By Rosie Iles-Jonas
I’ve always enjoyed beachcombing, and in recent years my passion has reached new levels. I like the challenge of looking for treasures, and love trying to spot beauty in the long stretches of pebbles on Brighton Beach, England.
Washed-up tiles, pottery, and broken shells are favorites, but the ultimate prize is sea glass, shiny pieces of glass buffed and smoothed by decades of tidal movement and flow. Green sea glass is the most common, but I’ve also found some yellow, red, and blue.
I took to the beaches more than ever when England was locked down. I would walk along the deserted shoreline and feel comforted by the changing tides. Nothing is constant but change. During the difficult time of quarantine, the sea reminded me that this too shall pass.
Water, like emotions, is meant to flow
In yoga, I explain that motions flow like water—we can feel flooded with emotions, and big feelings like joy or grief often come in waves. There’s nothing to fear with emotional sensation, and the challenge is letting yourself feel those sensations. When an emotion is felt but not given the opportunity to wash over, it becomes trapped. Bottle it up, and it might be felt later as a tightness in the chest, a stiff shoulder, or a dull ache in the lower back.
Walking by the sea is incredibly comforting. Good things happen when you go for a walk by the water. The fresh air fills your lungs effortlessly. The inhale is a natural energizer, the exhale a relaxant. Deep breathing fuels every cell in your body and acts as a nervous system reset. It can be nice to notice your breathing pattern when you first reach the beach, then see how it shifts after you go for a walk. Perhaps it becomes ragged from the effort of walking (Brighton is a pebbly beach so it’s hard work at times), or perhaps your beach is flat and your breath settles into a comfortable rhythm.
What’s important is to pay attention to your breathing pattern and how it responds to your activity. Your breath is meant to match your mind and activity. If you’re agitated or stressed about something, try sitting and breathing with the sea. Inhale and watch the tide come in, exhale and watch the tide draw out. The ebb and flow of your breath can synchronize with the sea.
Look out into the distance to relax and widen your tired eyes after days of staring at screens. Observing different shapes and textures soothes a frazzled mind. Training the eyes to spot sea glass is proof that we’re capable of anything we put our minds to. Countless people tell me they can’t meditate, because they can’t seem to switch off their mind. I always reply by saying that the mind is meant to be active, and it’s too beautiful and complex to be likened to machinery which is either on or off. We’ve all trained our minds to be active, to have a short attention span, to respond to notifications and alerts—and then to become frustrated when it won’t yield at night, when we’re impatiently trying to sleep.
Eyes are the gateway to the mind. Quick and erratic eye movements reveal a busy and scattered mind. We can encourage a quieter mind when we move the eyes slowly side to side (like the soothing motion of reading).
With mindful walking, a focus on the breath, and relaxed eye movements, you’ll be feeling better already.
Stand up for yourself
Bending, crouching, and folding movements are needed to pick up pieces of treasure. One of the biggest reasons people lose their independence as they age is weak legs, which can lead to trips and falls. Collecting things on your walk demands regular crouching and standing, which makes one of the real treasures of beachcombing movement and independence. We move from the couch to the car to the desk, with minimal standing, and almost no sitting on the earth. These activities make the hips, knees, and ankles bored and weak. Indeed, the convenience of our modern lifestyle costs us dearly. Squatting down and standing up for yourself, unassisted by furniture or a helping hand is a genuinely important and empowering activity.
Fragmented to freedom
Many of the things I find on the beach are former waste; fragments that have been lost, abandoned, broken. When I see them, I feel like I’ve found something.
To me, these fragments have a connection to the body. We’ve all felt out of place at some point in our lives. We know what it is to be lost or separated, to feel a bit broken. When we experience trauma, a part of us can get lost or overwhelmed. Think of a time when a trusted friend hurt you or let you down. Without skipping a (heart) beat, you might have closed yourself off to that person, realized that they’ve always been selfish and that you’re actually better off without them. At the time, it makes sense to do that, because a piece of your heart is sore. You’ve lost a bit of connection to that part they occupied. Whether the friendship can or should be salvaged is irrelevant here—what we’re interested in is where did that piece of your heart go?
Beachcombing is a sweet exercise to practice forging a feeling of connection and wholeness. After a beachcombing session, lay your treasures out on a piece of paper and start to organize them, put them in a pattern, arrange them by color, or draw around your hand and start to fit the pieces inside. Do what you can to be relaxed and playful with this exercise—try not to control the outcome. As you organize, you might notice a sense of returning, connection, and community. The body, the mind, and the soul can feel fragmented, but this practice shows you that true freedom comes from the moving parts; nothing is glued or fixed. If something doesn’t feel right, you can always make a change.
Beachcombing is such a tonic for the soul. To move and breathe. To be open to finding hidden treasures in the mundane and the ordinary—treasures that have been weathered, churned up, whipped around, and dumped back out. Calm conditions can’t create such interesting shapes or smoothness. These treasures have been perfectly formed in the chaos of their environment.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine September/October 2022 issue.