Turtles and Yoga

During a recent holiday in Sri Lanka earlier this year, we visited a Turtle sanctuary

Turtles are something I knew very little about, but after around 40 minutes at the sanctuary, I discovered how fascinating turtles are, and how one key fact about them has a strong parallel with yoga and meditation

Turtles have been in existence for around 100 million years. It’s now believed that the overall, global population of turtles is around one million. A female turtle lays around 100 eggs three times a year. Amazingly, from the eggs they lay, only 10% of them survive

Turtles can live up to 130 years old. Interestingly, the liver, kidneys and lungs for a 100-year old turtle are indistinguishable from immature turtles

Turtles vary in size, but are typically between 1 metre and 2 metres in length. Their weight varies from 250kg to almost 700kg for the largest ‘Leatherback’ turtles

The biggest predator and threat to turtles is man. Some countries continue to hunt, sell and eat turtles. Turtles are also endangered by plastic bags, bottles, fishing nets and motorised blades. Climate change is another huge threat

When we visited the turtle sanctuary, we were able to pick up and hold baby turtles. We could also see and touch larger adult turtles in some of the tanks there. Most of the adult turtles were there due to injury or physical issues

A few other fascinating facts: turtles live their lives both on land and in the sea. They swim thousands of kilometres around the world, but, incredibly, return to their original place of birth to lay their eggs. As part of their diet they eat various species of poisonous fish, especially jelly fish around Europe

So where is the parallel with yoga? I learnt that turtles are generally gentle creatures, that typically ‘go with the flow’. When they are swimming and under water, they are able to slow their heart beat to the unbelievable rate of just once every nine minutes. They do this to conserve oxygen when they’re under water, for as long as five hours at a time

The fact that they can slow their heart rate so dramatically is a major factor in their ability to live such long lives, and maintain their key internal organs (liver, lungs and kidneys) in such great condition

Yoga and meditation are proven to have a beneficial effect on the nervous system. Developing and maintaining a slow, even rate of breathing helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, by triggering the vagus nerve, thus lowering heart rate and blood pressure. It induces feelings of calmness and well-being 

So there you have it! Turtles are living proof that by living a relatively stable life, and through managing their own heart rate, they can live long and healthy lives. A regular practice of yoga and meditation can help us simple human beings to do the same

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