Blue Mind ~ How Science is Proving the Soothing Effects of Water

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Each summer I return to the coast of California, a place I called home for half my life.  Currently a desert dweller, the change of atmosphere, weather and pace always feeds my soul and is a time to recharge and reflect. It’s been almost 10 years now, that I’ve spent my summers in Encinitas, California, a sleepy yogi and surfer hideaway.  Over the years my daughter and I started a tradition of long “adventure” walks along the beach and through town. Spending 3-4 hours at a time, connecting, searching for spirals along the beach, shopping at cute shops along the shore and replenishing with yummy fresh acai. Each summer we leave with a huge bag of spiral shells that remind me of this time and I use as offerings in ceremony or for creative projects. It’s one of my favorite memories and am always grateful for the connection that this space provides.  I’ve always believed in the waters ability to heal, but it turns out it isn’t just the Schulman resonance that recharges us by the ocean. A theory by marine biologist, author and proclaimed, ‘protector of the seas’ Wallace J. Nichols called

“blue mind describes the mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment.”

Nichols’s theory argues that we live in a world dominated by being in a ‘red mind’ state, which in essence is the sympathetic nervous system, where we are constantly in a fight or flight response characterized by fear and anxiety. Nichols describes a red mind as “an edgy high, characterized by stress, anxiety, fear and maybe even a little bit of and despair.”  Such states are also the precursor and/or the exacerbator of dis-ease. Often, we experience prolonged periods in such a state because we lack the knowledge or the tools to help ease the body into more relaxed states where it can naturally repair. With constant stimulation and technology invading our every moment, we can’t catch a moment of calm to simply wait in line or enjoy a dinner with friends without looking at our phones.  Switching our bodies into parasympathetic states through meditation, sound or frequency therapies can help the body switch into the restful states in needs to rejuvenate and cultivate creativity. Through Nichols research we can add a new tool to the arsenal, connecting to the element of water.  Through his research Nichols concludes, “we are beginning to learn that our brains are hardwired to react positively to water and that being near it can calm and connect us, increase innovation and insight, and even heal what’s broken.”

Through a variety of approaches including more qualitative methods using simple surveys and interviews, to quantitative measurements using a variety of activities and stimuli, Nichols recorded stress hormones in saliva as well as, recording EEGs, oxygen flow (fMRI) and heartrate.  Nichols found that the scientific data supports what we already know antidotally, we just feel better by the water. These effects can be measured not only by the ocean and natural bodies of water like rivers, lakes and streams, but by simply emerging ourselves in the water (yes, your bath ritual just took on even more potency).  In fact, blue mind isn’t isolated to just our contact with water but by ancient neural connections in the subconscious associated with water.

 “Blue mind is inspired by water and elements associated with water, from the color blue to the words we use to describe the sensations associated with immersion. It takes advantage of neurological connections formed over millennia, many such brain patterns and preferences being discovered only now thanks to innovative scientists and cutting-edge technology.”  

Water has so much to teach us, whether it be by simply attuning ourselves to its powerful rhythms and melodic tone or by observing its nature. The ocean can be fierce and forbidding at times, and at others, it can lull us into states of serenity.  Meditation practices, often analogize the waves of the ocean to our own thoughts, repetitive by nature there is always another one coming. Only by the calming of the water (our thoughts), can we enjoy its reflective quality.  We see what the mirror is trying to teach us.


Meditation practices, often analogize the waves of the ocean to our own thoughts, repetitive by nature there is always another one coming. Only by the calming of the water (our thoughts), can we enjoy its reflective quality.
Finding a blue state of mind. Image by Justin Cooper.

By separating ourselves from the immersive nature of our thoughts and moving into an observer mindset, we understand the flow in which life is trying to serve us. We resist less, when we understand we are part of something much larger and infinitely more intelligent than us. We surrender in the awakening that ultimately, we are not in control. As Alan Watts once said, “you know that if you get in the water and have nothing to hold on to, but try to behave as you would on dry land, you will drown. But if, on the other hand, you trust yourself to the water and let go, you will float. And this is exactly the situation of faith.”  Alan Watts (2011). “Eastern Wisdom, Modern Life: Collected Talks: 1960-1969”, p.67, New World Library.  So perhaps that is our job, to find more ways to let go and restore our bodies, mind, and spirit. To attune to nature and trust that we, like the acorn, already know how to turn into the oak. Restoring the balancing between being and doing, we allow the natural rhythms of life to restore us and find a blue state of mind.

To learn more about blue mind, read Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do

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