"An ounce of prevention, is worth a pound of cure." - Benjamin Franklin
Just how powerful can a pairing of hydrogen atoms with a single oxygen atom that creates a molecule of water be? H2O is apparently, very powerful, especially when multiplied. So powerful, that we may want to look at that trip to the beach, swim after work, or hot shower in the morning in a new way as we read this series, Water-The Big Story. What can water do for us, and why might we want to be more mindful about adding this resource to our health and wellness toolbox? Let's take a deeper look in part two of this series.
The California wildfires occurring as I write this, are an extreme example of just how intense life can become without water. Just like hurricanes and tsunamis, fire holds intense energy. But what if we coupled fire with water? What would we get? Artist, Barnaby Evans, did just that in his artistic creation Waterfire. The result? Pairing of these two elements in a controlled environment creates peace, harmony and tranquility.
The city of Providence, Rhode Island hosts several lightings of Evan's Waterfire exhibits throughout the year. After sundown, volunteers dressed in black, glide through the water in black gondolas and add wood to fires burning in huge caldrons in the middle of the city's three rivers. Simultaneously, deep music that resonates through the body like a whale's song, fills the walkways around the rivers that resemble Venice, Italy's canals. Thousands of people gather to experience the simple, yet complex, pairing of water and fire. What is unique, in my opinion, is how at ease the crowd is, exhibiting almost the same type of affect that a restorative yoga class has on its participants. The crowd is mostly silent, harmoniously sauntering along the pathways that line the rivers. Occasionally, there may be something else to pause and experience, like a silent, performing mime. There is no pushing, shoving, just a seamless blend of the crowd.
Today scientists are studying what is it about water that has the power to affect our moods in such a way. How it facilitates our healing. Much of this is due to new technology that allows neuroscientists to actually track how our brains react to different stimulus.
Before we go on to explore this phenomena, and the why, and how, we may want to integrate water into our wellness toolbox, let me first pause to explain healing versus curing. Put simply, curing, is the elimination of the signs and symptoms of disease. It is consistent with the western diagnosis and treat medical model. Healing goes deeper; more complete, and may or may not include curing. According to Dossey and Keegan (2009), healing is “the return of the integrity and wholeness of the natural state of an individual; the emergence of right relationship at, between, and among all levels of the human being; the process of bringing together parts of one’s self (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, relational) at deeper levels of inner knowing, leading to an integration and balance, with each part of having equal importance and value.” It is pretty safe to say that most of us are in a continual state of healing as there are so many factors pulling us away from this delicate balance. If you want to understand this definition further, you may want to do some exploring of the terms on your own. A discussion of these terms with our health care provider may lead to a better understanding of our health goals and how to achieve them.
I share this distinction because as we discuss some of the information shared at the Eighth Annual BlueMind Summit, I want to be clear that what I am discussing is not medical advice. This year's BlueMind Summit theme was Water Is Medicine. Wallace J. Nichols, PhD (a turtle researcher, not a medical doctor) and I respectfully disagree on what wording is best used to discuss water's ability to make us feel better. He chooses to use the hashtag #WaterIsMedicine. I, on the other hand, choose to use #WaterHeals. To his credit, Nichols has spearheaded international discussion on the topic of water as it relates to health, as well as a number of other, not well-recognized links. Semantics aside, we do agree, as do countless others, that there is something magical to water and what it can do to us.
Some of you may be shaking your head and rolling your eyes at this point. Perhaps this is something that you already know. Going to the beach for the weekend, for example, leaves most of us relaxed, rejuvenated, restored. A saying commonly expressed by those who turn to water to relieve stress, and find their way back to their true north, is that water is like a "reset" button. The difference is in intention. Do we intentionally use water for the benefits we will discuss?
I, for example, already know water helps me feel better. However, I always thought of the beach as a treat, an indulgence, or for fun and recreation. Now that I am aware of just how powerful the healing effects are, I go more often for my preventive health. Why wait until I need a trip to the beach? Why not go and "reset" before I am exhausted, so that I am generally calmer, more relaxed and think clearer. Have you integrated this strategy into your lifestyle?
This is just the surface of what water may be able to help us with. We'll discuss more of the health and wellness benefits that we may reap, while engaging in water, as we continue in this series.
So, let's get to it, shall we?
At the BlueMind Summit: Water Is Medicine the hour-long sessions were broken down into specific themes:
I will be reviewing some of the information presented within these themes and adding further data and information. Surprisingly, the conference attracted people from all walks of life and a multitude of professions. I was the only nurse there and there were a few doctors. It was refreshing to be surrounded by like-minded people who are interested in, or already using water, in various ways to help their fellow human beings: surfers, inventors, educators, marine biologists, journalists, aquarium personnel, spa owners, and health coaches just to name a few.
