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Paddle to Find Peace

Alan Bergman – We’re all aware of the vast physical benefits derived from kayaking, paddle boarding and canoeing – from a great cardio workout to burning calories to strengthening the torso and core.

But, what about the mental health and psychological benefits of getting out on the water and paddling?

In his best-selling book, “Blue Mind”, author and marine biologist, Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, carefully and methodically explains the immense psychological perks derived from being near, in or under the water.

According to Dr. Nichols, interacting with water can make us happier, more serene, better emotionally-balanced, and more successful in our personal relationships and business endeavors.

Dr. Nichols’ theory is that coming into contact with large bodies of water promotes wellness by lowering cortisol, increasing serotonin and then inducing relaxation.  In addition to being calmer, another welcome byproduct of this is deeper, more peaceful sleep.

“Wouldn’t it be great if every health practitioner prescribed boat time, in addition to what they’re already suggesting?” asks Dr. Nichols.  “Imagine if health insurance companies paid for what works, like if you’re under a lot of stress, instead of saying ‘here take a pill,’ they say try a sailing lesson or become addicted to kayaking,” he added.

Dr. Nichols explains that the “blue mind” of the book’s title is just the opposite of red mind, which is the stressed, over-anxious and over-stimulated state that so many of us find ourselves in.  He further states that in psychological experiments, images depicting water triggered a far more positive response than those without water.

Dr. Nichols is not the only advocate of the healing powers of lakes, rivers and bays.

A licensed family therapist, Judith L. Ritterman, also prescribes boating as a way of restoring our psychological health.  “The open expanse of sea and sky helps us to place ourselves in the universe, and often our personal issues are left on land as we temporarily disconnect from everyday life,” she said.  “This can enhance our overall sense of well being,” she added.

Shinrin yoku, a concept which originated in Japan in the 1980’s, and literally translates to, “forest bathing”, is a way of achieving immense calming, plus rejuvenating and restorative benefits by immersing one’s self in nature.

While the concept typically entails walking in the woods, taking a paddle craft into water with forests within sight is another way of practicing shinrin yoku.

Launching a paddleboard, canoe or kayak into calm water surrounded by a heavily forested area, can achieve the shinrin yokugifts of serenity and mindfulness.  A paddle on quiet water, among nature’s bounty, can promote a sense of serenity, joy and emotional fulfillment.  It can significantly soothe the soul, resetting the brain and reducing stress levels.

Taking a boat out on the water does so much more than enhance our physical health.  Perhaps just as importantly, it strongly supports our mental health and wellness.