As we chase modern life, do we forget the powerful and potent benefits of nature? Simply going to the beach can have profound effects. Zara Adcock explains how the surf, sand, and sun affects our spiritual, mental, and physical health.
We are fortunate in New Zealand, as the sea is never more than a 130km away. From where I live, I can be there in an hour.
As I draw near, I am taken in by the scent of the salty sea mist. Already I am breathing deeper, for the air by the sea is higher in oxygen and cleaner than in urban environments. I also inhale negative ions. The beach has one of the highest concentrations of negative ions. This is thanks to the motion of the water and the waves, which naturally break up atoms and disperses electrons, ionising the sea mist and purifying the air. When inhaled by us, negative ions purify our bodies, relieve depression, fatigue and stress, and accelerate our absorption of oxygen.
Then I am staggered in awe by the magnificent view: that vast expanse of blue sky and blue sea, fringed by dunes and bushy green mountains. In that wide open space, I remember I am just one little creature in a great big universe. The colour blue has long been considered calming and it has been found that staring at the blue ocean can actually alter our brain wave frequencies to a more meditative state, often inspiring creativity. The sound of the ocean acts similarly on us. Its calming, unthreatening sound induces meditation, and strengthens the brain.
The sun overhead not only encourages a sunny disposition but is necessary for Vitamin D production, which is vital to bone and muscle health. As over 90% of our vitamin D production comes from UVB rays, I personally consider it important to get some sunshine directly on my skin before covering up or applying a natural sunscreen to prevent burning.
My feet hit the sand. Ah, I’m here. Our feet have more nerve endings per square centimetre than any other surface of our body, and the earth’s surface is covered in electrons. By standing or walking on the warm, soft, sand, or the cool compact shoreline, negative ions are discharged directly into our bodies, neutralising our own bioelectromagnetic field. Not only that, but standing barefoot on the sand literally grounds our own field in a closed circuit to the earth, helping to balance our nervous systems.
The smell, the sights, the sounds, the sun overhead and the sand beneath our feet, all activate our parasympathetic nervous system, the ‘rest and digest’ arm of our autonomic nervous system, responsible for lowering cortisol, regulating hormones, lowering inflammation, and increasing metabolism, cognitive clarity, immune function, mood, sleep…
And that is before we even enter the water.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, doctors recommended a holiday by the sea, with specific instructions on how long and how frequently to go swimming, as both treatment and cure for various ailments including tuberculosis, consumption, scurvy, jaundice, and chest disease.
Modern research has backed up what these doctors already knew from observation: the ocean is an incredible curative.
The ocean is rich in naturally occurring minerals, including magnesium, chloride, sodium, potassium, sulphur and iodine. When we go swimming in the sea, we can absorb these necessary minerals trans-dermally (similar to bathing in Epsom salts).
Seawater is anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and wound-healing. It inhibits the growth of bacteria and infection, and detoxifies the body of impurities. Swimming or sitting in the shallows may help soothe, ease and/or heal arthritis, joint pain, inflammation, wounds, and skin condition such as psoriasis, contact dermatitis, and eczema. Saline water is soothing and cleansing for sinus conditions, and both flushing with it and breathing in the ocean air can help improve respiratory passages.
When you put your face underwater, you are not only immersing your face in minerals that aid in skin repair and elasticity, you are also activating the human dive reflex, which slows the heart rate and constricts certain blood vessels, redistributing blood from the limbs to the brain, heart and other central organs, in turn activating the vagal nerve, and (once again) the all-important parasympathetic nervous system.
I cringe when my fellow beachgoers pass by hooked up to their phones, ear-buds, smart watches etc. The holistic healing experience the ocean and beach supply require that you interact with all your senses. To bring technology to the beach is a multi-level distraction that not only detracts from these health benefits – but is also an often-unacknowledged cause of ill health (phones and personal devices generate positive ions that cause inflammation, disease and degeneration; plus they mess with your magnetic field and activate the sympathetic nervous system).
By leaving your technology behind, you have the opportunity to ‘detox’ and enter a state of effortless, mindful attention. I think now of my last beach visit. My gaze drifted from the gentle waves, to the light revealing patterns on a rock outcropping, and then to a lone seagull gliding through the twisting currents of air that would’ve otherwise been invisible to my eye. During my observation, my mind was completely present and my worries were irrelevant. By the time I left the beach, the tension was gone from my body, and I slept well that night.
Nature is amazing, we have only to be present with her to be reminded she’s got us, so long as we also remember and honour the fact that we have her.
Zara Adcock is a freelance writer, editor, poet and children’s author based in Northland (see zara-adcock.com). She is also co-founder of We Love Organics, a range of holistic organic personal care products handcrafted in NZ (weloveorganics.co.nz).