Seeing a horizon and being near water is healing for body and mind.
This is something I’ve been inherently feeling for a long time now. Having moved from the beaches of Perth, Western Australia to London, I quickly became aware that I missed being in nature. And a walk around a city park, as lovely as they are, didn’t quite cut it. It was only when I was in wild, rugged, expansive nature did I truly truly feel better. I felt an over sense of calm which was followed by a sense of wellness.
Interestingly enough since I’ve moved to the north coast of Cornwall where the coastline is rugged and vast, I haven’t yet experienced my usual bout of Seasonal Affective Disorder or low energy!
This is fascinating to me because coming from the city where one is constantly striving to look and feel better, often at the expense of more time and money, I wonder - could it really be that simple? Getting a daily dose of nature?
I spoke to a friend of mine out here in Cornwall who is a life coach and is qualified Blue Coach to get her take on this.
Meet Charlotte, founder of The Palm Tree Club. She is a Life Coach & Blue Health healer:
Hi everyone, I’m Charlotte and what Alex experienced when being close to nature is super common as we are naturally drawn to blue space, with many communities being built around or close to a body of water. This attraction is a deep biological connection to water, with it making up almost 70% of our body and covering 70 % of the earth's surface. According to Wallace J Nichols author of the groundbreaking book Blue Mind, this connection has been shown to trigger an immediate response in our brains when we’re near water. In fact, the mere sight and sound of water can induce a flood of neurochemicals that promote wellness by increased blood flow to the brain and heart and which induce relaxation. Thanks to science, we’re now able to connect the dots to the full range of emotional benefits being on, in, or near the water.
So what makes up some of the science that helps us to understand why we feel good near water?
According to Michael Merzenich, a neuroscientist at the University of California, ‘the brain is always trying to record and interpret the meaning of things and events. It adapts its perceptual model continually to distinguish relevant from irrelevant information in its surroundings.’ Which could be described as normalising the background.
When in nature or near the water there is much higher predictability than in a busy train station, or on a street, a body of water is largely the same moment to moment. This means the background we are seeing is fairly controlled allowing part of the brain to relax. When the brain notices a mild interruption like a breaking wave or a jumping dolphin there is a sense of surprise which is accompanied by a hit of dopamine. It feels good. How long have you spent being mesmerised by the different breaking waves? Just one more wave and then we’ll leave, just one more!
Bodies of water are staying the same and changing simultaneously, which allows us to feel relaxing, soothing familiarity plus stimulating novelty. If you have sat and watched the water for long enough the repetition of the rising and falling waves is meditative. This regularity without boredom creates a dream like state, perfect for creativity, manifesting and processing. This is an essential part of the Blue Mind theory. To learn more check out www.wallacejnichols.org What is awesome is this can be accessed anywhere. You don’t need to live on a beach or have a swimming pool in your garden to reap the benefits. The research from neuroscientists suggests that being in or near any water reduces cortisol levels (the stress hormone), slows our breathing and heart rate, and allows us to reconnect our body and mind.
Taking the time for yourself to wonder in nature, on the beach, near a river or paddle in the sea is a great way to self care. You are worth the time out. You are worth this experience. Everything else can wait. Taking the mindset of "Right now I am living every step, every moment and taking it all in." This in itself is a powerful tool for expanding our mindset and learning how to care for yourself first.
What has come out of this year's uncertainty and need for wellbeing, is a rise in UK sea swimming which is so inspiring and exciting to watch unfold. The 'feel good' effects of swimming are plentiful. The deep rhythmic breathing and stretching and relaxing of muscles helps put swimmers in a mindful state, whilst stimulating the release of endorphins and endocannabinoids, reducing the brain's stress and anxiety response.
With the UK not having the warmest of seas, it forms great practice for cold water therapy, made more well known by the Ice man himself Wim Hof. The more you expose the body to cold water the more you can learn to control your stress response by stepping out your comfort zone and controlling the breathing and sensations.
Scientists have found evidence that exposure to cold speeds up metabolism as well as reduces inflammation, swelling and sore muscles. Furthermore, cold body therapy is also linked to improved quality of sleep, more focus and even to an improved immune response. The sense of accomplishment you feel after the swim gives you a hit of feel good hormones which carries you through the day. That positive energy radiates to others around you, creating motivational influence and momentum. It provides courage and confidence in other areas of your life, lifting you out of negative moods and unhelpful thoughts.
Cold is an important component of the Wim Hof Method, which is applied in the form of cold showers and ice baths. Participants of the WHM report health benefits that range from higher energy levels to relief of symptoms caused by autoimmune diseases. The Wim Hof Method is a very powerful method that can teach you how you can consciously influence your own body. The method is built on three pillars, which are breathing, commitment/mind-set, and exposure to cold. To learn more check out www.wimhofmethod.com
Living with more awareness of Blue Mind, deepens our connection with water, can heal, influence and inspire us even in our darkest moments. Therefore, our need to conserve, protect and respect the ocean and our natural surroundings is more important than ever. The blue space isn’t a resource for us to use. It is us. We are the ocean, the trees, the waves, show love for that and it too shall provide.
If you’d like to learn more here are a few more links to check out and make sure you download or get yourself a copy of Blue Mind, it’s a compelling, cutting edge journey that revolutionises the questions around blue health.
With a whole lotta love,
Alex & Charlotte