Ocean Therapy

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What is Ocean Therapy?

Ocean Therapy is a relatively new but internationally recognised natural form of therapy.

It is practised by harnessing the ocean and using water sports as a medium, to better the lives of those living with neurological and physical disabilities and/or conditions. These can include, but are not limited to: Low muscle tone, ASC, ADHD, Cystic Fibrosis & PTSD.

Child learning to surf with instructor at sea.
Child splashing in water wearing a buoyancy aid.

An Introduction to Ocean Therapy

Ocean Therapy is a relatively new but internationally recognised natural form of therapy. It uses the ocean and water sports as a medium to better the lives of those who live with neurological and physical disabilities and/or conditions.  These can vary from but are not limited to: Low Muscle Tone, ASC, ADHD, Cystic Fibrosis and PTSD.

The aim is to enable individuals, whatever their disabilities and/or conditions, to participate in a few hours of water sports, providing each of them the opportunity to have their own unique and valuable experience.  In doing this it is hoped that each individual will leave feeling empowered, relaxed and confident in their abilities, transferring this into their everyday lives.  Not only this, but Ocean Therapy has been noted to relieve physical and psychological symptoms.  Dr Wallace J Nichols noted that water can help us access the state called ‘flow’ or ‘hyper focus’ where we connect to the default mode network, or daydreaming parts of our brain.  This in turn can restore our ability to focus and perform cognitive and creative tasks with greater ease.

In our experience, being in, under, on, or around the water leaves you calmer, and with a more focused mindset.  It can give your mind a break from the usual busyness and over stimulation of life and is the most natural form of respite. 

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‘Surfers stoke’ has been described numerous times as, a blissful Zen-like state that comes with catching and riding waves.

As nice as it is to be in, on and around natural forms of water, you don’t always have to be physically near it to experience the benefits it can hold. A huge advantage of water is that you don’t need to meditate to realise its healing effects.

Even recorded sights and sounds of water have a healing and relaxing effect.  In 1997, 10 cancer patients who were experiencing chronic pain, watched a nature video that included 15 minutes of the sounds of ocean waves waterfalls, and splashing creeks.  After viewing the video, patients experienced a 20 to 30 percent reduction in the stress hormones epinephrine and cortisol.

In our opinion we think everyone can agree that it feels good to be in, on, under or simply around the water.

Not only can it reduce our anxieties and stress helping us to find some perspective on life, but it is continually being proven more and more to ease symptoms and pain for some of our most vulnerable.

The ocean boosts creativity, settles us and helps us to reconnect with Mother Nature and the people we share it with.

For us here at Healing Waves, the benefits of the ocean are undeniable and glaringly obvious. Whether for cognitive, emotional, psychological or physiological benefits, such a strong natural and accessible source of therapy/medicine should be prescribed to everyone more regularly. It is not just our aim to provide a high quality-service, but to also advocate for Ocean Therapy, Blue Mind and Blue Health, taking this message to the highest and most serious conversations out there.

Woman meditating by the sea, psychological water benefits infographic.

Water sports can be powerful enough to help people recover from addictions and conditions such as post-traumatic stress.

“It’s a huge serge of dopamine, huge natural high. Your body is a pharmacy; You can create in analogue from everything that is available from a pharmacist. This is not hippy dippy stuff, this is neuroscience.”

Wallace J Nichols

“The goal of surf therapy is not to teach people to be surfers. It’s to get them to use surfing to change their brain chemistry. You stand on the beach and get amped up, and all kinds of chemicals rush through the brain. Different ones are in play when you’re paddling out or have a monster wave chasing you to the beach. All of those chemicals can have incredible effects on how people cope with depression, anxiety, stress, and other mental-health issues.”

Bryan Flores

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We are proud to be an isto contributor

International Surf Therapy Organisation is a collective of the world’s leading surf therapy practitioners, clinicians, researchers and influencers working together to advance understanding in the sector through research and best practice.  They serve as an information hub for surf therapy prescriptions and a place for sharing in the practitioner community. 

We are proud to be an ISTO member and contributor, advocating for best practice in the Channel Islands! 

ISTO launched at a workshop in Cape Town on the 25th – 30th September 2017, joining together a founding eight surf organisations – Waves For Change, A Walk on Water, Kind Surf, Surfers Healing, the Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation, the Wave Project, Wave by Wave and Waves of Wellness. Alongside representatives from The World Surf League (WSL), The Surf Industry Manufacturers Association (SIMA) and research experts from the University of Edinburgh and the University of New South Wales.

This group is continuing to share existing research and practical experience to define the various outcomes Surf Therapy organisations are seeing around the world.  They aim to develop a simple handbook that should help surf organisations structure programmes and measure impact. They support the growth of new projects and facilitate access to Surf Therapy programmes globally!

Advocating the work of the Surf Therapy Institute is again our main man, ocean science specialist and author of international best seller ‘Blue Mind’ Dr Wallace J Nichols: “Ten years ago, for many it was unimaginable that doctors and medical professionals would prescribe surf therapy as an important part of a healing regime. Ten years from now it will be common.  This endeavour is going to save, improve and heal lives because waves are medicine for those who need them most.  It gives us additional justification for protection and restoration of waterways and oceans, adding powerful new tools to the conservation and environmental communication toolbox.”

By bringing together the best researchers with experienced practitioners in the sector.  It is the hope of the Institute to advance the understanding of what Surf and Ocean Therapy can achieve, and improve the capacity of organisations worldwide to deliver impactful programmes; that can ultimately change lives.

We hope the above research has given you some more insight into what we do and why we do it.

Blue Mind

Learn more about the connection between Ocean Therapy and 'Blue Mind', the term used to describe water-associated peace.