A marine biologist, educator and wild water advocate, Dr. Wallace J. Nichols has always found inspiration in adventure and science. With his latest project on building the Blue Mind groundswell, Parvati Magazine dives in to explore our affinity for water and its health benefits.
Parvati Magazine: Please describe the Blue Mind.
Wallace J. Nichols: The phrase Blue Mind refers generally to the emotional health benefits humans derive from time spent in nature and near, in, on or under water. It’s best understood in contrast to Red Mind, the distracted and distressed state that’s becoming our new normal. Red Mind left unchecked becomes burnt-out Gray Mind (depressed and disconnected).
Recent surveys by Gallup and the American Psychological Association suggest that this Red Mind state is on the rise. People are self-medicating in ways that make matters worse.
Everywhere in the world I’ve shared Blue Mind over the past decade, people have expressed this heightened anxiety and urgent need to add more restorative time to their lives. What we now know is that water is medicine. This is an ancient idea made clear through modern research. My goal is to make that simple concept common knowledge for all people and work to ensure we all have access to our Blue Mind.
Parvati Magazine: What has research shown about the health benefits of being around water, and what are some applications of Blue Mind?
Wallace J. Nichols: Study after study around the world continue to underline the basic Blue Mind thesis: when we protect and restore oceans, waters and nature, we safeguard not only their ecological, economic and educational value but also their vast emotional benefits. Water is one of the last places we can go to fully escape the wired world, feel a sense of peace, freedom and privacy, and be alone with our own thoughts or those we care most about. These findings require us to update the way we teach students, environmental laws, our approach to health care, the design of homes, towns and cities. We work with leaders in nine major sectors who are doing just that.
Health professionals are now prescribing and recommending water-based therapy such as surfing, paddling, beach-walking, diving, or floating. Educators recognize that teaching and learning improves when students take Blue Mind breaks. Urban planners are prioritizing blue and green space. Leaders and entrepreneurs have always recognized that they get a boost in creativity and insight by the water. Masters of mindfulness know that water calms and focuses us.
Parvati Magazine: How do we best ensure access to water, to allow as many people as possible to harness the health-promoting properties?
Wallace J. Nichols: To ensure everyone has access to Blue Mind we must make sure our waterways are not polluted, create public access, and remove perceptual barriers that people may have about their relationship with nature. This is a complex multi-decade endeavor that will require a huge amount of trans-partisan collaboration, creativity and insight. Some old ideas will need to fade away and new language, systems and organizations will fill in. It’s a movement of movements that I’ve been referring to as a groundswell. I can’t imagine anything more exciting to work on in these times.
Parvati Magazine: As an advocate and educator, how can we inspire the public and policymakers that water must be protected?
Wallace J. Nichols: We are made of water and we live on a water-based planet that is somewhat unique in the universe. We can put these fundamental truths to work through actions that help solve some of the biggest challenges we face.
I envision in our future: Blue Schools; Blue Health where all health professionals will understand and apply Blue Mind therapies; Blue Gyms that integrate Blue Mind for enhanced performance and reduced injury. Blue Design whereby artists and architects will incorporate the Blue Mind ethos in their work, making built spaces more beautiful and restorative. Blue Mind Index: I’d like to see all real estate agents, home buyers and renters become Blue Mind literate. We have a Walkability Index; why not one for Blue Mind?
When we fix the value equation for water, priorities and budgets will shift.
Dr. Wallace “J.” Nichols, author of the New York Times bestseller “Blue Mind”, is a Research Associate at California Academy of Sciences and co-founder of OceanRevolution.org, SEEtheWILD.org, GrupoTortuguero.org and LiVBLUE.org. His current focus is Blue Mind Works, sharing a powerful new universal story of water.