In Sarah Alexander’s debut novel, The Art of Not Breathing, 16-year-old Elsie Main is struggling with grief after her twin brother Eddie drowns. In search of healing, closure, and answers, Elsie begins freediving (diving without oxygen) into the dark depths of the sea. Here, Alexander shares that the ocean itself was the inspiration behind this book and gives readers a list of reasons why they should head for the shore if they’re looking to meditate.
“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” —Jacques Cousteau
I didn’t always love the water—mostly, it frightened me. I was particularly afraid of the metal grille at the bottom of the deep end of the swimming pool that might release a monster or, worse, pull me down. When I was in my early teens, however, I became fascinated with sea creatures: the weird and wonderful characteristics of deep sea fish, the sheer size of our planet’s biggest animals, and the bright colors of tropical water inhabitants. I wanted to know more. The only way was to get over my fear, so I decided to learn to scuba dive. My first dive terrified me but at the same time, I was getting to explore a hidden landscape. And something else: I felt exhilarated, alive. Afterwards, while I was drying off on the beach, watching the waves crash onto the sand filled me with calm. I was just there in the moment, and my worries and stress disappeared. The therapeutic qualities of water inspired me to write The Art of Not Breathing, and here are a few reasons you too should embrace the magic of the sea.
1. Being near the ocean is a full-on sensory experience: the smell, the taste, the sound of the waves, the sight of the incredible colors of the water, and the sensation of the wind, water, or sand on your skin. It allows you to be in the moment and is the best kind of mindfulness.
2. The sound of sea waves has an effect on the patterns of our brain waves that helps us to relax. While you’re listening to the waves crash, take long, slow, deep breaths. Hold each breath for five seconds before exhaling.
3. Seawater contains a huge amount of vitamins, minerals, and salts. These have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory qualities which help to cleanse, heal, and revive your bodily systems! It’s especially good for your skin, immune system, and muscles. Feel healthy. Look healthy.
4. Swimming is great for circulation already, but add salt water to the mix and you will feel energized both physically and mentally after a swim.
5. Walking barefoot on the sand is not only great for a bit of exfoliation, but also helps strengthen your core and leg muscles. And who doesn’t love the feeling of sand between their toes?
6. There really is something in the sea air. It’s charged with healthy negative ions that help us absorb oxygen, which helps reduce stress and induce sleep. Take a big gulp, and another. Keep going until you start to feel calm and a bit dozy.
7. If you’re brave enough to check out what’s below the surface of the water, you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful landscape and a bit of peace and quiet as the sounds of the human world become muffled and distant. You might even make a few marine friends.
8. The ocean is full of history—from ancient rocks and sea beds to all sorts of weird things that the oceans have swept up over the years. See what you can find, and imagine the story behind it.
9. Water is incredibly versatile. If you’re not into diving or swimming, you can surf, go boating, or try fishing. There are plenty of other water sports, too–simply walk along the shoreline, or sit and read a book. I do this last one a lot.
10. Contemplating the ocean can give you a bit of perspective. The world is vast and 70% of it is covered in water. Beneath the ocean’s surface is a great deal that we haven’t explored yet and know nothing about. And that’s OK.
If you’re not near the coast, there are other options: find a river, lake, waterfall, or even a swimming pool—some pools contain salt water. See if your local pool runs “relax and chill” sessions with calm music and lighting, or ask if they can start one. If none of these options are possible, watch a surfing video and allow the waves to take you wherever you want to go. This works for me every time.
Sarah Alexander grew up in London with dreams of exploring the world and writing stories. After spending several years wandering the globe and getting into all sorts of scrapes, she returned to London to complete a Master’s degree in Creative Writing at Birkbeck College in 2013. She works in publishing and lives with her husband and two chickens. The Art of Not Breathing is her first novel.