Regardless of whether you choose a beach break, where you plan to do diddly squat bar sunbathe, or an adventure holiday, that calls for backpacks and walking boots, chances are your chosen destination will lead you to water. It’s like our subconscious mind homes in on the things without us even realising. The sea, rivers, lakes, streams - as soon as we can, we’re out of those starting blocks and sprinting towards the nearest water source we can find. Why? Because it has the ability to flick a switch inside that takes us from chaotic to calm.
There’s science to back it up too. In Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being In, On or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected and Better at What You Do, marine biologist Dr Wallace J Nichols uses behavioural and neurophysiological testing to prove how the brain behaves near water. The results show an elevated and sustained happiness, lower levels of stress and anxiety, a lower heart and breathing rate as well as having the ability to boost creativity.
An analysis from the journal Health Place also found that those who lived by the coast reported better physical and mental health than those that don’t, and a recent study in Barcelona found that participants who spent 20 minutes a day walking in a ‘blue space’ reported improvements in their mood, vitality and mental health.
Water and its age-old power
Water therapy has long been prescribed as a life tonic and goes as far back as Hippocrates. By 1750 it was widely recommended that sea swimming could cure diseases with winter the best time for such activity. In fact, sea bathing was so common during the 18th century, it led to the formation of ‘seaside towns.’ What’s newer is the ‘blue space’ analogy. For the past few years there has been a focus on the benefits of immersing yourself in green space with activities such as forest bathing, but now there’s a shift in focus to the blue waters around us.
According to the United Nations, 55% of the global population now live in cities. For those inhabitants it’s likely that the majority have become detached from nature and ruled by technology. This is where nature-based interventions can bring a grounding effect. Studies have also shown that even just images of environments containing water create a positive reaction - good news if you’re miles away from a natural source.
Once you’ve found some blue space, blue mind can occur - the term coined by Nichols: “I came up with a name for this human-water connection: Blue Mind, a mildly meditative state characterised by calm, peacefulness, unity and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment. It is inspired by water and elements associated with water, from the colour blue to the words we use to describe the sensations associated with immersion. It takes advantage of neurological connections formed over millennia, many of which are being discovered only now thanks to innovative scientists and cutting-edge technology.”
How having a Blue Mind works
If you’re by the ocean, you’ll be lucky enough to experience a full assault on the senses. The rhythmic ebbing and flowing of the waves de-stimulates your brain, and when coupled with what you’re seeing, has the ability to change our brain waves’ frequency and activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxing you and making you feel more ‘chill’. The smell of the sea air is another trigger for tranquillity as the oxygen atoms near water contain an extra electron. This means you breathe in more negative ions which the Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine suggested could be used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder. The immersion Nichols talks about - of being in or near blue spaces - also brings about an almost meditative state. By focusing on the qualities of what’s around you, it forces you to be present, releasing you from the shackles of everyday life, even if just for a moment.
Luckily you don’t need a wetsuit or a sea-view apartment to take a deep dive into blue space according to Nichols: “Water can give us energy, whether it’s hydraulic, hydration, the tonic effect of cold water splashed on the face, or the mental refreshment that comes from the gentle, rhythmic sensation of hearing waves lapping against the shore.”
Here are 5 ways you can easily indulge…
Listen to the sea
You only have to Google ‘ocean apps’ for a plethora to pop up - Ocean Sounds, Relax Ocean, even meditation app Calm has the option to get acquainted with nature, just go to the Sleep section and under Soundscapes you’ll find everything from Calming Aquascape (think jacuzzi bubbles) to Babbling Brook to Distant Ocean Surf. Simply shut your eyes and listen to the water, it can help to regulate your breath which will lower anxiety levels and reduce negativity. Studies also show that our brains process noises as either threatening or non-threatening and as a species we interpret water as non-threatening, even if it’s loud, crashing waves.
Go wild swimming
It might be trending but there’s a reason why wild swimming is getting so much love. For a start there’s the immersion you experience, that doesn’t just make you feel weightless and free, studies show it increases blood flow to the brain. This in turn increases the supply of oxygen, glucose and nutrients so your brain works at its optimum. Don’t let the icy temperatures put you off either. The ‘cold shock’ response actually reduces stress hormones like cortisol at the same time as boosting your immune system and dopamine levels to give you that happy high. Another benefit? When you’re swimming, just you and that vast expanse of water, it’s like having a ‘do not disturb’ sign round your neck. With no distractions or interruptions, all there is to focus on is your stroke and your breathing. Pure bliss.
Hunt out a water feature
Any water is better than none, so if you’re an urbanite, hunt out water features, canals, ponds, streams - anywhere you can stare into the ‘blue space’ and lose yourself for a while - 20 minutes is ideal. It’s about distracting your mind from the daily grind, so look at the water formations, listen to the sound of it trickling and splashing and enjoy the meditative effects it creates. If all else fails, grab your favourite Ritual’s foaming shower gel’s and head to the bathroom.
Invest in some blue paint
One of the reasons water is said to have such a pacifying effect on our body and mind comes down to its colour. Nichols cites that a 2010 study in Europe showed exposure to blue light therapy increased responses to areas of the brain that involve attention and memory, while other research found that blue as a colour encouraged greater creativity. Others associate it with feelings of calm and peace. Which is why adding a splash of blue to your living quarters could be good for your soul. If you struggle with sleep and switching off, a cool sky blue in your bedroom will relax you while if you need to keep ideas sparking in your home office, an azure hue could become a handy stimulant.
Run a bath
While cold water has the greatest benefits, dunking yourself in warm water still has the power to help relax and unwind your muscles and mind. Focus on that weightless feeling, use your body to create a rippling effect and add a sprinkling of The Ritual of Jing Magnesium Bath Crystals so you can relax, unwind and still feel the sensation of natural salt on your skin.