Every so often, the quote “Salt Water Heals All Wounds” washes up with the tides of social media. Beneath the surface, deep down, it rings true. We would like to think that the cure for anything is salt water: tears, sweat, or the sea. Especially the sea.
But is it true?
To find the truth we must take a closer look. Have you ever seen sand under a microscope? Running through your fingers, sand is quite pretty. Close up, however, we can see sand for what it really is: gemlike minerals, colorful coral fragments, and delicate microscopic shells. Sand is so much more complex and beautiful then we would think.
In the same way, saltwater is equally complex and fascinating. Here, we put the mythic healing properties of salt water under the proverbial microscope.
What we found: there is truth behind the words, salt water does heal. Amongst the flotsam and jetsam that we find washed ashore, the sea brings us many gifts: solace, happiness and health.
The idea of a seaside health resort first became popular in eighteenth century England. To put this into context, at the time the environmental damage caused by the industrial revolution was so extreme that the moths famously evolved to turn black. In reaction to this people turned to romanticism, a desire to find the sublime in nature. This, of course, led them to the sea.
Physicians prescribed sea-bathing and the sea air for a host of maladies: from melancholy to tuberculosis. It was suggested that even ocean views could be enough to revive a patient.
The strange truth is, they were not entirely wrong.
Dr Ferkol, of Washington University, says that, "In contrast to when you're at home, at the beach you are more physically active, which moves things around and makes you feel good." Plus, "The sounds of the breeze and repetitive waves can relax you, much as white-noise devices do, which may result in better sleep hygiene."
As for ocean views, in 2001 the University of Exeter Medical school found that living by the coast improved health and wellbeing. In recent times, psychological studies have also shown that ocean views really can improve our mood.
This would suggest that the healing power of the ocean goes beyond salt water on skin and that the ocean can give us insight into our own wellbeing. As Anaïs Nin writes,
I must be a mermaid. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.
Ocean views can help us see into the depths of ourselves.
Perhaps this is the most profound healing power of the sea - what it can teach us about life. Jessica Stein writes of her time recovering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder:
I have learned to not only accept uncontrollable change, but welcome and crave for the force of its waves.
Similarly, Anne Morrow took some time away from her daily life to live in solitude by the sea. She wrote a book about this, called Gifts from the Sea, that has remained a classic over 50 years. One such gift? Patience. She says that:
The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches... we should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.”
Though we may no longer drink sea water and plunge into cold water, as the eighteenth century doctors advised, we still run toward the sea in our search for wellness.
Nowadays, we are more likely to seek out a health retreat in Bali than a British seaside resort. The idea, however, is not so different. It is a form of escapism. We escape from the hurt, tension and stress. We go to find solace in the sea. Sometimes, it takes an ocean not to break.