Dr. Nichols has helped change conversations about adoption, architecture, the arts, business, community organizing, design, education, fishing, fundraising, health care, hospice, leadership, neuroconservation, non-profits, oceans, parenting, plastic pollution, real estate, recreation, sea turtles, slow food, surfing, technology, travel, urban planning, water, and well-being for good. (Whew!)
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Do you ever wonder about how ideas become “a thing” and once you notice them, they seem to be everywhere? Recently, two concepts related to travel and vacations have popped up on our radar and have somehow stayed there: the Japanese practice of Shinrin Yoku or “forest bathing”, and “blue mind” which extols the benefits of being near water.
Forest bathing and blue mind are similar – one takes place in the woods and the other by rivers, lakes and oceans. Both work auto-magically, if you let them, and provide slow and gentle relief from our hyper-connected, over-stimulated “always on” urban life.
Sort of. Forest bathing is simply a conscious decision to walk into a forest, being aware of your surroundings and quieting your monkey mind. It’s not running or active hiking. There is no set destination or time required. Forest bathing is meditative. Leave your phone at home. Make yourself unreachable.
The idea is to walk at an easy pace and absorb the forest. Find a comfortable place to sit still. Observe the trees, the birds and insects (be mindful if you’re sharing a forest with bears).
Notice the season. If it’s spring, you’ll see deciduous trees coming into leaf. Flowers, grasses and weeds are popping up. If you live in a northern climate, the snow is going or gone.
We like walking into forests in the heat of summer. The shade cools us and the heat brings out the fragrance of the earth, the trees and plants.
Some practitioners of forest bathing suggest that once you’ve calmed down your mind, once you have relaxed to where you’re just observing your surroundings, rather than actively thinking about problems or goals, you sit by a tree and ask it a question.
Feels a bit woo woo?
Yeah, but you might be surprised. Think long enough about the tree and you may find your own answer in the voice of that tree. Cycles of life in the forest, the effects of the seasons, the absence of agendas or self-imposed deadlines, and above all, the lack of control. The 101 items on your to do list? The tree doesn’t care. Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your priorities.
Ideally, you’re just observing, but coincidentally, we find forest bathing works well with nature photography. You’re in a forest, you’re quiet, you’re not racing around to catch action shots.
You just slow down to really look, seeing the patterns of light and shade, the shapes of tree trunks and leaves, the moss on the rocks. Maybe it’s not pure forest bathing, but it seems to be complementary.
The notion of blue mind life has been popularized by Wallace J. Nichols in his Blue Mind book. He defines blue mind as a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment when you’re near, on, or in water. It could be walking on the beach, in a boat fishing, snorkeling or scuba diving. In fact, for some people, a bathtub is enough.
Similar to the calm brought on by forest bathing, being near water while willing yourself to slow down brings on a blue mind state of Zen.
Nichols brought together multi-disciplined teams from the fields of science, medicine, psychology, athletics and nature studies to form his theories about the effects of bodies of water on humans. He has outfitted people with swim caps connected to electrodes that sample brain activity as they approach or emerge themselves in water. The graphic displays show pleasure centers in the brain reacting, the heartbeat slowing and blood pressure going down as stress levels drop.
Even doctors in the Victorian era would prescribe “sea air” against a variety of maladies. Today, in Germany, many people enjoy a “kur” (cure). This generally involves a visit of a few weeks to a spa to take baths in waters of various temperatures with sea salts, mud and minerals. Between baths, contemplative walks through parks are part of the regimen.
Instinctively, we already know that the negative ions generated by water make us feel better. We are lulled by the gentle white noise shushing of waves. Many of us join the sunset soldiers, standing quietly on a shoreline to reflect on the final light show of the day.
It makes sense that we have a natural affinity to water. After all, our bodies are about 60% liquid. And now it’s been proven that being close to water positive health benefits. (A glass of wine near water? Doubly beneficial!)
Real estate records show that a house right on the water generally costs 100% more than the same house just a block or two inland. In highly developed areas such as the French Riviera, any home or apartment facing the water is worth millions of dollars. Stay at a resort, and you’ll pay 20% – 30% more for an ocean view versus a “garden” view.
Why so much for a view, since even those who pay less can walk along the same beach?
We pay for those momentary hits of emotion when we open the curtains in the morning and gaze over the ocean as if we own it. Is it rational? Maybe not, but we know how it makes us feel and many of us gladly pay for the flood of positive energy.
Personally, we’re lucky. Although we live in a city, we’re surrounded by 100-year old trees. It’s easy for us to get to Lake Ontario, one of North America’s great lakes. In the summer, we walk along Georgian Bay at Wasaga Beach, the world’s longest freshwater beach.
In the past year, we’ve visited Canada’s west coast twice. It’s a paradise for forest bathing and blue mind life with its temperate rain forests, rushing rivers and of course the wild Pacific Ocean.
It’s become second nature for us to plan our travels to destinations that feature oceans, forests or jungles. Our road trip through the Yucatan gave us all that and more. We’re also attracted to cities, but even those cities are often built on significant bodies of water. What would Paris be without the Seine or Amsterdam without its canals?
In his research, Nichols has determined that we all have “our water”. This is a place near water where we’ve been to and may regularly return to that brings on the calm blue mind feelings. For some, that feeling is so strong that they move to live on that water. For others, it’s a vacation or perhaps just a memory.
How about you? Do you have a deep tie to a body of water you call yours?
Do you get up early to be on “your beach” before anyone else just to walk and feel the calm of the water?
At sunset, do you head for the shore or the dock to witness the passing of another day?
Whether you’re conscious of it or not, blue mind exerts a powerful calming force. Once you’re aware of it, you’ll find yourself drawn to the water as often as possible. Now you know…
These are some of the most popular books about blue mind life and forest bathing.
Wallace J. Nichols
A landmark book by marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols on the remarkable effects of water on our health and well-being. Why are we drawn to the ocean each summer? Why does being near water set our minds and bodies at ease? In Blue Mind, Wallace J. Nichols revolutionizes how we think about these questions, revealing the remarkable truth about the benefits of being in, on, under, or simply near water.
Jaimal Yogis ran off to Hawaii with little more than a copy of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha and enough cash for a surfboard. His journey is a coming-of-age saga that takes him from communes to monasteries, from the warm Pacific to the icy New York shore. Equal parts spiritual memoir and surfer’s tale, this is a chronicle of finding meditative focus in the barrel of a wave and eternal truth in the great salty blue.
Eva M. Selhub, Alan C. Logan
In Your Brain on Nature, physician Eva Selhub and naturopath Alan Logan examine not only the effects of nature on the brain, but the ubiquitous influence of everyday technology on the brain, and how IT overload and its many distractions may even be changing it. Offering an antidote for the technology-addicted, the book outlines emerging nature-based therapies including ecotherapy, as well as practical strategies for improving your cognitive functioning, mental health and physical well-being.
Mary Reynolds Thompson
Reclaiming the Wild Soul takes us on a journey into Earth’s five great landscapes — deserts, forests, oceans and rivers, mountains, and grasslands — as aspects of our deeper, wilder selves. Where the inner and outer worlds meet we discover our own true nature mirrored in the Earth’s wild beauty and fierce challenges. A powerful archetypal model for transformation, the “soulscapes” return us to a primal terrain rich in knowing, healing, and wholeness.
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