If you’ve ever plunged your naked body into a mountain lake, rowed a boat over a bay, shimmied into a wetsuit and dived through frigid ocean waves, or even just chilled by the river on a long, hot summer’s afternoon you probably know the transformative effects of water. Humans, by and large, love to be near bodies of water, and spending time near water has a deluge of positive effects on our mental and physical well-being. If you think about it, our human bodies are bodies of water, too, in a way, given that we are physically composed of mostly water. This is why staying hydrated is key to our health, and why we die if we go without water for just a few days. Connecting with water—sometimes even a picture of water—can ease our moods, our nervous system responses, and even our perspectives on life.
Blue Space, Blue Mind, Blue Care
An emerging area of science focuses on the positive effects of being by water, or what some have dubbed “blue space,” (which comes on the heels of the term “green space” which public health and urban-planning experts use to assess the well-being benefits of parks, trees, and other nature spaces.) Writer Elle Hunt’s article in the Guardian in 2019, “Blue spaces: why time spent near water is the secret of happiness,” explores some of the feel-good effects of water. The article includes an interview with Mathew White, a senior lecturer at the University of Exeter and “environmental psychologist with BlueHealth, a program researching the health and wellbeing benefits of blue space across 18 (mostly European) countries.”
White says in the article that when you are “sailing, surfing or swimming ... you’re really in tune with natural forces there —you have to understand the motion of the wind, the movement of the water.” Hunt further notes that “By being forced to concentrate on the qualities of the environment, we access a cognitive state honed over millennia. ... Water is, quite literally, immersive.”
Diving into water has calming effects on our whole system, as Markham Heid details in the 2020 Medium article “There’s a Scientific Reason Why Water Is So Calming.”
“You might think that diving into water, like peering over a cliff’s edge, would provide a little adrenaline rush. But it turns out that just the opposite is true. ... When a person’s face is underwater, research has found that heart rate slows and certain blood vessels constrict. Blood is redistributed from the limbs to the brain, heart, and other central organs. Vagal tone and parasympathetic nervous system activity — both of which are associated with the body’s 'rest-and-digest' states — are turned up. At the same time, elements of the sympathetic nervous system and the body’s 'fight-or-flight' responses tend to mellow out.”
Clean, healthy water is essential to our life force, which is why indigenous-led water protectors around North America and all over the world have been working to safeguard Earth’s water systems. It is also part of what inspired marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols to write the 2014 book, Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do, which was a landmark book in many ways in its overarching look at water and human well-being.
Nichols spoke with Markham Heid for the Medium article about water’s calming effects and benefits for mental health and the nervous system. He also noted water’s positive impacts on creativity.
“Water is also a source of creativity and inspiration,” he said in the article. “When you look at water, there’s what people describe as this soft fascination — something that is interesting and that holds your attention, but not in an information-rich way.”
Blue Mind gathers together scientific evidence with powerful anecdotes that delve into how and why it is that being close to oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, bays and ponds improves mental health and promotes happiness.
While the book details fascinating neuroscience and biology research relating to water and our wellness, it also delves into the spiritual and soulful connections people have with water. He delves into the subtle effects water has on us—like the hypnotic state of mind that gazing at water can bring about. He writes in the book that water “meditates you.”
In an article published in The Guardian in 2014, writer Philip Hoare summarized some of the highlights from Blue Mind relating to water’s mood-enhancing effects, and the way water can be a sort of antidote to our digitized lives full of screen time:
“Nichols believes we should all channel the putative blue in our heads, using water to detox our digital enslavement,” Hoare writes. “Even taking a shower, or glimpsing a photograph of a river will do the job. Imagine, he says, how business negotiations could be facilitated if the interested parties adjourned to a hot tub.”
Because being near water can help ease our minds so well, some mental and physical health practitioners have adopted what are known as “blue care interventions,” which involve spending time near natural water environments as part of health treatment.
A study published in the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s National Library of Medicine compiled a “systematic review of blue space interventions for health and wellbeing.” Its abstract stated that, “In summary, it has been shown that mental health, especially psycho-social wellbeing, can be improved with investment in blue spaces.” The study also notes that in the area of health interventions, science is still catching up in many ways to understanding why it is that natural water, or blue space, has such a strong positive effect on our minds.
Do You Even Talk to Water, Bro?
Another way of connecting with water is through drinking water. Turns out, water is alive, and it is likely listening to us and responding to our energetic frequencies. So, it’s not a bad idea to speak some positive words, or sing some good songs, to your water before you drink it. Indigenous cultures around the world have always had practices of communicating with water, praying over water, sending intention into water, and listening to water. Now, there is scientific evidence to back up the idea that talking, singing, or humming positive vibrations to your water changes the molecules of the water.
Japanese researcher Masaru Emoto wrote the book “The Message from Water” that summarizes his research photographing water under a microscope and showing the way water molecules rearrange themselves depending on how they are spoken to. Emoto writes in the book:
“The words themselves actually emit a unique vibration that the water is sensing. When water is shown a written word, it receives it as vibration, and expresses the message in a specific form, like a visual code for expressing words. Water exposed to the words, 'Thank you' formed beautiful geometric crystals, no matter what the language. But water exposed to, '...you fool' and other degrading words resulted in obviously broken and deformed crystals. When a complete geometric crystal is formed, water is in alignment with nature and the phenomena we call life. The words, gratitude and love, form the fundamental principles of the laws of nature and the phenomenon of life."
Researchers conducted a double-blind, randomized controlled trial of “the hypothesis that water 'treated' with intention can affect ice crystals formed from that water was pilot tested under double-blind conditions.” The study was published in 2006 and found that, yes, water did arrange itself in more “aesthetically pleasing” patterns when people talked to it with positive intentions.
Connecting with water—whether you dive into it, sit near it, talk to it or even just visualize it—can bring happiness, calm stress, and help us connect with our creativity. And whether you live near the ocean or in the middle of an urban center, water is always close. Maybe you’ll bring a little more intention next time you sing in the shower, or pour yourself a glass of ice water.
April M. Short is a journalist, editor, yoga teacher and feminine rites practitioner. She's an editor at the Independent Media Institute and helped co-found multiple psychedelics-focused media outlets. Her writing is published in the San Francisco Chronicle, LA Yoga, Salon, The Conversation and many others. Follow her yoga and ritual work on Instagram: @AprilClarkYoga.
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