Close your eyes and try and picture yourself as a child, jumping in the ocean or pool for a dip; what do you feel? For us, it’s a sense of happiness and therapy, even today. While enjoying a cup of coffee one morning last summer, we came across a wonderful piece in the Wall Street Journal written by Elisabeth Bernstein on the experience Marine Scientist Dr. Wallace Nicholas had on seeking the power of water.
It has indeed been a rough few years. Many of us are finding ourselves exhausted, burned out, struggling to build balance back into our lives. We need to recharge. Water can help. Neuroscientists say spending time participating in water activities such as swimming or surfing can help us enter a “flow state” where we become fully immersed in what we’re doing. This calms our mind’s internal state, which is often absorbed by rumination and worry, says Richard Gil-da-Costa, a neuroscientist and chief executive of Neuroscience, who has studied how water affects our brain.
Bodies of water can produce a glorious sense of awe- the emotional response to something vast that expands and challenges how we see the world. And can decrease stress and help us put things into perspective. Dr. Nicholas, whose work focuses on how blue spaces affect our well-being says, “water meditates us by taking away all the noise, all we have to do is show up.”
Water has special properties that may boost natures positive impact.
When you are near water, there is often less visual and auditory information to process. Our minds can rest. Rest, too, in a way we never can on land. Most important: water is dynamic. It moves rhythmically, producing a play of light, color and sound that is mesmerizing. It holds our attention but not in an overly demanding way. Researchers call this soft fascination. It gives our brain a break from the intense, focused attention that much of our daily life requires and is cognitively depleting.
Here’s some advice on how to harness the healing power of water:
Remember that all water counts- you likely have some close by, even if it’s just a creek alongside the road. Start there. Then branch out to water you can visit on the weekend or vacation. Urban water such as rivers, canals and fountains count! And so do domestic waters – in pools, a bathtub, even sprinklers. Pay attention to the sound, the play of light and movement. If you can’t get to the water…paintings, photographs, videos and movies can produce some of the same benefits.
Go Often- a little bit makes a big difference. A 2019 study found that it takes at least two hours a week in nature to improve our well-being, which can be broken into smaller stretches. Scientists have found that people who peered into aquariums had lower heart rates and better moods in just 15 minutes.
Try a Water Sport- and get good at it! This will help experience a flow state where time, and your worries, fall away as you become fully engaged in what you are doing. When you become proficient at an activity, your brain forms new neural pathways, which become faster and stronger.
Listen- it is no coincidence that nine of the top 10 most popular soundscapes on the Calm APP, involve water. One of the most calming properties of water is sound. In a study done last May, it found that the water sounds people find restorative are a rainforest with rain, a beach, and a babbling book. Make an audio recording of your favorite water. It may trigger happy memories.
Use your imagination- you can spend time on the water anywhere, anytime in your mind. And when the water you imagine is water you have enjoyed in real life, the positive effect will be even stronger, Dr. Nicholas says. “When I feel overwhelmed, I close my eyes and picture myself sailing years ago off the coast of Michigan. I visualize the sun sparkling on the water, the sound of the waves splashing against the boat, the voices of my family. Almost immediately I feel calmer.”
So, let’s try this together now…. Close your eyes, think back to one of your favorite moments near water. Completely immerse your thoughts into what you saw around you, what you smelled around you, and most importantly what you heard. Those crashing waves or the summer rainstorm that left you feeling happiness are now being washed into your brain. Deep breath in and enjoy!!!
*Portions of this article are sourced WSJ by Elizabeth Bernstein, August 2022