Our Blue Minds.
Five Ways Water Matters To Us
Water – element of life, and cleansing, calming, healing force of nature.
From our earliest days, people have believed in the transformational powers of water. From the central importance of Roman bath-houses, to the great Indian and Chinese medicinal wisdoms, in which water is a balancing and harmonizing element. In Christianity it denotes rebirth, spiritual healing and salvation.
In the midst of our busy lives, how often do we long for the peace and calm of gazing out at a blue-green ocean?
We play in it – dive, paddle, sail and swim. We build our homes near it. Or, if we can’t we have water features and fountains in our gardens. We refresh ourselves with long showers and comfort ourselves in hot baths.
Water runs so deep in our psyche and souls, that a renowned marine biologist Dr. Wallace J. Nichols explored the phenomena in his 2014 book ‘The Blue Mind’
‘The Blue Mind’ has been described as a “powerful new universal story of water”. In it, Nichols explores the physical, ecological, economic, cognitive, emotional, psychological, and social benefits of healthy oceans and waterways.
Nichols believes that we all have a “blue mind” that’s triggered when we’re in or near water. He describes it as..
“a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment”
In the book Nichols writes
“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. We have a ‘blue mind’ — and it’s perfectly tailored to make us happy in all sorts of ways that go way beyond relaxing in the surf, listening to the murmur of a stream, or floating quietly in a pool.”
The Five important benefits of our “blue minds.”
1. Water gives our brains a rest.
Smart phones, screens, alerts, noise, hectic cities, voices, questions, busy office, crazy traffic.
Our brain needs to switch off from time to time, but rarely does.
Being by the sea, the volume is turned right down and the visuals are pure and simple. Being near elemental water, we simply aren’t bombarded with the millions of bits of information we take in every second of daily life.
When we’re near, on, in or under water, we get a cognitive break. Our brains work in a different way, according to Nichols.
“When you have that simplified, quieter ‘blue’ space, your brain is better at a different set of processes,” he says.
2. Water creates a meditative state.
Why do we love to sit and gaze over a river or the sea?
We are not always conscious of it, but the water is creating a mildly meditative state of calm focus and gentle awareness.
In ‘The Blue Mind’, Nichols calls this a “soft fascination”.
Our brain is interested in the water, engaging with it as “sensory input” but not overloaded by it, as we are with the “hard fascination” we experience say, watching horror or action film or playing a video game.
Basically, near water, we are in a calmly mindful state.
3 Water inspires us to be more compassionate and connected.
Nichols argues that when we get close to water we get a feeling of awe, we feel inspired.
It’s that lovely sense of wonder we get when we stand by the sea, or watch a flowing river. We get a feeling of the vastness of nature and we feel good.
Nichols includes research findings that these feelings of awe increase our capacity for connection and empathy.
“When you experience that feeling of awe, you get that ‘one with the universe’ feeling,” he says. “You feel connected to yourself, the world around you, and whoever you happen to be with. That puts you in a ‘we’ state of mind.”
4 A Blue Mind is a creative mind.
When we are calm and not bombarded with information, the mind switches into a different mode of engagement known as the default mode network and this is associated with daydreaming, imagination, memories, insight and introspection.
The default mode network is key for creativity.
So, when we’re stuck in front of our computers, or the day has frazzled our brain with noise and images, we jump in the shower and feel refreshed. Our brain might come up with a solution we were struggling to find before.
We are actually activating the default network. We’re not switching off, we’re hearing only the noise of water and feeling it. As Nichols would say, we are only “hearing blue noise”
5 Exercise by or in water is good for our bodies and brains.
“It’s almost too obvious, and it gets overlooked,” says Nichols. “But the health and neurological benefits of exercise by water are very real.”
Any exercise is good for our minds and bodies, but it could be that a jog across the beach or by the river, or a swim in the lake may well benefit us much more.
Exercising outside near water potentially gives you more of a mental boost than a crowded, gym environment with TVs in front of you. Many people feel intuitively that being in the presence water provides obvious benefits for well-being, and their instincts are right.
Wallace J Nichol’s ‘The Blue Mind’ is a fascinating book. It is a uniquely told ode water and its power not only in our social and built world, but our inner world – our minds and our spirits.
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