by Clare Dunn
It’s that time of year again, when the roads to the beach become the new highways, all of us paddling madly in the direction of the ocean, or some other body of water.
There we shall sit, there we shall lie, there we shall look upon the ripples with soft eyes, and, if all goes to plan, we shall gently lower ourselves into the cooling waters, and truly arrive. It’s the long-awaited moment we hold in our minds to help get through the Christmas crush, when the pent-up exhaustion of another year can be washed away by the tides and the sound of the waves through the night.
The feel-good response we get in the ocean is the subject of recent scientific study. The mildly meditative, relaxed state that we find ourselves when we are in, on or under water has become known as Blue Mind – also the name for an international conference held about the topic each year.
Wallace Nichols spent nearly two decades as a marine biologist working with fishermen in California and Mexico to protect the turtles from poachers before turning his attention to the study of ‘Blue Mind’.
“It’s something I’ve been experiencing and observing my whole life. As marine biologists, we don’t get a chance to talk about that feeling seriously and publicly. Yet it is the reason I became a marine biologist.”
According to Nichols, there is a long link between water and human happiness.
“Early humans seeking a place to call home and seeing a place overlooking the ocean or river realized that it makes them happy. They said, ‘This is good, this is right, this is safe and the place to survive and thrive.’ For us today, it could be going to a swimming pool or the ocean.”
My Blue Mind arrives when doing laps in the local pool. Carving up the lane with repetitive strokes, my thoughts swim around in my brain with a new fluidity, coming up with creative solutions, innovative ideas, or memories of where I left my house keys. After half an hour, I feel quite literally, refreshed and reset.
Nichols now works with a group of veterans who use surfing and kayaking to help with PTSD. The unintended spin-off, says Nichols, is that the realization how important healthy water is for them has turned many of them into ocean conservationists.
My friend David Roland attests ocean swimming as part of his healing from a brain injury. I met David at a writer’s retreat in Katoomba. David’s book, How I Rescued My Brain, tells of how his twice weekly oceans swims across Byron Bay from The Pass helped him physically and emotionally.
“Swimming for me has several benefits. Any aerobic exercise increases oxygen and blood flow to the brain, which improves brain function. It also improves mood by increasing the release of dopamine, which is the brain’s way of rewarding you when you’ve achieved something you’ve set out to do.”
“Psychologically, it has other benefits. It increases mindfulness and staying in the present moment. You can’t talk in water. It necessitates a narrowing of focus onto the breath cycle, and arm, torso and leg movements.”
The post swim coffee with mates afterwards is of course, all part of the ‘Blue Mind’ magic.
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