Loosening knots of stress

Other than being in a forest or in the mountains, walking on a beach is my gateway to feeling soul-level peace ~ especially on a quiet, uncrowded beach where I happen to have lots of access to on the beautiful central coast of California. Although I frequent many of my favorite same beaches for my walks, I always know it’s going to be a different experience each time. I often think of Maya Angelou’s quote ‘This is a wonderful day, I have never seen this one before.’ How true that is because the tide, the winds and weather, the seasons all have a role in what the beach will look like each time. I feel like a child with wild curiosity and anticipation of what will be awaiting discovery and welcome it all. Some days many sand dollars may have washed up, another day lots of stones are exposed, and another day moon jellies, or even the contour of the beach can be significantly changed.

Also quite notable is the varying amounts of beach wrack from day to day. Beach wrack is the scientific term for the seaweed and seagrasses that the ocean waves wash up onto the beach.

Some days there are just a few uncomplicated strands gracing the sandy shore…

…while other days, the beach wrack looks like a catastrophe –  a giant, tangled, twisty, heavy mess wound tightly into unbreakable knots. 

Expectations vs Acceptance

When I first moved to the central coast I remember the initial feeling of judging the “ugliness” of the beach wrack and wondered why “they” didn’t clean the beaches here. On the next breath, catching myself in this judgmental attitude and tendency, like many of us, to have expectations of how things “should be”. I suppose I had the image of a tropical beach with its white sandy shores. But I moved to the central coact of California and this coast has its own way of showing up in the world apart from my expectations. Living with an attitude of expectations is certain to disappoint. Expectations add tension… and knots within. Acceptance of “what is” allows us to see life for what it is and be open to infinite possibilities and gifts. Of course these thoughts and insight were all within a minute and I dropped those expectations. Afterall, nature has a way of softening the heart!

I returned to my curious nature and became inquisitive – why is there so much sea wrack here? Why is there more some days than others? My curiosity helped me to learn that the beach wrack has an important place and role in the cycle of life as it creates a unique coastal ecosystem. It creates shelter and a food source for the kelp flies and other organisms on the sandy beach. In turn some sea birds feed on the organisms. As the wrack decomposes, it provides nutrients which decomposes which becomes beneficial to the kelp and other plants that grow offshore. Furthermore it has an important role acting as a natural barrier to storm surges and large waves- by holding sand that would otherwise be taken away with the wind and surf. It helps create dunes that can act as a structural support for other plants being established on the beach. For these reasons, beach wrack can be considered an important player in protecting coastal communities. Of course the kelp forests in the ocean provide so many benefits as well. 


It didn’t take long to begin to appreciate the different patterns temporarily left like art, Nature’s art, whenever I visited! We can be mere observers of these delightful patterns, shapes, and colors which are present in this moment only and will be erased and re-arranged the next time by the tides and the weather. Being in awe and gratitude is a lovely and healthier way to counter an attitude of expectations and trying to control things which can’t be controlled. 

Stress knots

On one of my beach walks a few weeks ago, when I saw some massive tangled, knotted heaps of beach wrack it brought to mind some similarities when it comes to stress. Stress comes in all sizes and shapes that come and go in our lives like the waves washing up the beach wrack! It may be a singular strand of a stressor that shows up, or it can be a complex tangle of stressors from your day, your week, or your life. Sometimes we use the term “nerve-wracking” to describe how stressful something is/was — those things that are struggles or challenges causing stress, anxiety; irritation, anger, annoyances or even unhelpful ways of thinking. And quite often when we feel “wound up” or stressed we get tension headaches or our muscles get tight in our neck and shoulders and become knots. 

Make an offering of your “package”

We can connect our experiences to this metaphor of the beach wrack and ask ourselves, What are the tangled knots in my  life? What is that “thing” or things that keep returning like the beach wrack washed up on shore? Sometimes it’s one thing, and other times it’s a big tangled mess, wound tightly with a pile of other stressors that seems to go on and on and weigh us down. Sometimes we go on with our day or week or lives without stopping to notice the knots winding around and around one another until something happens… impacting moods, attitudes, relationships, sleep, and even creating physical pain or health issues. Living mindfully helps us notice these things so we can take care of the knots as we begin to notice them tightening or growing massively! 

When we come to the “end of our rope”….when we are at the point of “I can’t do this” or “I don’t know what to do”, we can put “it” down, trusting the guidance of someone or something else to guide our next steps and help loosen the knots.

Let nature be your guide. If you are open, if you are truly present with the experience of being out in nature you can open all your senses one by one to facilitate a deeper connection with nature and all it has to reveal. Receptiveness allows for spaciousness within and this spaciousness allows for wisdom and creativity to take shape. This is when you may receive a message, an idea, an answer, or an inspiration and become a participant in creatively connecting with nature and your own heart in a deeper way and loosening the grip of the constricting knots.

