Close your eyes and imagine your dream vacation. Is water present? Perhaps you are taking a romantic walk on the beach, or are sailing near a Caribbean island. Or are you on the slopes, skiing in Europe. Maybe you even have photographs at home of you and loved ones with water in the image – many of life’s romantic moments take place by water.
My school has acknowledged that stress continues to be the scourge of todays society and there has been a major focus in our building on being mindful of student, and faculty, stress. Our school YRBS figures tell us that stress levels remain high, with 13% of our students reporting feeling stressed or anxious EVERY DAY in the last 30 days. It will come as no surprise that the reported biggest stressors are academics, post high school plans, friends, extra-curricular activities then family.
Because 4 of those 5 stressors are within our school building, and because my school is situated just 2 blocks from Lake Michigan, I will take each of my classes for a walk to the local beach every semester. But just so that my students don’t see this as a ‘blow off’ class and that I’m taking an easy day without actually teaching anything, I make sure that I share with my students the value of being by water and how it can help us in so many ways.
Much of what I share with my students comes from the awesome work of Dr. Wallace J Nichols and his #BlueMind theory. I urge you to read (or as I did, check out the audio version of) his great 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
In advance of our walk, and while we are together at the beach, I share the following facts with my students. This really helps to frame the experience and sets the tone for the 10/15 minutes that we might spend by the lake.
- School is the home of many of our biggest stressors. Walking away from the building towards the lake will give us a momentary break from these stressors.
- Water covers 2/3 of the planet so we are never very far from water. We are fortunate to have Lake Michigan on our doorstep so we should be encouraged to use it to our benefit.
- Good health is more prevalent the closer we live to the coast. I ask my students what are the implications for them and their families considering that we live in the Mid West?
- Organizations are using the power of the sea in powerful ways. Operation Surf uses the power of the ocean and compassionate mentorship to instill hope, helping wounded military heroes overcome everyday challenges and utterly transform their outlook and life. There are many reports of improved sleep and ‘good dreams’. Participants of the program have also reported a 36% decrease in PTSD symptoms, a 47% decrease in depression and a 68% increase in self-efficacy.
- Heroes on the Water is another program with similar aims. It uses kayak fishing to help treat PTSD symptoms in veterans. They report a 56% reduction in overall stress, a 62% reduction in hyper vigilance and a 63% reduction in avoidance behavior. Similarly, floatation tanks are also now being employed to treat PTSD.
- About 70 percent of the human body is made up of water and your brain is bathed in salt water. Coincidentally, more than 70 percent of Earth is covered in water.
- Water gives our brain a rest…from overstimulation, the visual input is simplified, the sounds are simpler (I’m listening to sounds of the ocean on my speakers as I type). Obviously I don’t allow students to use their phones when they are down by the water except to take photographs just before we leave.
- Water can induce a meditative state. The brain is relaxed but focused while stress, mild anxiety, pain and depression are all reduced. Mental clarity and sleep quality improve when we are by water.
- Water can inspire us to be more compassionate and connected.
Being by water “.. switches you from a ‘me’ orientation to a ‘we’ orientation,” “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.” Dr. Wallace J. Nichols
- Water triggers a creative mind. I have witnessed an English teacher walk their students to the beach with a pen and journal in hand and encourage them to write, inspired by the presence of water. Near water we are more prone to daydream, imagine, consolidate memories, develop insight and introspection. Water is more likely to trigger that ‘Eureka’ moment.
- Finally, exercise by or in water is good for the body and mind. We get all of the benefits of a gym workout but perhaps more of a mental boost by exercising by the water. Kudos to my co-worker Jim Davis and his willingness to take our student athletes to the beach as part of their training.
As we come towards the end of a long school year, and with one eye on plans for the summer, I wonder if you plan on spending some time by water with friends or family. If you haven’t considered the theory behind why you have a desire to spend time by, or in the water you really MUST check out Dr Nichols’ book. I am going to listen to it again this week and I have also made it the #slowchathealth Book of the Month.
Here are this week’s #slowchathealth questions. Answer them daily or all at once. Let’s keep the conversation going!
Q1. What is your fondest water-related memory? #slowchathealth #bluemind
Q2. In what ways have you used water to improve an aspect of your health? #slowchathealth #bluemind
Q3. Not a question but a challenge – be even more attentive to your senses when you interact with water today. Share anything that you noticed. #slowchathealth #bluemind
Q4. Consider your next opportunity to be near or in water. Whom will you take with you and why? #slowchathealth #bluemind
Q5. Post a personal water-related photograph. #slowchathealth #bluemind
If you’re looking for more on the subject of water, here’s a short playlist of TED talks about water and humanity’s relationship with this life-sustaining liquid.
The awesome people at Podcast Brunch Club devoted a podcast playlist to water.
Am I a little envious that my wife got to meet Dr. Nichols’ last week? Yes, just a little.
You know I like making Spotify playlists – check out my water related podcast below.