Monday, September 8, 2014

Guest Review: Blue Mind

Today I'm excited to have a guest review from my friend Lauren. She's extremely smart and well-read, and I've been trying to encourage her to share those thoughts with the world. She is doing that today regarding a book that motivated her to write. Please welcome Lauren and her review of 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 (Quite a mouthful!):

I was raised on and in the water: swimming, sailing, bodysurfing, you name it. To this day, when driving home I feel a weight lift from my shoulders as I hit the final turn that takes me along the water. I’ve always known a connection to water is my thing, I had no idea it was a thing. A thing with some pretty spectacular science behind it.

I woke up to the science of water's impact when I spied a book with a beautiful splash of vibrant blue water on the cover and was immediately attracted to it (Blue Mind at work!). Blue Mind's subtitle highlights the book's theory that the science and study of our love of water has:

significant real-world applications -- for health, travel, real estate, creativity, childhood development, urban planning, the treatment of addiction and trauma, conservation, business, politics, religion, architecture, and more.

In Blue Mind, Dr. Wallace J. Nichols explores these applications from two fronts: head and heart. The heart part may be obvious to water lovers, though I have found it fascinating to be more mindful of my connection with water since reading the book. The brain part is intellectually challenging, but you will shine at your next cocktail party as you drop facts about the prefrontal cortex, evolutionary biology, and neruoimaging.

Put simply, Blue Mind is "a mildly meditative state characterized by calm...and a sense of general happiness..inspired by water and elements associated with water." It can be contrasted with Red Mind, "an edgy high, characterized by stress, anxiety, fear, and maybe even a little bit of anger and despair."

Red Mind's physiological stress responses evolved to help us survive; essential tools for escaping predators, and finding and fighting for food and mates. We need Red Mind. But today, the many non-life-threatening stressors we face in daily living activate the same biological responses. We're "drowning in a sea of overstimulation." Stress hormones keep us in an agitated state. The answer? Finding a way to reach a Blue Mind state. Finding water.

It makes sense that our need and ability to sense and locate near water is hardwired into our DNA. But that doesn't completely explain our emotional attachment to water. Why does nature, water in particular, make us happy?

"Time and time again, researchers have discovered that proximity to water strengthens the positive effects that environment has upon well-being." Scientifically speaking, Blue Mind is filled with fascinating studies correlating well-being with water. The highest increase in happiness in outdoor environments occurred in people near water. In fact, just being able to see nature has incredible benefits, and the "best" nature has water in it.

Even indirect exposure to water has been shown to help patients recuperate faster. In one study, heart patients were shown one of three scenes on panel at the foot of the bed: a forest, open water, or an abstract/blank. Patients looking at the nature panels needed less pain meds and had lower anxiety levels. Even more fascinating, improvements were significantly greater in patients looking at water than those looking at the forest. Simply looking at pictures of water causes our brains to shift to Blue Mind mode.

On the heart side of the Blue Mind equation, Dr. Nichols presents countless examples of the therapeutic impact of water on what ails us: addiction, autism, and PTSD to name a few. Particularly impactful is the story of an injured veteran who traveled to California to take part in Operation Surf, a surf camp specifically designed for veterans. He later disclosed he had come simply to cross surfing off his bucket list, at which point he intended to return home and kill himself. Surfing not only changed his life, it saved his life.

Could that veteran have discovered and been saved by knitting? Perhaps. But he was saved by water. The "[g] oal [of attaining Blue Mind] is not to turn people into surfers, but to change brain chemistry. The chemicals that respond to activities like surfing have positive effects on how people deal with depression, anxiety, stress, and other mental health issues." Heart and science.

What, ultimately, is the point of Blue Mind, other than encouraging us to all get in and near the water, to find our Blue Mind? Based on past experience, the author hopes increased awareness might also awaken our social responsibilities. Hopefully, "the recognition...transforms our sense of responsibility and renovates our list of priorities. Greater self-understanding leads to better choices that lead to a better future - choices that preserve the natural world and increase the chance for more access to the Blue Mind." Dr. Nichols wishes us all water. Read Blue Mind and see if you don't feel the same.

Blue Mind is available in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0316252089 from Little, Brown & Co.  It is also available as an unabridged audio, narrated by the author, from Hachette Audio.


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