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April 26, 2012

Get Your Blue Mind On. ~ Wallace J. Nichols, PhD

Photo: borschwolf

Imagine sitting at your desk, looking out through a window on a sea of cars, houses, buildings, roads.

How do you feel?

Now imagine strolling along looking out at the sea. Just a ribbon of sand backed by endless blue. To the horizon and beyond. The rhythm of the surf in your ears.

How do you feel now?

New research suggests that water views—being by the sea—are good for us.

Water calms us, it reduces stress. And since stress causes disease, that’s a good thing. Combine that with the proven cognitive value of simply taking a walk outside plus the creativity and insight generated by the color blue and you get a potent brew we call “Blue Mind.”

As we combine the fields of neuroscience and ocean exploration and protection, we are gaining new insights into ourselves, our relationship with water and ways to use what we learn to make our planet healthier. There’s plenty of overlap been the study of the human brain and the single biggest feature of our blue planet.

In his new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, neuroscience rapporteur Jonah Lehrer explains that the color blue can double your creative output. Creativity isn’t a lucky gift, you’re just born with. It can be developed, honed and jacked up, if you know how. Water can help you with that.

In a two year study surveying 2,750 respondents, University of Plymouth researchers found that visits to the coast were more beneficial compared to other outdoor locations. The sea enhances positive feelings, offers enjoyment, calmness, refreshment and boosts well-being.

When asked how people can break old habits and build new, healthier ones, Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, says: “take a walk outside.”

If we simply connect the dots on these three statements it’s clear that a walk along the water—be it a bay, ocean, lake or river—can be very, very good for us.

The flip-side of the Blue Mind coin is “Red Mind” which includes the stress, despair and even anger caused by a dead sea, an oil spill or a beach covered by plastic. Blue Mind only works if the water is clean and healthy. Too much Red Mind will led to burn-out and make you sick. All the more reason to get involved in efforts to protect and restore the blue parts of our planet.

But all of this is just the very tip of the Blue Mind iceberg.

As cognitive science and the ocean get to know each other better, expect more interesting insights and confirmations.

Jim Dolan of Heroes on the Water doesn’t need any more proof. He works with stressed out veterans around the country by organizing kayak fishing clubs. “It works,” he says. But more science may help him expand from 21 chapters to hundreds. That’s why he’ll be sharing his story alongside NIH neuroscientist Dr. Jordan Grafman, an expert on PTSD.

That’s just one of the topics that will be explored at the second BLUEMiND Summit, June 4-5th in Nags Head on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Not coincidentally, the conference will be held in an open room on a pier surrounded on all sides by water.

Researcher Dr. Steve Sands will present preliminary findings on pioneering neuromarketing research for the ocean. Michelle and Bruckner Chase will dive into how open water swimming empowers youth around the world. Sarah Kornfeld from BlueMarbles.org and Sarah Marquis of ThankYouOcean.org will explore the science of gratitude with neuro-educator Dr. M.A. Greenstein.

Then the whole group will walk to the end of the pier and jump into the sea.

For folks on the west coast, there will be a BLUEMINDsfo Symposium on May 11th at the Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies, in Belvedere Tiburon, CA.

But the important message here isn’t about attending meetings. It’s about getting outside, taking a walk and getting your Blue Mind on.

The next time life’s stressors weigh on your shoulders or you face a creative roadblock, this ocean doctor suggests you take two miles of waterside walking, but please don’t call me in the morning.

Dr. Wallace “J.” Nichols is a scientist, activist, community organizer, author and dad who works to inspire a deeper connection with nature. A Research Associate at California Academy of Sciences, J. is also founder/co-director of OceanRevolution.org, an international network of young ocean advocates, and LiVBLUE.org, a global campaign to reconnect us to our water planet.

He has authored and co-authored more than 50 scientific papers and reports and his work has been broadcast on NPR, BBC, PBS, National Geographic and Animal Planet and featured in Time, Newsweek, GQ, Outside Magazine, Fast Company, Scientific American and New Scientist, among others.

Lately he is working on BlueMarbles.org and BLUEMiND: The Mind + Ocean Initiative, merging the fields of cognitive science and ocean exploration. He blogs at wallacejnichols.org.

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Editor: Lynn Hasselberger
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