Let’s meditate a moment on water.
Studies show that being in, on, under or near it can have positive effects on mental health. It can lower anxiety and reduce stress, while bolstering feelings of happiness and calm. It sustains life on Earth, while rejuvenating us in ways that may not be so obvious.
Water’s healing power — known as “blue mind,” a term coined by marine biologist Dr. Wallace J. Nichols — has become more and more prevalent in today’s mental health space. And while oceans, lakes and rivers are perfect places to rest your mind, there’s a similar place that can offer healing, too.
Tanks for the Blue Mind
Even before entering the Aquarium, you’ll have your first mental reprieve — look to the right and a little beach comes into view, where saltmarsh grass sways gently in the water and the sound of waves and salty air engage your senses. Continue up the walkway and you’re greeted by a panoramic view of the Charleston Harbor with the Ravenel Bridge in the background. In the distance, boats bob on the waves and you may even see dolphins coming up for air. Finally, enter the Aquarium and you’re immediately surrounded by hues of blues and greens, as sunlight dances through our Carolina Seas tank.
While these initial experiences certainly set the stage, true mental healing happens throughout your Aquarium experience. Sit in front of the Great Ocean Tank and watch as hundreds of animals glide by — the familiar rhythm of swimming fish combined with the multitude of different shapes, colors and sizes is naturally soothing. According to Nichols, this is when the true healing begins to set in. When something is familiar yet unfamiliar at the same time, the brain is lulled into a state that’s calm and alert at once — similar to watching waves crash on the beach. The rest of your body begins to follow suit, leading you into a calming state of relaxation.
Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery™ offers a similar solitude — as our sea turtle patients glide from one side of their tanks to the other, you may notice varying hues of aqua, highlighted by the ambient lights above each tank. The anticipation that the sea turtles will eventually swim by, coupled with the soft and rhythmic sway of the water in each tank, brings a similar healing.
Sea-ing Spiritual Pilgrims
Ascend to the second floor of the Aquarium to see our jellyfish exhibit, and let your mind wander to the idle, peaceful glow of moon jellies in a soft, purple light. You might even find yourself drawn to the long, elegant gar in our Piedmont exhibit — they float so serenely that they look like they’re suspended in water. It’s common for Aquarium staff to see guests gazing into these exhibits, totally immersed in their own thoughts and embracing a much-needed mental break.
These guests are known as “spiritual pilgrims,” and as fellow pilgrims ourselves, Aquarium staff can spot these kindred spirits. Some of us are even trained in mental first aid for adults and youth alike. Taught to notice mood changes and how to speak with guests who may be experiencing mental health crises, these staff members provide a lifeline for those who need it.
As you wander past the upper Great Ocean Tank window and say hello to Caretta, our resident loggerhead sea turtle, you’ll eventually come to the Touch Tank. Here, submerge your hands and touch a sea star or sea urchins with the guidance of our educators. In this moment, you’re engaging the immersive aspect of your blue mind, and the crisp feel of the water against your skin brings a healing touch.
Wishing to prolong this calming experience, you notice blue chairs on the Aquarium deck. Sit for awhile and soak in the Charleston Harbor, watching as the tides change, boats pass and birds dive for fish.
The Ripple Effect
While you’re sitting in the blue chairs, totally relaxed and soaking in that vitamin D, you may be wondering how your blue mind journey can continue after your visit to the Aquarium.
The experiences you have with the healing power of water within our walls can lead to a culture of caring and engagement with the world beyond them. From yoga and seining to beach sweeps and outdoor clinics, there are countless ways to dive deeper through Aquarium programs and events. Just like the infinite healing powers of water, opportunities to tap into your blue mind are endless.
Engage your blue mind and experience the wonders of water with a visit to the Aquarium!
Published May 1, 2023