By Rosie Markwick, Summersalt yoga teacher
It is not new news that a lot of humans feel naturally compelled towards the water. Water has been used throughout time and across cultures to cleanse and purify. To celebrate and to exercise. Civilizations have been built around it. And we drive, walk, run, and fly to get to it.
As a lifelong water lover, I know the feeling well. I can spend far longer than I could do anywhere else sitting in silence if I am watching waves rolling in. I know that a sure-fire way to soothe an anxious and busy mind is to get myself in a pool and swim. And it is perhaps no surprise that my work has taken me to be a SUP yoga teacher and SUP instructor.
In this work in particular, I hear and see the positive effects people feel on the water all the time. In the middle of a city like London, I have clients who arrive to paddleboarding sessions nervous or quiet or perhaps a little tense and so often they leave noticeably relaxed, more steady and brighter. And I believe this can be accredited to more than just the natural confidence that occurs after doing something new and different. The conversations that seem to be inspired when out on the water never cease to happily surprise me. They are often more open and honest than usual or certainly become so more quickly than when say, over a coffee or a walk.
This is just one example of the positive effect of water of many but all adhere to the same point; for a lot of people, water does really good things. And as I notice this connection more, I am becoming increasingly fascinated with the why. Why do so many of us like being in, on, and around water so much?
I am sure (and hope) I am just at the beginning of this understanding but so far my research has highlighted these two particularly interesting ideas.
Firstly, water (and make note this is being in, on OR just near) stimulates the production of Relaxin and Serotonin, the hormones responsible for relaxation and happiness respectively. We are quite literally on a cognitive biology level soothed and contented by water.
Wallace J Nichols, calls this a ‘Blue Mind’, as he puts it in his book on the topic, this is “a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment” — that’s triggered when we’re in or near water. ‘We are beginning to learn that our brains are hardwired to react positively to water and that being near it can calm and connect us, increase innovation and insight, and even heal what’s broken’
Secondly, is the transpersonal psychology explanation, which I think is accountable for a lot of what I see in my SUP sessions. Water is a force of and an example of nature. There is a mystery and a very naturalness of water. Transpersonal therapy states that the act of doing something a little out of our physical comfort zone in nature or, experiencing the perspective relative smallness of us in nature and then noticing we actually feel comfortable even so, ignites a feedback mechanism that says; if I can do this, what else can I overcome?
Our experience of this ‘aliveness’ becomes a useful tool of healing and self-development, of confidence and assertiveness and peace. Wilderness therapy has for a while been acknowledged as effective and I would suggest that this line of argument could extend more specifically to water-based activities as well. SUP and SUP yoga offering perhaps the perfect example.
So if you are a self-realized water baby already, know there are real reasons why! And if you are not so sure yet, go and see how being on the water makes you feel, with this perspective perhaps in mind.
Wallace J Nichols’s book “Blue Mind” explains why we love being by the water so much!