Water Is Medicine

29th October, 2018

An Update from Blue Mind 8

On 4th October a group of practitioners, researchers, educators, scientists, artists and all round water advocates came together in Miami and around the globe (real and virtual space) for the 8th Annual Blue Mind Summit hosted by Wallace J Nichols author of Blue Mind.  The event was kindly hosted by Frost Science and Fernando Bretos – Director of MUVE (Museum Volunteers for the Environment).

We launched with a bold statement that Water Is Medicine… Not that is MIGHT be… Rather that it IS.  There is enough research to show this and whilst additional studies will add weight for additional social prescribing it is time to acknowledge that we are no longer aiming to prove that it has tangible health potential.

Blue Mind Summits are unlike your average conference, deeply interactive they foster a sense of community and we are certainly building a global movement, I can’t help but think that little by little we are creating an #unstoppable tribe sharing awareness that #waterismedicine and championing the applications of Blue Mind.

Our aim: to make Blue Mind Science freely available to all, so that everyone especially those who need it most can benefit from access to healthy water.

So what did you miss if you weren’t there?  Well I say miss – much of the event was recorded and will be available of you to access.

We had our 1st Blue Mind Video Jam – a collection of short clips from a variety of sources showing how water is represented through and influences art and advertising – how it permeates our culture without necessarily being recognized for the role it plays.  Each clip included reflection and discussion asking the question how can we more clearly acknowledge and appreciate our water.

Take a look around you at the advertising you experience daily – Notice how it is awash with blue.  The best one I have seen this month was a tax company advertising their services with imagery of a kayaker… ?  No direct link, but we all know water creates positive emotion and so it is easy to see how and why marketers of products unrelated to the health of our planet accompany their messaging with feel good images. Let’s give water some credit.

We explored 12 themes throughout the day – here are some highlights:

Water is Medicine and Aquariums are Medicine. Dr Deb Cracknell shared an overview of research coming out of the University of Exeter including her PHD research which explored how differing levels of biota impacted upon the positive impact of aquarium exhibits – a form of virtual water experience.

  • I am still working with Deb and Feisal Subhan from the University of Plymouth on a study to explore how virtual water might impact breath and heart rate variability – we are crunching the biofeedback and psychological research data from nearly 100 participants so watch this space.

Interestingly for me as a regional rep from surfers against sewage, whilst not a major discussion point during the conference itself… Deb confirmed that other researchers at Exeter had found evidence that marine litter on our beaches directly and negatively impacts the restorative quality of the space… but more than this… we now know that the typeof litter matters! It seems that whilst ALL litter makes a difference, fishing related debris (and we know #ghostnet forms a large proportion of plastic found on our coast), was less negatively impactful in terms of emotional response, than more recognizable litter such as picnic debris, bottles, cans, wrappers, food containers etc.

  • As change – makers this raises a question, is it that we are dissociated from the nets, not seeing them as our responsibility to address?  Who knows, certainly something we can put our minds and action to in our various communities.

Virtual Water is Medicine is certainly something being explored in the UK in addition to the US. We heard from Ando Shah from Ballast Technologies in SFO who was present with us in the room.  He has created a VR headset that can be used in water to provide a truly immersive virtual experience.  For those without access to wild water this could be a leap forwards in creating connection to our oceans.  Some might see VR as a distancing ourselves from reality, but in fact for those of us lucky enough to test out Ando’s headset in the pool it was a joyful representation of a diving experience. In Ando’s words… “ I am interested in building empathy (beyond technology) intellectually you cannot predict the impact, it is experiential”… and isn’t that true of all our water experiences!

  • For many of us one of the things we like about being in the water is that it separates us from our technology.  Imagine however how many applications there are though with tech such as Andho’s, for the landlocked.

For the Pools are Medicine panel we heard from Bob Hubbard – did you know in Australia all new parents receive a dvd to help them learn how to get their children swimming – how awesome is that! Imagine if teaching your child to swim was seen as being as essential to their well-being as nutrition… We all know water is medicine after all.  Caroline Barmatz talked to us from Isreal showing us her pool facilities she shared how patients smile and feel at ease when they experience the muscle relaxation enabled through buoyancy.

  • How would it be if all hospitals had pools or if every new parent knew #waterismedicine

Diving is Medicine was acknowledged through The Force Blue Team who had received the 5th Annual Blue Mind Award.  Jim Ritterhoff talked about how Vets with PTSD had described their lives being saved through diving – In Jim’s words “diving helps us look beneath the surface”… a great insight to be applied literally and metaphorically! Rebecca Illing from London also joined us virtually sharing how profoundly freediving had influenced her mental health.

