In part two of our Four Pillars series we talk about Blue Health, how it relates to surfing – and how we at Soul & Surf incorporate Blue Health practices and techniques into our Soul of Surfing syllabus.
Words Rachel Lingham & Illustrations by Coco Steigner | 10th March '23
Blue Health refers to the beneficial effects of being near or in water on our wellbeing. And growing research shows that spending time in or near water – whether it's a lake, river, ocean or swimming pool – has a positive impact on our mental, physical and emotional health.
Blue Health is a term coined by the European Centre for Environment and Human Health – catchy title, so we’ll refer to them as ECEHH from now on. The concept is recognised by researchers and health professionals around the world, and there is growing interest in using water-based activities to improve physical and mental health – for both individuals and communities.
The ECEHH also developed the Blue Gym Initiative as a way to encourage people to use natural environments – especially aquatic environments such as the ocean and other bodies of water – to promote physical activity.
Blue Gym activities can be anything related to the water, like surfing, kayaking, fishing, coastal walks – or just relaxing on a beach. Water-based activities – like surfing – provide a form of exercise that is both fun and challenging, improving cardiovascular health, endurance, and strengthening muscles. Additionally, the sensory experience of being in or near the ocean stimulates our senses, increases creativity, and provides a sense of connectedness to nature.
By recognising and valuing the benefits of Blue Health, we can develop a greater appreciation for our environment and prioritise our health through activities that connect us with the natural world.
Whilst this is a new area of scientific research with many branches of inquiry unfolding, at Soul & Surf we mean ‘Blue Health’ in this sense:
As surfers we are well aware of our intrinsic connection to the ocean – it is how we feel stoked! It is both our playground and our sanctuary, and the healthier the ocean, the healthier we are.
So here are seven ways to incorporate Blue Health practices and techniques – what we call the '7 Principles of Preparation' – which are a fundamental part of the Soul of Surfing.
Breathwork is beginning to gain more traction and harnessing the power of the breath has been advocated as the key to health and longevity by yogis for thousands of years. Pranayama (breath control) is the fourth limb in yoga and allows practitioners to go deeper into the subtle aspects of the energy body. On a physiological and neurological level when we breathe in we regulate our sympathetic nervous system and when we breathe out we regulate the parasympathetic.
Mindfulness meditation allows us time to build awareness of our inner world by observing internal thoughts, emotions and triggers. Through awareness we have a chance to respond to life, rather than just reacting to it. Mindfulness is a practice that takes time to develop, but if we put in the time and energy, it can turn into a highly positive habit.
Concentration is a requirement of surfing and 'they' say surfing is 90% mental. We’re not quite sure who 'they' are, but we agree that our surfing definitely improves when we concentrate fully. 'Flow State' is when we have successfully entered the zone where we meet challenge with confidence and focus.
This means leading from our heart, rather than our head. The mind has been trained to solve problems under pressure but when we surf, we are actually just playing. Sometimes this can be frustrating because we don’t see immediate results but by releasing expectations, inviting joy and being open to possibilities, the creative and playful parts of ourselves get to take over and have fun.
The pursuit of now is really what we are doing when we suit up and head out to the waves: being in that moment, with no chance to think or be anywhere else. Being aware of the present moment is a direct benefit of surfing, and something we can continue to practice when back on land.
We know by now that exercise makes us feel good, and however we might be feeling, going in the sea ALWAYS makes us feel better. It's really important to pay attention and nourish our bodies before, during and after surfing. Yoga, stretching and therapies are perfect for this, and they also give us space and time to observe what is going on inside.
Our bodies aren't machines, like any living entity they thrive when we give them love.
Is it silly to reiterate that surfing takes place in the ocean? We can do all the things on land to help improve our surfing - but until we actually get in the sea, it’s all just theory. Spending more time in the ocean means being able to assess things from a vantage point experience.
Correct assessment of conditions means we can decipher input vs. output. And by putting surf expectations in check, we can be ready for the unpredictable, unknown and the magic to happen. And enjoy it a whole lot more!
In 2016 a European research initiative – 'Blue Health' – began investigating the links between urban blue spaces, climate and health. It combined interdisciplinary approaches to examine how wellbeing might be promoted through the development of blue infrastructure and has increased understanding of how urban blue spaces can affect people’s wellbeing.
And more recently, in 2020, the SOPHIE project was designed to explore these relationships as the basis for an emerging scientific discipline called 'Oceans and Human Health'.
They state that, “as a maritime continent, conducting research in this area is important for Europe, its inhabitants, and its Ocean. So the European Commission funded Seas, Oceans and Public Health in Europe, a research programme to help protect the ocean, harness its health benefits, and reduce its risks.”
Thanks to Natalie Fox, our sustainability consultant, for her wealth of knowledge. Read all about how we approach Ocean Literacy - plus look out for our upcoming article on Soul Surfing.