from your back and side-waist muscles, while your right arm slides down your right leg. Maintain alignment of forward knee above your ankle. Take five long, deep breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Stand with your weight shifted and centered over your right leg. With your core engaged for balance, exhale as you hinge forward from your hips and extend your left leg behind you until you feel your back leg and upper body are as close to aligned horizontally as possible. Press your hands together and steeple your fingers. Hold for two or three breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Seated beach meditation
Sitting cross-legged, or in any comfortable seated position, close your eyes. Either press your palms together at the center of your chest or rest them on your legs. Tune into the sound of your breath and the sound of the ocean. Imagine your breathing like waves in the water with inhalations rolling in, filling your ribcage from the base of your lungs.
Exhalations are like the receding shoreline, as your ribcage descends and your lungs empty. Maintain the visualization of synchronizing your breathing with the waves as you count 20 breaths backward to one.