Many thanks to Marieta Hanaghan, a participant in our 2015 Lake Orta swimming holiday, for this great painting. It is of Isola di San Giulio (St Julian's Island), a short 400 metre swim from the village of Orta San Giulio where we stay on our swimming holiday.
On Saturday 3rd February our OWS group did our usual Saturday morning swim at Queens Beach, Scarborough. But this one was different. About half way along one of the main 630m rocks-to-rocks laps, one of us spied a turtle in distress. This Loggerhead Turtle had apparently got itself all tangled up in the ropes of a crab pot and, because the crab pot’s polystyrene float was attached to the ropes, the turtle was unable to dive, which would normally prove fatal. John called out to a couple of fishermen about to launch their tinny and, assuming that they would have a knife with them, asked them to assist. The turtle wasn’t too keen for us to capture him but the fishermen eventually managed to grab hold of the float with turtle attached. Intrepid Johanna sprinted to the scene and grabbed hold of the turtle tipping it on its back so that it couldn’t resist, thus making it easier for the fishermen to cut it free. ‘Brave’ Mark and John were at least initially a bit reluctant (do turtles bite?) then they helped Johanna. The turtle was huge – about 70cms across and more than a metre long.
The ropes had applied a stricture to one of the turtle’s arms causing the flipper to come away from the body leaving just a bony stump. There were many ropes, some around the turtle’s neck. They were very tight and the job of cutting them off wasn’t easy, but eventually they were removed and the turtle swam away. Had we not intervened, it would certainly have died.
Moreton Bay Marine Park is one of the few places in the world where large populations of turtles are found so close to a capital city. All but one of the world's seven turtle species have been found here. The marine park has at least five year round resident turtle species: Green, Loggerhead, Pacific Ridley, Flatback and Hawksbill. Moreton Bay has one of the most important feeding areas for loggerhead turtles along the east coast of Australia. Loggerhead turtles are listed as endangered under the Nature Conservation Act 1992.
Sea turtles have covered vast distances across the world’s oceans for more than 100 million years and they fill a vital role in the balance of marine habitats. But most species of marine turtles are now classified as ‘endangered’ because human activities have tipped the scales against the survival of these ancient mariners. They regularly become entangled in discarded fishing gear, get struck by boats and die from ingesting plastics preventing them from diving. In the period 2010-2014, almost 6,000 marine turtles were found stranded – dead or dying – on the beaches of Queensland.
Turtles can mistake garbage as fool – especially plastic bags, balloons, polystyrene and cigarette butts – which all look like jellyfish to a turtle. It is also worth remembering that the chemicals we flush down our toilets, apply to our gardens, wash our cars with, spray on crops or use in factories can end up in our waterways and ultimately the ocean.
So, if you see rubbish on our beaches – especially plastics – pick it up. It’s not only good aesthetically, it protects our valuable wildlife. And be careful how we dispose of chemicals. If you see injured or sick wildlife, contact the RSPCA Call Centre on 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625).
This is the third and final in the Meditation and Swimming series. The first was concerned with mindfulness – being aware of where you are and what you are doing at that very moment in time and space to the exclusion of all else – and the second was concerned with how to meditate while swimming, especially by means of concentration and focus. This article is about relaxation and how it can be achieved by swimming, especially open water swimming.
To re-cap, meditation while exercising is all about combining relaxation and focussed thinking with sub-maximal rhythmical cardio-respiratory exercise. Of course it can be done by walking, running and perhaps cycling but it is most effectively achieved through swimming as it enlists the twin physical sensations of buoyancy (and being supported and embraced by water) and the tactile feeling of the water flowing along the body as the swimmer pulls through the water. We already know that this type of swimming can reduce stress; but how does it do this? It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (the system that controls organ function) and it affects brain waves and hormones quietening the mind. It is an ideal drug-free way of decreasing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
To achieve a heightened feeling of relaxation while swimming, ideally the swimmer should not be interrupted by, say, having to turn every lap in a pool although, if there is no alternative, it can also be used in a pool. So head out into the open water. The swimmer should also avoid the temptation to count strokes or even to be aware precisely where they are at any moment. So, it’s a good idea to do this type of meditation while swimming in company. It still requires concentration as, without concentration, the mind wanders. Accept the fact that it is normal for the mind to wander but, when it does, you should gently bring it back to a relaxed, calm state.
Remember to exhale completely and slowly, ideally through the mouth and nose; we know that exhalation aids relaxation. If you already do meditation, for example through yoga, you might like to chant mantras, but this isn’t for everyone. One that might work for you is to chant (to yourself of course) during a three stroke bilateral breathing cycle. Begin with an elongated ‘So’ on the inhalation stroke, followed by ‘Ham’ (pronounced as an elongated ‘Harm’) for the following two strokes of the exhalation. But there are many other relaxing chants you can use. Don’t do mental calculations or sing songs as this directs the concentration towards those activities and takes away from the relaxation effect that you are trying to achieve.
For the ultimate in this type of ‘zoning out’ meditation while swimming, you might like to try closing your eyes for, say, 20 strokes. And, if this works for you, try extending it to 50 strokes or even 100 strokes with your eyes closed. This is also a good exercise in OWS ‘sighting’ (yep, even with your eyes closed). This will only work if the sea and wind conditions are calm and it assumes that you have a good symmetrical stroke. How to do it? On the reach/glide part of your stroke, use the middle finger of one hand to ‘point’ to your chosen sighting point (headland, building, tree, etc). Of course, you can’t see the sighting point because your eyes are closed but you visualise it and you concentrate deeply and constantly on visualising it. If, after the 20, 50 or 100 strokes, you open your eyes and you are still heading towards your sighting point, then you have maintained your concentration and you will still be on track. If you lose concentration, you will swing off course. And your swimming companions will know that you have lost your concentration as you will veer away from them and they might have to go after you.
After such a ‘zoning out’ swim, you will feel wonderfully relaxed and calm and ready to face whatever calamities have been going on in your absence – family and work issues, foreign conflicts, ’wrong’ election results, etc. You will also feel much more peaceful and patient. If only we could get our political leaders to do it.