Every surfer knows it, even if they can’t put it into words, surfing is good for your mind and great for your soul. We paddle out often tired, frustrated, or rundown by the burdens of daily life but when we exit the water we are in a state of blissful glee. Many times, this happens without us having a particularly good session. So, what is it about surfing or the ocean rather, that leaves us so at peace? Thankfully, there are people out there like Dr. Wallace J. Nichols Ph.D., who have dedicated their lives to studying the neuroscience behind our enchanting relationship with the sea. In his work Blue Mind, Nichols explains the complex relationship between the human brain and the ocean.
Our complex relationship with the ocean can be traced back to the early periods of human evolution. Bodies of water were synonymous with safety because predators rarely came from the water. Early humans would live by the water to ensure their own protection. So, the calming effect we get when we see water is instinctual tracing back to our earliest ancestors.
The human body is made up of approximately 65% water, while the human brain is comprised of nearly 75% water. This allows humans to be naturally buoyant in water. So much of our biology and ancestry is related to water that just the sound or sight of water has a significant neurological effect on the human brain.
Through brain imaging, it has been proven that proximity to water floods the brain with feel-good hormones such as serotine, dopamine, and oxytocin. Levels of the stress hormone cortisol actually deplete when we are near water. Additionally, it’s been discovered that our brain prefers the color blue to any other color, and that water in particular aids the mind in focusing.
Mainstream science has officially caught up with what we surfers have known for ages, the ocean is key to improving mental health and happiness. Today, dozens of organizations exist that put this belief into practice. Float tanks used in therapy to treat anxiety and depression by allowing patients to calmly float in a saline solution have popped up all over the world. Operation Surf 4 Veterans takes wounded veterans and veterans with PTSD surfing to help heal their bodies and minds. So, do yourself a favor and paddle out as soon as possible!