The slow reveal ~ a package in it’s new form

One of my favorite “activities” to share at our nature retreats, is creating the opportunity for our participants to tap into this creative space, to open up to this spaciousness, to loosen the knots, and to tell a story through their symbolic art of what came up for them in the “slow reveal.” 

Reminders from the sea

By pausing, connecting, and paying attention, we find healthy ways to take care of ourselves. Nature and mindfulness are a powerful combination to show us how to let go of worries or other strong emotions, our piles of “to-do’s” and expectations. Welcome nature as your guide in revealing how to let go and loosen those knots and take to heart some of these reminders from the sea:

Take time to relax and coast

Let cares drift away

Sea life’s beauty

Adapt to changing tides

Hang loose

Sea treasure in simple things

I found this “tangle” just as you see it – a rather lovely message that will mean something different to each one of us. May your heart be nourished by Nature’s whispers!


“Discovering this idyllic place,

we find ourselves filled with a yearning to linger here,

where time stands still and beauty overwhelms.”

~ Vincent Van Gogh

Join our mini-retreats, including our nature retreats for a few hours of dropping anchor and allowing nature to hold and nourish you. We meet at various locations by the sea,  or into the forest on the central Coast of California, San Luis Obispo County  ~ LEARN MORE

Dee DiGioia, founder of Mindful Kindful YOUniversity, offers Mindfulness-based Social-Emotional Learning Programs across San Luis Obispo County (and virtual) for youth and adults to learn and engage in practices of mindfulness and movement grounded in science and backed by research to support mental and physical health and well-being. Respond more skillfully to life in the 21st Century!

Stay up to date on announcements:

Teach children compassion towards birds

It is such a blessing to live near the coast and I never, ever take it for granted. The natural beauty of the coastline nourishes my heart and soul and fills me with awe and deeply felt gratitude. Taking walks on the beach and connecting to nature is my go-to practice for de-stressing. I always come home refreshed and uplifted. One of the blessings and highlights of walking is observing all the coastal birds that live here on the Central Coast of California (or visit here on their migratory paths). It is a privilege and a joy to witness them in flight, feeding, foraging, singing, building nests, and feeding their babies… Sometimes I take videos or photos as a way to savor the moment a bit longer.


Living on the coast means sharing the coast with the birds who depend on nature’s resources for survival. Living on the coast also means sharing with others who come here: visitors, tourists, vacationers, or people coming from the hotter interior of our state to enjoy a refreshing day at the beach. Although my beach walks help me to de-stress, this can be interrupted with stressful things to navigate such as finding less busy stretches of beach so it’s quieter and less hectic – fortunately I know some areas which are much less crowded. It’s nice to know that most people who come to visit are also enjoying and appreciating the beautiful coastline and wildlife experience. 

photo by Dee DiGioia ~ great blue heron


When I saw an article headline this morning “How To Approach Birds Without Scaring Them” I thought of the one thing that always “zings” my stress meter and hurts my heart: when I see a child, or group of children, chasing birds who are foraging and feeding on the beaches… and no one saying anything to help the child learn that it’s not okay.  I know many of you belileve this is “harmless” and “good fun” and many of you will argue and present justification why it’s “no big deal”. I disagree whole heartedly and would like to suggest using this as an opportunity to teach kindness and compassion AND to teach an alternative approach that fosters respect and awe. Help cultivate a sense of stewardship rather than domination.

Chasing birds is not okay and should never be acceptable. It is unkind, disrespectful, and can be distressing and traumatizing for the birds. It can cause parents to abandon their nesting areas and babies, or fall prey to other predators due to exhaustion. By allowing children to chase birds we are sending the message that it’s acceptable to frighten them – they get a surge in the brain of “pleasure” from this cause and effect. When they get bored of this, what will they do next time to feel that “pleasure”? Sometimes chasing turns into throwing things at them.  It turns to laughter and sometimes shared laughter further ingraining the “okayness” of this activity. What other animals will they chase or taunt? By practicing empathy and compassion in our relationship with animals, we are also instilling these values and relationships with people!

I am NOT saying every child who chases birds has mal-intent. They just may unaware of the impact it has. Model empathy and concern for the bird. Help your child imagine how many times a day birds are having to be alert for other birds trying to take their food, or take them out as food. Why would we want to add one more stressor to their day? Multiply that one chase by all the people walking by them, and worse, chasing them, throughout the day. According to the National PTA Congress, “Children trained to extend justice, kindness, and mercy to animals become more just, kind, and considerate in their relations to each other. Character training along these lines will result in men and women of broader sympathies; more humane, more lawabiding, in every respect more valuable citizens.”

