Catch the waves, it’s good for you
Are you feeling depressed or run-down? Don’t pop a pill or drown in alcohol. Pick up your surf board, SUP or any water sport you enjoy. Head out to sea. The ocean and physical activity are not only good for the body, but also the mind and soul.
Surfing has been shown to help US war veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder cope with civilian life after the war, according to a recent article by Matt Scknezy for Outside magazine.
Some 1,000 US Marines have been treated in a program called Ocean Therapy, started by Carly Rogers, a Los Angeles County lifeguard. Soldiers learn to surf, followed by group discussions on the sand. After just five weeks in the program, most participants reported a significant decrease in PTSD symptoms like flashbacks, suicidal thoughts and aggression. Attendance is generally poor in group therapy sessions, but for surfing, the attendance was at a high of 75%. They kept coming back.
Rogers developed Ocean Therapy based on psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory. The physical demand and mental focus required to surf often produce flow states, which filled the brian with neurochemicals like anandamide and serotonin, similar to substances in antidepressants. There is a unity of body, mind and spirit to create euphoric moments.
Hungarian-born Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, an advocate of positive psychology, wrote:
the best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times…The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.
How it works is when your mind is focus on learning a new skill, which is neither too easy or difficult, you “lose yourself” in the activity, explained an article on Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory in the Pursuit of Happiness, an online portal set up by a group of academia to make psychology and philosophy relevant to daily life.
The Pursuit of Happiness added: as you get better at the task over time, you would begin to act effortlessly as if months of practice have melted away to the moment of here and now. You are what Csikszentmihalyi has described as “in the flow,” or what athletes also known as being “in the zone.” By re-channeling the subconscious energy to a new skill, you can re-order and bring back harmony to the conscious self.
Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory can be applied to most endeavours, but water is particularly therapeutic. Matt Scknezy of Outside Magazine wrote it is believed that submerging people in water alters the balance of neurochemicals — epinephrine and dopamine — to the levels achieved during meditation.
Next time you are out on the water, remember every fall or dunk, any capsize-and-rescue drill can create a sense of well-being, which is no different from meditation.
Additionally, water produces negative ions in abundance. Negative ions are believed to increase serotonin in the blood, the same substance found in antidepressant. It is why negative-ion generators and bracelets are popular.
Why not pick up a surfboard, rent a kayak or canoe this weekend? Take it out for a ride. Go catch the waves because it can chase the blues away.
Scknezy, M. (2015, September 15). Can Surfing Reprogram the Veteran’s Brain? Outside Online. http://www.outsideonline.com/2015801/trim-toward-light-ptsd-surf-therapy
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Pursuit of Happiness) http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/mihaly-csikszentmihalyi/