Structural Therapy Blog

Sea Turtle Tactics

Categorized Under: Natural Movement Aligned Athlete

      More than a decade ago I spent some time living in the jungle of Hawaii.  The shack we lived in was right on the big ocean side of the island.  Waves collided into the sharp black lava rock exploding rhythmically and there was a perch I sat on that was like the bow of a ship where you could survey the scene.  One day I went with a group to a fifty foot cliff.  One by one we jumped off into the roughest part of the sea.  It was my turn.  Jumping was not easy but it turned out that it was the easiest part.  Once in the cold salty swells I realized that my identity as a “good swimmer” was suddenly false.  I was a good swimmer in pools or lakes.  I was not a good swimmer here.  The ocean rocked me up and down in its gigantic swells and my perfect swimming pool freestyle barely moved my position.  Then I remembered the sea turtles.  Earlier while surveying the ocean I had noticed the sea turtles.  They seemed so calm.  The ocean rocked them up and down, up and down.  They didn’t seem to mind or even have an agenda.  But then I noticed that if they wanted to get somewhere they just waited for the right moment.  Within the swells there was a sweet spot.  They would expend their energy in the sweet spot working with the ocean’s natural tendency and then rest waiting for the next sweet spot.  I had been swimming against the entire ocean’s force trying to win; of course I wasn’t going anywhere.  I calmed my desperate swimming and waited.  I let the ocean rock me up and then down in its swells.  Once I had the rhythm I waited until the next sweet spot and then swam until the ocean was pushing against me again.  I repeated this until I made it to shore exhilarated and not nearly as exhausted as I would have been if I had just blindly pushed regardless of timing.  

    Be like the sea turtle.  Work with your environment instead of against it.  Work with the inner environment of your body.  Listen to it’s message.  Push when it’s time.  Slow it down when it’s time.  Move with your heartbeat and breath instead of against them.  Work with the outer environment of the terrain and weather.  Hot, humid, cool, crisp, cold, freezing, warm, raining, mist, rocky, flat, soft, hard, uphill, downhill, roots, pavement, grass, ….move accordingly.

Combine the information from your inner and outer environment and shape yourself to the moment.  

    This is how to avoid short term and long term injury when you run.  This is how you enjoy a run.  Believe it or not, this has the potential to make you more powerful and faster as well.  Careful, though, because if you’re too focused on the power and speed you’ll be too distracted to be aware of the sweet spot.


    Slap, slap, slap the tired runner’s feet slap the pavement.  Can’t hear it because earphones blast upbeat music, can’t feel it because the monotony of flat ground and unchanging speed gives very little feedback, can’t change it because….wait, this doesn’t have to be this way.  

    What would happen if we stepped outside the runner’s box?  What if we allowed ourselves to do whatever we felt like while running?…  even if it meant not running.  If you’re tired and you don’t feel like running, walk.  If you’re walking and it’s a down hill slope that looks like it would be fun to run, run.  If you see a root or rock that might call out to jump off of, jump.  If you feel like grabbing that smooth beach tree and spinning around it, spin.  If you want to lie in the bed of moss, lie in the bed of moss.  Sing, scream, huff, puff, be silent, listen to your breath, talk, cry, laugh, grunt, hum, run, walk, jump, lie down, jump up, crawl, roll….do anything but the same old thing over and over again without variety.  If we allow variety we will wake up on our runs.  We will notice our body and it’s response to terrain.  There is a natural tendency for us to move.  We flow according to the terrain.  We need freedom to do this, though.  We need to free ourselves from the chains of pace.  There are moments of jogging, stream line running, long stride walking, short stride walking, explosions, fast jog, slow motion.  If we do this, free ourselves to variety, something curious happens.  We begin to listen.  Heartbeat and breath become something more than just an obstacle to surmount or strengthen; they become the music that propel our steps.  Muscles tell when it’s time to let up and when it’s time to pick it up and fly.  We begin to collaborate with our body’s messages instead of plug our ears and ignore them.  Something amazing can happen if we collaborate with our own self.  We begin to have some kind of fun.  If running or walking is fun we are naturally curious about what happens next.  Awareness rushes in.  We notice and enjoy the terrain.  We adapt to the differences of uphill and downhill.  We are more likely to notice that interesting tree up ahead or that mushroom on the ground.  We are more likely to feel a fast car approaching behind and get off to the side in time.  

    What if you’re training for a race or getting in shape for a particular sport?  Here’s the big secret.  Not only does listening to terrain and your body and freeing yourself from pace make it more fun it also can make it more effective.  

    It’s not a fight; it’s a sync.  If you want to push, by all means push.  Just push at the right time.  Push with it not against it.  I’ve worked with  gold medalist Olympic athletes, phenomenal musicians, etc..  They all have a common goal - performance.  Peak performance is a high; it’s a sweet spot.  Those chill sea turtles are rock stars/ gold medalists of their own sort.  They are hitting the sweet spot over and over again.  Be like the sea turtle.  Listen, prepare, wait, and then hit it.  

   To gain your future goal - be in the moment.

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