In another blog I wrote a few years ago about kids taunting a seagull I shared this important quote:

Studies have shown that children learn cruel and violent behavior from those around them, and that animal abuse often precedes violence toward other people. Indeed, in almost every major act of violence, from the Columbine massacre to serial killings, authorities have found animal abuse in the perpetrator’s background. This common origin of violence perpetrated against animals and against people makes it imperative that we teach compassion and demonstrate concern for all living things. By the time young people exhibit cruel behavior toward animals it is often very difficult to change that behavior, making it essential that adults in every part of the community help children learn to treat animals with kindness. While not every child who is cruel to a pet grows up to be a criminal, there is a strong correlation between cruel behavior toward animals and lack of empathy for human beings. *

*From Be Kind to Animals: Encouraging Compassion through Humane Education
photo by Dee DiGioia ~ even birds rest and take in the serenity of their surroundings!


It is our adult responsibility to help impart this wisdom on our children, beginning with the first time they chase a bird. Even a baby in diapers crawling towards a bird we can lovingly scoop them in our arms and whisper “Oooo! Pretty bird. Let’s watch! Look at those beautiful white feathers.”  Model a gentle and respectful way to engage with, and share space and time with these diverse creatures through observation, appreciation, and awe. Look, listen, and feel connected. We can let nature be our teacher. You can be the bridge and help guide children on a lifelong journey of compassionate engagement with all of life, from feathered beings, to furry beings, to human beings. Let us be kind and be loving.

Model Mindful, Kindful, Peaceful Engagement with Birds:

  • Cultivate curiosity, focus, and appreciation while observing birds. What do they look like, sound like, and behave like from a safe and respectful distance? Do we always have to approach or can we just watch?
  • Cultivate appreciation, attention to detail, and connectedness by sketching/drawing or taking photos. Or simply observe.
  • Cultivate awareness and sensitivity by observing their behaviors when they are relaxed vs stressed and backing off if they are showing signs of stress. Learn tips for getting closer for observation, photography, or sketching (learn more: https://nature-mentor.com/how-to-approach-birds/)
  • Cultivate curiosity and love of learning ~ learn identification and interesting facts via books/apps.
  • Cultivate awareness, stewardship, and wisdom – notice posted signs about staying out of fragile nesting areas or about refraining from feeding birds human food (such as bread) for your own amusement. There’s reasons we may nothing about.
  • Cultivate compassion, caring, and stewardship by encouraging birds to come to your backyard with bird feeders, bird baths, trees, flowers or other ways you have learned.
  • Learn about Wildlife Rehab Centers in your own area such as the Pacific Wildlife Care Center in Morro Bay, CA


photo by Dee DiGioia – black bellied plover


“Am I Being too Sensitive?” A few summers ago I wrote…

“Am I being too sensitive?” The thought crossed my mind the other day following an upsetting incident near the end of my walk on the beach. I dug deep within and listened for my answer. What came up was a mighty voice roaring within — “I would rather be ‘too sensitive’ than not have any, or enough, sensitivity!” I was fighting through some tears and trying to calm my agitated mind and distraught heart. I had just encountered three children, likely siblings, ranging from about 5 years to 12 years, who were taunting a very sick seagull. > READ MORE <

‘Let’Em Rest, Let’Em Nest’ Set to Save Shorebirds

“When the birds are on our beaches it’s like a layover when traveling on an airplane — they haven’t reached their destination yet and they are tired, hungry and desperate to rest and refuel. Any disturbance to migrating birds during their time spent on the S.C. coast can be life-threatening. Extra strength used to escape or fend off intruders, being chased by dogs or children, or even scarcity of food and habitat can derail a bird’s migration and nesting. The best thing we can do is simply to let ‘em rest, and let ‘em nest and give the birds plenty of space so they don’t feel threatened,” Schillerstrom adds. “For these birds, it’s the difference between life and death.” > READ MORE <

Nine Ways To Share The Beach With Shorebirds This Summer

Birds on the Beach

Learn about our outdoor Summer 2021 series

“Nourished by Nature”

Retreat style meet-ups for adults and fun family “field trips”

on the Central Coast of California in San Luis Obispo County

and our virtual self-paced “Mindful Explorers” nature-based mindfulness program for families and classrooms


Dee DiGioia, founder of Mindful Kindful YOUniversity, offers Mindfulness-based Social-Emotional Learning Programs across San Luis Obispo County (and virtual) for youth and adults to learn and engage in practices of mindfulness and movement grounded in science and backed by research to support mental and physical health and well-being. Respond more skillfully to life in the 21st Century!

Stay up to date on announcements of classes and events: