:You might have heard recently of the Japanese concept of “forest bathing,” or spending time slowly walking in or sitting amongst trees. This practice has been gaining more attention in the west for its ability to reduce stress, even if you don’t have much time or athleticism. But there might be something even more effective at creating a sense of inner calm-- water.
It turns out that your attraction to bodies of water might be more than a personal quirk or the happenstance of growing up near lakes and rivers or the sea. Scientific studies show that being near water-- or even just seeing pictures of it-- can reduce stress and increase mindfulness.
There is a primal pull that water has on the human spirit, despite centuries of increasing urbanization. In a fundamental way, it turns out, getting back to the water can mean getting back to yourself.
The Health Benefits Of Being Near Water
Wallace J. Nichols, is a scientist who wrote 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. His research suggests that proximity to water can increase creativity, improve sleep, and refresh the mind. He calls this the “blue mind effect,” which is supposed to explain why you feel so relaxed just sitting on the beach watching the waves, or even when you hear a recording of a babbling brook.
Humans’ affinity for water--and our dependence on it for survival-- might explain why, as Nichols notes, an estimated “80% percent of the world’s population lives within sixty miles of the coastline of an ocean, lake, or river. Over half a billion people owe their livelihoods directly to water, and two- thirds of the global economy is derived from activities that involve water in some form.”
Even if you aren’t physically near the water, just seeing images that include water has a big impact. Researches in the UK asked participants in a study to rate nature photos on a scale of how positively they felt about the image. The images that contained water consistently were ranked as more appealing Nichols isn’t the only one who has reached similar conclusions. Other studies show that something as simple as a fountain or park pond can reduce stress, even in the middle of a concrete jungle.
On a less scientific level, anecdotal accounts have suggested that big bodies of water and waterfalls produce a profusion of negative ions, which have a whole host of benefits for the human body. It’s thought that negative ions can increase the absorption of oxygen, production of serotonin, making you feel more alert and upbeat.
Whether or not that’s true has yet to be conclusively proven by researchers, but the idea is tantalizing. Next time you plan a lake day, a trip to the beach, a morning of fishing, or even are trying to decide on a new image for your computer desktop background, consider your own blue mind. Our tendency to seek out water is a part of us, and one it feels oh-so-good to indulge.