Dive Industry Commentary

‘Blue Mind’ and Scuba Diving

The benefits of supporting projects that seek to make quarry and lake diving more irresistible and attractive.

Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash

This article is published on behalf of its author, Al Rios.

While driving from Virginia to North Carolina’s coast for a chartered dive to explore the famous U-352 submarine, my buddies and I decided to take turns reading (out loud for the benefit of the rest) Wallace J. Nichols’ 2014 book titled “Blue Mind.” We found it to be a very enlightening exposition of why humans are irresistibly drawn to water.

“Blue Mind” is a compelling and profound look at how water affects us on every level of human existence: psychological, emotional, physical, and behavioral. Nichols considers numerous bodies of the wet stuff: seas, oceans, rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, quarries, swimming pools, aquariums, and even bathtubs in a study that appears to be grounded in solid research.

As a marine biologist, Nichols convincingly compels us to get closer to water on a regular basis, not only for our own personal health and benefit but to also nurture the environment and offer a better overall future for humanity.

So what exactly is the blue mind? The author says that the concept refers to the human brain’s neurological — and the mind’s psychological and emotional — responses when we are close to water. He takes us on an in-depth exploration of some concrete scientific data, artistic works, real-life stories, and plenty of personal experiences to canvas the idea of the blue

According to Nichols, there are two other common mental states that characterize our humanity. He dubs these the “red mind” (revealed by high levels of stress and anxiety) and the “gray mind” (manifested as mental numbness, lethargy, lack of motivation, and dissatisfaction). Red and gray mind states tend to be by-products of our modern hectic lifestyles, negative personal habits, and daily choices. The blue mind, however, is also a natural state that we all instinctively possess, but of which many of us don’t take advantage.

Nichols suggests that regular proximity to water offers numerous and encouraging benefits like becoming happier, calmer, and achieving increased levels of emotional and physical well-being. Not only that, but Nichols insists that consistent exposure to water can help us become more successful at living life to the fullest. By nurturing the raw primordial urge that lies dormant in all of us, the author states that even our relationships and business involvements will also be positively impacted.

To fully appreciate Dr. Nichols’ perspectives on this, let’s consider a few interesting scientific facts.

The atmosphere at a beach or on the ocean contains elevated levels of negatively charged ions. These ions cause the brain to release mood-enhancing serotonin and reduce blood lactate levels.

When neurologists and psychologists turn their attention to the effects of water environments on the brain when using imaging techniques such as CT, PET, and MRI scans, they find that proximity to water increases the levels of certain “feel-good” hormones such as dopamine and oxytocin within the human brain. At the same time, however, levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, drop significantly.

Those are awe-inspiring facts.

As an active and participating scuba diver for many years, I’ve had the pleasure of buddying up with many fellow divers. In support of Nichols’ premise, I have indeed noticed that we, as divers, are an interesting lot. We do, in fact, often exhibit many of the positive emotional and mental characteristics described by him. Not only are divers exposed to water, they actually get IN IT for long periods of time. That level of involvement can only be a very good thing!

As a side note, consider what the decade-long decline in inland diver participation may have produced within our society. I wonder if there might be a correlation between that decline and the exponential increase of stress-related incidences of illness and disease, familial dysfunction, job dissatisfaction, etc.

If that’s the case (and it’ll take someone with considerably more scientific expertise than me to demonstrate that empirically), then there’s great incentive to dive as often as possible.

Since the vast majority of Americans live inland and away from the coast, the increasing drop-out rate of inland diver participation should motivate dive industry professionals to learn about, and financially support, creative projects that seek to make quarry and lake diving more irresistible and attractive.

I am currently involved in setting up such a project. Please contact me, Al Rios, at alrios80@msn.com if you would like to know more.

This article was published on behalf of its author, Al Rios.

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