From poets to healers, the sea has been a place of sanctuary for both mind and body for centuries. Now science has revealed the truth behind this so-called ‘blue therapy’.
‘For whatever we lose (like a you or a me), It’s always our self we find in the sea.’ Those words – as timely now as they were when E.E Cummings wrote them – offer a real truth about the sanctity we find in our oceans.
Saline water is, after all, 90% of what we are. No wonder, as the great American Modernist noted, it feels so instinctive to want to dive into the big open blue when all about you are losing their heads – as if from birth we find a sense of security in being enveloped by its calming aquatic arms.
But don’t just take our word for it. The idea that sea water has healing properties goes all the way back to the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, who hailed seawater as a cure for malady. It’s only more recently, however, that we’ve come to truly understand the ‘science’ behind such claims.
In Blue Mind: How Water Makes You Happier, More Connected and Better at What You Do, Wallace J Nichols draws upon the research and experiences of everyone from doctors and athletes to artists and environmentalists to draw a complete picture of the ocean’s powerful healing properties. All founded in cutting-edge scientific, psychological and economic studies and research.
That happy feeling you sense after immersing yourself in the blue water? It’s backed by science that shows our dopamine and serotonin hormones – responsible for good mood – soar in seawater. It’s no wonder we feel invigorated and refreshed when we emerge from its depths. The negative ions in the sea, meanwhile, encourage our lungs to take in more oxygen, allowing us to feel more engaged, more vigorous, clear minded somehow. More, to paraphrase a line from Sylvia Plath, ‘as if the sea could make my decision for me’.
But there is balance in the big blue. Like magic, swimming in the sea will also trigger our parasympathetic system, which are responsible for our own natural rest and repair system. Rich in magnesium, seawater will relax your muscles and help us find deep sleep.
And what of the ocean’s abundant minerals, able to feed and soothe our skin as if we belonged in its waters? The ancient healing of water-based Thalassotherapy is nothing new. While cold water will naturally support our circulation thereby restoring essential microelements and disease-fighting white blood cells, it will also tend to your skin.
Skin, as you will be aware, is the body’s largest organ. As such, it’s wonderfully receptive to the ocean’s endless supply of vitamins, amino acids and antibacterial mineral salts. These include zinc, iron, sulphate, potassium and magnesium, all of which are believed to act as anti-inflammatories to day-in, day-out exposure to our stressful, polluted lifestyles.
Perhaps this is why so many sufferers of psoriasis, eczema and other skin conditions espouse the benefits gained from wallowing in the sea’s waters. Put seaweed and kelp, with their abundant anti-oxidants and vitamins C and E into its powerful mix, and your skin enjoys natural moisturisation and purifying too.
No wonder our skin and our minds like to be beside the seaside – our ancient relationship with its waters goes beyond intuition.
But don’t simply take it from us. As with all good theories, the best way to explore the ones presented here, is to go out there and test the waters for yourself.