The key takeaway from the conference: Water has the power to make us not only heal and improve our lives, it can also transform us at times. How exactly that happens, we do not know exactly, but we are starting to get some information.
In order for humans to have the best opportunity to indulge in what water has to offer, learning how to swim at the earliest age that is appropriate is beneficial. This diminishes the possibility of being fearful in, on, near or under water.
As of this publish date, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that depending on the child, and the surrounding conditions such as the amount of water nearby, some children may be ready to learn to swim as early as one years old. This does not, however, relinquish a parent or caregiver’s responsibility for ensuring that child’s safety around water with supervision and structural barriers to the water. A variety of factors go into the decision when it is appropriate to teach a child to swim. To learn more, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics informational page on the subject here.
Let's begin exploring in more detail exactly what water might actually do for us by looking first at the topic of pools and swimming.
In Tel Aviv, Israel, hydrotherapy is a well-accepted, and widely implemented means of providing therapy for individuals with a variety of medical situations including chronic pain, traumatic brain injuries, autism, and orthopedic rehabilitation. I can speak to the benefit of this personally.
A few years ago I dislocated and broke my ankle in three places. When the cast, and later the boot, were removed, my ankle was as stiff as a brick. It was painful and frightening to bear weight on it or try to rotate it. After the initial few weeks of physical therapy in their office, I instinctively turned to water to help me progress.
As Caroline Barmatz, Director of Hydrotherapy at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Aviv, Israel, stated at the BlueMind Summit, "I see abilities in water that are disabilities on land."
That indeed was what I found. The weight that water helped me bear gave me confidence to stretch my ankle a little more. When I saw it was possible to move it that much in the water, I felt more confident to allow my ankle to stretch that far on land.
Barmatz's hydrotherapy program provides over 27,000 treatments a year in Israel. There are several hydrotherapy pools around the city and medical professionals of all levels are educated about, and invited to experience, the therapeutic effect of water in order to assist with or advocate for it.
Looking at how other cultures are using water as therapy allows us to discover best practices and inspires us to think differently. Bob Hubbard, co-founder of the Hubbard Family Swim School in Phoenix, Arizona, was another speaker at the BlueMind Summit. Hubbard referenced a study done by Griffith University in Australia in which researchers surveyed parents of 7000 children aged five years old and under from Australia, New Zealand and the US over a four-year time period. It found that children under the age of four who swam at least once a week, were anywhere from six to 15 months ahead of the average population when it came to cognitive skills, problem solving in mathematics, counting, language and following instructions.
Hubbard states there are other great benefits to getting kids and those with special needs into the pool. Touch is one of them. Parents hold normally squirmy toddlers skin to skin for long periods of time and autistic kids allow others to touch them, which might not ordinarily happen. He says that often the greatest barrier to getting kids into the water is the parents.
"Studies show that 50-60% of adults are uncomfortable with water over their head," Hubbard shared. "Other countries such as Japan, Australia, and Norway require that by the third grade a child can pass a 400 meter swim test. We often spend more time educating the parents than the kids."
Learning how to swim is not only important to prevent fatal drowning, which is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages 1-14, it is essential to open the door to the therapeutic and mind-body enhancing benefits that water engagement offers. Like many other socio-economic situations, knowing how to swim is not equal across different cultures and ethnicities. 64 percent of African-American and 45 percent of Hispanic children cannot swim, compared to just 40 percent of Caucasian children.
We discussed a variety of potential ways this disparity might be tackled at the BlueMind Summit including: Expanding education of the benefits of swimming and water engagement via healthcare providers such as by Lamaze Class Instructors, Pediatric Providers, and School Nurses. Perhaps once made more aware, health insurance companies will cover swim lessons and build more pools in public areas including low-income areas. Imagine the preventive health benefits.
Do you swim or engage in water yourself? How has it affected your health and well-being? Please feel free to add your experiences in the comments below. We will continue to discuss other ways water heals us in upcoming blogs so be sure to subscribe if you are interested. I hope you will find it the information as intriguing as I have!
 B.M. Dossey, Holistic Nursing: A Handbook for Practice, 5th Ed., ed. B. M. Dossey and L. Keegan (Sudbury, MA: Jones and Barlett, 2009, 721.
If you would like to watch the BlueMind Summit: Water Is Medicine, Pools Session, in its entirety please click here. The audio from Tel Aviv is difficult to hear, unfortunately.