Paige’s Pick – Blue Mind

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The message throughout 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 by Dr. Wallace J. Nichols is clear, being by the water is beneficial to our well-being. Some may be afraid of swimming for fear of drowning but are in some way still drawn to the picturesque scenes of a far-reaching horizon with an expanse of blue in the forefront. Clean water is essential for life on earth, but this book dives into more than just the basic functioning of the human body, but mostly features insights into the psychological benefits of being in, on, and near water.

I’ve always been drawn to water. As a kid, I would be in the water at any chance I got. I used to sail as a kid. I loved being on the water, racing through the wind with droplets splashing as you rushed across the expansive blue. A large portion of my summers was spent at sailing camp. My dad and I would bike to camp and he’d drop me off as he finished his ride to work. From 8 am-4 pm I’d spend my day at the Toronto sailing and canoe club and on Lake Ontario. My favourite part about camp was Fridays. Fridays were pirate day. Pirate day was a day where we would spend the afternoon out beyond the breakwall taking over the other campers boats and capsizing them, pretending to be pirates. I loved this day because it was a free ticket to be not just on the water in a boat, but in the water. Throughout the rest of the week I’d have to wait for opportunities to be in the water. Someone dropped their frisbee in the water, “don’t worry I’ve got it!” And I’d jump in to rescue the frisbee. But Fridays were an excuse to be in the water all afternoon without an excuse. I was usually the first one in the water and the last one out. One of my favourite memories comes from a pirate day. The counselors were corraling us back into the docks and as you can probably guess, I was still in the water. My group was calling me to get back in the boat and as soon as I reached the stern (back) of the boat my group turned the boat towards shore and we were on a run. A run is when you have the wind at your back pushing your sails at full force. The boat took off and I held on for dear life my lungs and heart full of laughter. The run was so strong that I wasn’t able to get my body vertical enough to pull me onto the boat. Instead, I got dragged back to shore, hands tight on the stern, body on top of the water, whisking around to the tune of the wind, heart full of pure joy.

Me at age 9 at sailing camp.

I still don’t know if I could put into words why I’m drawn to water. But Blue Mind continually echoed and confirmed that I am not alone in this feeling. Although I no longer sail, I am still encapsulated by water. I spent my undergrad studying water, and have continued to do sports on and in the water. Open water swimming as mentioned in the book is great for overall wellbeing. There is something I love about being immersed in water. Although open water swimming used to scare me. I grew up in the water but never spent much time with goggles outside of the pool. I started casually training for triathlons a couple of years ago and when the line at the bottom of the pool disappears along with the walls, life, and death all of sudden seem much closer. I’ve slowly gotten more comfortable swimming front crawl in the water without the black line of the pool being there, but I still get shaken up when I touch something other than water. Water is so comforting, but I find the feeling of seaweed wrapped around my leg far less so.

I find myself craving submersion in water after a long day, and this became evident when I moved into a house with only a shower during the start of the pandemic. Pools closed, lakes frozen, no bath. Eventually, winter turned to spring which turned to summer and I was able to submerse my body in the lakes surrounding Thunder Bay. As the book talks about, stress seems to fade away as you become weightless in the water and your senses become muted. And I can confirm that nothing feels better than floating after a long stressful day.

The book talks about the benefits of water in helping trauma victims, children with autism, veterans with PTSD, as well as all people. Water sports from fishing, to kayaking to swimming to paddleboarding, are popular for a reason. Real estate on the water is significantly more expensive for a reason. Water is life and we as humans are attracted to water.

Each chapter in the book focuses on a different aspect of water, but one of the final chapters I found deeply resonated with me especially in this changing world due to climate change. One of the main ideas that stuck from this chapter was that “scaring people with facts doesn’t work”. Climate change is real and it’s impacting our waters, but only delivering scary facts doesn’t get the desired action. People enter fight or flight mode and often times flight is the response and little to no change is made. The chapter advocated for using stories as a way to convey information and also noted the idea that scientific findings need to be put into everyday language for all people to understand. The chapter also championed that having a relationship with the natural environment is the most critical aspect of creating a better world.

The chapter elaborates on relationships. We as humans have an interdependent relationship with the environment. We depend on nature, everything we have at one point came from nature. And our relationship with nature can be egocentric (what’s best for us as individuals), anthropogenic (what’s best for us as humans), or biocentric (what’s best for the environment, and therefore us).

Having something that connects us to the water, such as swimming or fishing increases our ability to care for the water and the quality of it because we’re invested in its quality because it gives us something that it’s important to us and we ideally love.

Overall, Blue Mind is a great read that gives insights into why we love water and all the benefits it has for health. While reading blue mind I was brought back to many memories, such as the sailing one above, and reminded of ways I can incorporate water for my overall wellbeing. I’d recommend Blue Mind to anyone who feels connected to water and anyone that cares about their overall well-being.

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