Everyone loves the sea. Being by water seems to make us more relaxed and no doubt that’s why we instinctively choose to holiday by the sea. The salty smell, the sound of surf on pebbles and the cries of gulls – they all serve to lift the spirits in a way that doesn’t happen anywhere else. You might think this is simply the result of childhood memories of family holidays triggering the happiness pheromones. It turns out there’s more to it than that. A lot more.
In Blue Mind, Wallace J Nichols examines the neurological, psychological and emotional changes our brains experience simply by being near water. And he suggests water doesn’t make us simply happier or calmer, it can improve our relationships and working lives too.
It’s this idea that lies at the heart of SEAcotherapy, a new retreat that combines mindfulness, the sea, yoga and adventure. SEAcotherapy has just been launched by Dr Victoria Galbraith, a counselling psychologist and academic. She holds her retreats near the sea (obviously) in Wales (I went to Anglesey) in idyllic cottages, converted barns and also under canvas with glamping retreats. Her aim is to tailor each retreat to the needs of the individuals. So, one group may be keen yoga bunnies and want Salute to the Sun at 6am, while others may want to focus on the psychological and mindfulness aspects.
Victoria’s stress and mindfulness workshop introduces the idea of life on autopilot. Most of us do what we do because we’ve always done it that way. By standing back a little and looking at ourselves, we might be able to break negative thoughts, actions and emotions. She takes the example of work stress, with a looming deadline. This is the primary experience. However, we react to it with a secondary experience – the feeling that there’s always too much to do and too little time, panic and anxiety follow, even feeling inadequate to the job or worrying about letting other people down. Her mindfulness techniques aim to train the mind away from this emotional rollercoaster of negativity and to see the problem calmly. As a result, it’s much easier to deal with it. Thoughts, she points out, are not facts. You can look at them and let them pass by like drifting clouds. They don’t have to damage you.
Mindfulness includes various kinds of meditation and bringing mindfulness into every day actions. So, we go for a mindfulness walk on the beach, silently considering how we walk, the touch of foot on sand or in the water, listening to our breathing, feeling how the body works. Thoughts and emotions come inevitably but you try to watch these rather than engage with them or make any judgements about them. You do engage, though, with the environment, picking up stones and shells that will be used later, looking for those you are somehow drawn to. Victoria encourages practising this mindfulness walking regularly and finding other activities that could also be mindful in the same way.
Later, we have a guided meditation using the stones collected from the beach, considering different aspects of them that can also be applied to ourselves, such as strength, truthfulness, freedom. And there’s a creative aspect, too, using your stones and shells to make a picture.
The other side of SEAcotherapy is getting in touch with your watery side and it’s a lot more active – ribride adventure boat trips, paddleboarding, surfing, rock pooling, wild swimming, kayaking, kite surfing and boat trips to see seals and birds, dolphins and porpoises. And you get to use the beach for lots of activities – yoga classes and picnics (including the plumpest local scallops, utterly delicious.)
The food is another element here and it’s mostly vegetarian (except for those scallops) and brilliantly prepared by chef Jamie Raftery who has worked with such chefs as Gordon Ramsay and Heston Bluementhal. His food is sensationally healthy as well as being just plain sensational. So we were greeted on arrival with his kombucha “champagne”, non-alcoholic and based on green tea, goji berries and passion fruit and one of the most delicious drinks I have ever tasted. A devotee of raw food, he made us raw carrot and walnut cake, date and coconut caramels, quinoa scones with “jam” made from acai berries and clotted cream with no dairy involved (just cashew nuts and coconuts).
“Thousands have lived without love,” wrote W H Auden, “not one without water.” SEAcotherapy aims to bring you both.
The first two SEAcotherapy retreats will be in Devon on August 30th-September 2nd and November 18th-21st November. Prices for these will be £700 per person based on accommodation in a twin/double room.
SEAcotherapy also have a date in Wales September 30th-October 2nd 2016 – £425 per person based on accommodation in a twin/double room. For more information, visit www.seacotherapy.co.uk.