Why living by the sea is so good for you

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Who can resist the allure of the ocean? To “live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air,” as Ralph Waldo Emerson said. In our spare time, again and again we seek the crashing waves, the hot sand and the salty breeze.

But why do we like to be beside the seaside? What is it about the sea that is so good for us?

Research from the American Journal of Preventative Medicine shows that people who live by the sea are happier than those who live inland. Over the next few weeks, this series will investigate the scientific benefits of the beach lifestyle.

Part One: The Sound of the Sea

If you’re like me, within a few minutes of listening to the ocean, you start to unwind. Scientists say that this is more than just finding the time to relax and rest. Biologically, the sound of the waves is also altering our mental wave patterns.

The brain emits an electrical charge every time it receives a stimulus through the senses. A rhythmic stimulus, like the consistent vibrations of sea waves, will produce rhythmic electrical impulses. If the vibrations are consistent, the brain synchronizes its response to the same rhythm. Basically, the brain is copying the rhythmic sound of the waves lapping on the shore. This is known as brainwave entrainment.

The frequency of sea waves is between 7 and 10 Hertz (cycles per second). This slows the brain down from the faster Beta brainwaves we use for quick, intellectual thinking and into the deeply relaxing Alpha state.

Alpha waves produce feelings of being relaxed and receptive; we feel like being rather than doing. When we marvel at great art, wonder at the beauty of nature, listen to beautiful bird song or the sound of the sea, we are in Alpha. This uses the right side of the brain, the side of emotions, feelings and intuition. We are in Alpha for a short time in the moments between wakefulness and sleep where we feel relaxed and thoughts become jumbled and nonsensical. It is common to become more aware of your body and your breathing during these times.

The lowest sound frequencies produced by the sea can even produce Theta waves, the brainwaves most commonly found in deep, dreaming sleep.

So the sound of the sea actually induces the natural states of mind found during relaxation. This seems to correspond to the way I feel when I am by the sea; an urge to just lie there and rest; maybe observe, rather than keep myself busy and task-oriented.

It is no wonder we find ourselves time and time again on the beach. For me, it always seems to transform any negativity I have. No wonder, if my mind is being helped into a leisurely Alpha-state. “Take your troubles to the sea,” as the old saying goes.

And thanks to collaborations between musicians and neuroscientists, you can benefit from the sound of the ocean anywhere. For years it has been possible to purchase new age CDs of ocean waves and dolphin sounds. Now you can also buy digitally-enhanced music actually designed to help the brain produce Alpha waves.

Not only that, but if you’re looking for a completely free method to reproduce the sound of the ocean, try breathing deeply! In yoga, deep breathing is known as Ujjayi Pranayama or Ocean Breath. To practise this, inhale slowly for a count of ten, and then exhale for the same pace. Sense your breath passing across the roof of your mouth from the back of your throat. You’ll hear a hissing sound, similar to that of water coming out of a hose. That’s where the name ocean breath comes from, and practised enough, this will also lull your mind into a calm Alpha state.

So next time you need to unwind but can’t get to the shore, remember you can always take the sound of the sea with you.

Next time: Why the Body Loves the Beach.

Do you have any thoughts or comments about how your life has improved from living by the sea?

(reprinted from original article in Tenerife News, 2012)

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