The Nervous System and our relationship with water

Included, “Inner Sea Sounds Meditation” step-by-step instructions

Do you remember a time in your childhood when placing a large spiral seashell over your ear you could hear a sound reminding of the waves rolling onto the seashore?

It is one of those sounds that, once experienced, may remain in the long-term memory. The most common scientific explanation for this kind of sound seems to be that the ambient noise caught into the shell creates the wave-like sound frequency inside the ear.

For many people, being beside a water body, be it a lake, river, the sea, or the ocean, can be an experience that relaxes the body and mind bringing a sense of peace and calmness. You may be one of many who can access a water body physically and tune into its energy, movement, colour, smells, sounds and sights. Water has the gift of bringing the human mind back “home”. And if you do not have a water body on your doorstep, or cannot travel to the water, there are other ways to access the ocean or the sea by going Inside rather than Outside, which will be described further on in this Blog post by inviting you to experience a meditation practice.

Whether it is the stillness of water or the wild wave that is enchanting you, what have you noticed about how your mood or thoughts change in the presence of water? Some people feel more meditative, artists more imaginative, children more playful, families more connected, sports people more adventurous, or simply laying down by the water with nothing to do and nowhere to go can bring about a sense of wellbeing.

Other gifts of water are its fluidity and ability to nourish. Like no other element, water can get anywhere and move through anything overtime. No wonder human life begins and develops in the safe medium of water. In human history the oceans have been a source of nourishment as well as being essential to the continuity of life; water is also the main component of the human body.

How could it be possible that being in, around or on water can make us feel more calm, connected or creative?

Developing an interest in the mysterious effect that water has on the human mind, I came across the “blue mind concept” introduced by Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, a marine biologist who wrote the book entitled “Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do”. His theory backed up by neuroscience and real stories told by people from different walks of life suggests that being in contact with water is like medicine, and in many ways restorative to humans’ health, relationships and communities. One of his messages is that enjoying and taking care of the water bodies, for the benefit of our mental health and the planet, we protect that which sustains life carried by the water element.

In the video below, Dr. Wallace J. Nichols describes the “blue mind” concept in an interview.

Blue Mind: Water is medicine:

More information about the blue mind can be found in the Resources at the end of the Blog.

How does this all apply to daily life in practice?

When life shakes us up, to push us to change at the right time and in the right place, with the precision of the moving hands of a clock, there is no escape from the ensuing chaos, anxiety or confusion settling in pretty quickly. The nervous system is then challenged while the entire human system is seeking homeostasis.

Indian Ayurvedic medicine and Chinese medicine have fascinating approaches on the element of water. According to Chinese medicine, in times of stress, if the water element becomes unbalanced in the body, certain organs may be affected: kidneys, urinary bladder, knees, bones and joints. The corresponding psychological symptoms may be: a sense of isolation, fear, detachment, or feeling scattered and disconnected. A healthy flow of the water element in the body manifests through feeling unconditional love, a sense of being in the life flow, sensibility, inclusivity, tenacity, tolerance, endurance and humility. Working at bringing the water element back into balance in relation to the other elements seems to be important in the process of self-regulation.

The same idea of helping a stressed nervous system back into balance but through meditation, reminds me of one of the instructions given at a meditation retreat led by Sogyal Rimpoche, which I attended over 10 years ago in Dzogchen Beara Retreat Centre, Beara Peninsula in south-west Ireland, and it sounded like this:

“Water, if you do not stir it, will become clear”. Clear minds are like clear waters.

Over the past few months, the Inner Sounds Meditation came about spontaneously while I was practicing in an environment that was less conducive to what I thought was needed for inner peace and introspection. Life is such that sometimes we have no choice but to work with what is.  The following is what resulted from the practice. Below, are the step-by-step instructions for the meditation. Enjoy!

The Inner Sea Sounds Meditation

With the help of today’s sophisticated human body technology :), and making use of the following supports listed below, you can be with the sea sounds without holding a sea shell, physically being on the sea shore, or accessing the sounds digitally. There is a lot going on inside the body, and that is inclusive of the sea sounds.

This meditation may be helpful anytime and particularly when experiencing tiredness, stress or anxiety.

Please note:

If you suffer from head/neck/ears injuries or vertigo, or are unsure if this exercise is suitable for you, please seek medical advice before commencing.

What you need:

  • a reasonably quiet room
  • your presence and some of your time
  • a light scarf, hat or fabric head band to wrap around your head and cover your ears
  • ear plugs
  • a mat to sit on or a comfortable chair
  • a pashmina, or light blanket to wrap around your body& neck or use clothing that reaches up to the back of your head

Introduce the ear plugs in your ears, put the scarf on and wrap up the pashmina around you.

Begin by sitting in a comfortable meditation position or on a chair, with your back straight. Directing your attention inside the body. Taking a few deep conscious breaths, relaxing your shoulders, the head and the neck. Allowing the hands to rest on your knees or laps. Allowing the breathing to move through your body from the head to the toes. Closing your eyes if that feels good. Feeling the weight of your body as it is fully supported by the ground or the chair.

Slowly& gently begin rolling your head by moving it down towards the chest and to the left ear, rolling it to the back as far as it is comfortable, and to the right ear, making a smooth, full circle. Continuing to making circles in this anti clockwise direction a few times or as long as it seems appropriate. Paying attention to what you are hearing inside your ears. After some time pausing to rest.

Changing the direction, bringing the head down and towards the right ear, and to the back, and continuing rolling it in a clockwise direction. The circles drawn with your head can be as wide or as small as it feels comfortable. Listening from the inside and taking in the sounds. What are the sounds like? Do they remind you of anything? Whatever the memory, image, sensation, thought or mood, take a moment to notice it arriving, maybe lingering for a while and moving away in its own time. Noticing how it feels in your body to be with this experience.

Beginning to include the awareness of your breathing in the exercise by consciously allowing it to flow naturally through your body during the head rolls. If any tension is present in any part of the body, you may choose to pause and rest, or make an intention to bring the attention to that part of the body with kindness or a soft approach, and make the necessary adjustments.

Allowing your head to return to the middle position and coming to an end of the meditation. Bringing your attention back to the entire body, how it is sitting, sensations and moods that may be present. Making small movements with your fingers and toes, opening the eyes and returning your full attention to the here and now. Congratulating yourself for making the time to re-connect with your “inner sea” sounds.

Links for resources:

Irish Coast Sounds video:

Saying Goodbye to stress video:

Introduction to Blue Mind with Dr. Wallace J Nichols video:

Do you know what the sea is able to do? A poem by Irish poet, Pat Ingoldsby: