Why Being Near The Ocean Can Make You Calmer And More Creative
Today, we still turn to water for a sense of calm and clarity. We spend our vacations on the beach, we get exercise and enjoyment from water sports like surfing, scuba diving, sailing, and swimming; refresh ourselves with long showers and soothing baths, and often build our lives and homes around being near the water.
Our affinity for water is even reflected in the near-universal attraction to the color blue. We're naturally drawn to aquatic hues and people associate this color with qualities like calm, openness, depth and wisdom.
"We are beginning to learn that our brains are hardwired to react positively to water and that being near it can calm and connect us, increase innovation and insight, and even heal what's broken. "We have a 'blue mind' -- and it's perfectly tailored to make us happy in all sorts of ways that go way beyond relaxing in the surf, listening to the murmur of a stream, or floating quietly in a pool."
"Being around water gives our brains and our senses a rest from overstimulation.
The sound around us, from an auditory perspective, is simplified. It's not quiet, but the sound of water is far more simple than the sound of voices or the sound of music or the sound of a city. And the visual input is simplified. When you stand at the edge of water and look out on the horizon, it's visually simplified relative to the room you're sitting in right now, or a city you're walking through, where you're taking in millions of pieces of information every second."
"When we're near, on, in or under water, we get a cognitive break because there's simply less information coming in. Our brains don't shut down -- they keep working, but in a different way. When you have that simplified, quieter 'blue' space, your brain is better at a different set of processes.
Many of us love to sit near the ocean or a river and gaze out at the water -- often, we can sit for long periods simply observing the gentle movements of the water. Why? Though we may not be conscious of it, the water could be inducing a mildly meditative state of calm focus and gentle awareness.
When we're by the water, our brains are held in a state of mild attentiveness -- a "soft fascination." In this state, the brain is interested and engaged in the water, taking in sensory input but not distracted by an overload of it, as we might be with the "hard fascination" we experience while watching an action movie or playing a video game.
Being in a mindful state -- in which the brain is relaxed but focused -- benefits the mind and body on a number of different levels, including lower stress levels, relief from mild anxiety, pain and depression.
Water can inspire us to be more compassionate and connected
While in the restful, contemplative state associated with observing or interacting with water, it's also common to experience feelings of awe. The emotion of awe invokes feelings of a connection to something beyond oneself, a sense of the vastness of nature and an attempt to make sense of the experience.
"When you experience that feeling of awe, you get that 'one with the universe' feeling.
"You feel connected to yourself, the world around you, and whoever you happen to be with. That puts you in a 'we' state of mind."
It's no coincidence, then, that many of life's most romantic moments take place by the water -- engagements, weddings and honeymoons overwhelmingly occur in waterside locations.
"We hold important ceremonies by water. Both in life and in death, we gather by water when we can."
Exercise by or in water is good for our bodies and brains
Exercise in any setting can improve our physical and mental health on a number of different levels, and can be an excellent way of reducing stress. But you may get even more benefit from your exercise by ditching the gym and taking a jog by the ocean or a swim in the lake instead.
"We know that water -- being surrounded by blue space -- helps us relax, and we know that exercise is good for our bodies and our brains," "If somebody is experiencing a number of problems that exercise and stress reduction may help with, [water] is a good add-on. Find a river trail and run there, or get on a bike, or row or swim."
Being outside near water while you're exercising will potentially give you more of a mental boost than exercising in a crowded, hectic gym environment with TVs in front of you and people all around.