  • As a freediver I can attest to the fact that diving beneath the surface allows us to slow our minds and become fully present, with only the sound of a heartbeat.

We were lucky to hear from Sean Swentek and Jamie Marshall about the work of A Walk on Water during their Surfing is Medicine panel. Jamie had previously worked with the Wave Project a charity from my home county of Cornwall UK.  Their focus is surf therapy, enabling access to surfing for families and children with special needs – and these are some of the people who need it most.

The Floating is Medicine and Boats are Medicine panels were led by virtual speakers, our friends and Blue Mind alumni Dr Justin Feinstein and Dr Paul Piff.  Justin was delighted to announce a national institute for health grant supporting floating – demonstrating an acknowledgement that this is real scienceand that there might actually be something to this #waterismedicine idea. Paul challenged us to find the remarkable within our everyday experiences and of course water-centric locations are rich for this.  Their commonality was that water helps us connect with ourselves and the world. Whether we are being awed by an ocean view or underwater landscape or perhaps experiencing reduced environmental stimulation of a dive tank that enhances our attunement to our interoceptive sense… Water does the work.

  • Regularly visiting a float centre has become part of my mindfulness practice over the last three years since first hearing Justin speak in Washington DC in 2015 and I recommend it to many of my coaching clients to support their coherence practices.  As for the field of awe – We live in a phenomenal world if we take time to pay attention. Out on the beach, coastal coaching, we notice the obvious awe and the less obvious and equally outstanding hidden treasure that comes from awakening our senses.

I joined J and Adrienne from Bodhi Surf and Yoga for a panel about Beaches are Medicine.  We discussed the transitional space we experience at the water’s edge, how time slows and down and we connect with ourselves more deeply, whether in Costa Rica or here Cornwall UK, beaches bring lightness of spirit, a distortion of time, creativity and fun, we connect with our breath, finding balance, perspective and alignment.

My dear friend Dr Scott Ramsey was in the room to share his insights on Rivers are Medicine he talked about profound experiences of river time where being around the water had shifted mindsets of those he spent time with.  The wider ripples of their time spent on the river impacting the way they go on to live their lives – water experiences creating a lasting impact.

Cindy Present joined us virtually from Lake Austin Resort and Spa.  She acknowledged Lakes are Medicine, conveying the positive emotional and physical impact that time spent near and on the water at the lake has upon all who visit this special place.  The spirit of water was clear in the way she shared her passion for the lake.  More than a spa, this is clearly a healing place and more evidence that #waterismedicine

Our final speaker was Aaron Reuben a writer and clinical psychology student abound with passion for the idea that Nature is Medicine he brought together many of the themes we had discussed through the day particularly talking about connection.

Interestingly he described how lack of access to nature could very well have a directly negative effect – speaking first hand about how he feels when he cannot access nature.

  • Ben Scheelk from Ocean Foundation once wryly asked me when I arrived in DC for Blue Mind 5 “I will bet you are Jonesin” for some water”… Being from the UK I had no idea what the term “*Jonesing” meant… but I now can pretty much attest to the fact that yes a lack of water in my life is not great for my mental state. (*jonesing = having a fixation on… addicted to).

So whilst many of us had talked about how being connected to nature has a positive effect – it is well worth considering the flip side… nature could be a necessityrather than something that is desirable.   Ie it could be that not only that time spent in blue space is good for us… it could also be the case that a lack of access to blue / natural space is not good for you… and so finding ways to connect with water in real or virtual ways is something vital and worth pursuing.  

Bringing us full circle to our Blue Mind Works aim – “accessibility” and ensuring healthy water experiences are available to us all and especially those who need it most. We are seeking to make Blue Mind Science common knowledge.

As with all Blue Mind summits the conversations were far broader than this outline with many of the deeper conversation occurring over breakfast, dinner or in the pool, but I hope this gives a sense of the event and our message.

Please get involved in our conversations if you haven’t already.  Connect with all / any of the speakers who might be exploring areas you are passionate about.  A Patreon campaign to support this work and more information can be found at www.bluemindworks.com and on December the 7th we will run our first 12 hour fundraiser with J hosting a #BlueMindathon. There will be opportunity to hear from some of these speakers.

Lizzi Larbalestier:

Director and Exec Coach Going Coastal Blue UK and Director of Coaching at Blue Mind Works. www.goingcoastal.blue and www.bluemindworks.com

About Lizzi Larbalestier

Professional executive coach, mBIT and NLP trainer specialising in coastal coaching. Creating meaningful conversations, facilitating action and change for the results that you deserve. #coherentleadership #bluemind