Ocean therapy

written by The WellBeing Team

It is widely accepted that life originated from the great oceans; that all life, including humankind, evolved from the watery womb of the seas. There is also a spiritual belief that everything in the universe was born from a great causal “ocean” and that one day we’ll return to that undivided state of oneness. Some believe that as individuals we are collectively linked; that there is an “ocean of consciousness” that binds us all to each other, or a deep, unfathomable love that links all things once we learn to tap into it — an “ocean of love”. The creation myths of the great spiritual texts might differ in many ways, however they all carry similar metaphors and nearly all speak of the one, undivided ocean — the apparent wellspring of our earth’s seas.

The ocean is undeniably interconnected with our history, survival, health and view of the world. Water is vital for life — nowhere is there life without it — and the greatest store of water on our planet is the ocean. Approximately 97 per cent of the earth’s water is stored in the oceans and polar-sea ice. We’re also aware of the immense power of the ocean, with the recent devastating tsunami of the northern Indian Ocean (26 December 2004) evoking awe and a humble appreciation of this great force.

Covering 71 per cent of the earth’s surface, the ocean resembles a huge, living soup. Some three-quarters of all plant life and 80 per cent of all animal life on the planet can be found in its depths. Nearly all of the 33 major divisions of animals are present there, along with countless living corals.

Despite this, we know more about the surface of the moon than our own planet’s oceans; only a fraction is known about the ocean floor. Beneath the seas are mountain ranges that are said to be longer and wider than any mountain ranges on land. There are possibly 10 million undiscovered species living in the unchartered depths. We think we know a lot about the ocean, but it is really still a vast mystery, even to our scientists, as so much of it remains unexplored. We might liken our knowledge of the ocean’s depths to our knowledge of ourselves, with so much of our thinking being subconscious — or submerged, so to speak.

The living spirit of Gaia

The Gaia hypothesis proposes that our planet functions as a self-regulating, single organism and that, on one level, the earth is alive and adapts to change. The concept of Gaia, or “Mother Earth”, has been part of human culture in one form or another since prehistoric times, and there are also archetypal references to the ocean as the original “mother” or “womb”. There is a belief among some native South Africans that the sea is not just God’s creation but also a living body with healing spirit.

The Gaia hypothesis promotes a new awareness of the interconnectedness of all things on our planet. It suggests that the ocean maintains a homeostasis similar to human physiology whereby our bodies maintain an internal equilibrium (body temperature, blood pH, electrochemical balance and so on) — a balance necessary for health and survival. Not unlike the human body, the ocean maintains certain biological processes. Its salinity, for example, has been maintained at around 3.4 per cent for billions of years.

An example of how the ocean self-regulates its salinity to sustain life is the way sea water evaporates from shallow lagoons and marshes; the water is recycled as fresh rainwater and the precipitated salt is buried under layers of sediment. The shallow lagoons and salt marshes therefore cleanse the oceans. James E. Lovelock, the author of the Gaia hypothesis, likens this process to the way our kidneys remove impurities from the blood. Similarly, the oceans and rivers of Gaia, or “Mother Earth”, may be seen as analogous to the earth’s “blood”.

The Gaia hypothesis encourages us to consider the impact humankind has on the earth and its oceans. Instead of thinking of ourselves as separate from the “ocean of life”, we can see that we are inherently interconnected with it. Many human beings live dissonantly and completely separated, not just from the ocean but also from the natural world in general. Likewise, many of the world’s nations do not consider nature in anything but material terms. Dumping of waste products and fishing may seem inconsequential in comparison with the size of our vast oceans, but when such abuse occurs on a global scale the impact can be detrimental.

Millions of tonnes of aquatic creatures have been removed from the oceans over the past 100 years. And how have we balanced this? By adding billions of tonnes of waste products, toxic chemicals, fertilisers and pesticides to our marine waters! It is estimated that billions of tonnes of plastic pollute the ocean environment each year, threatening the wellbeing of marine animals that mistake this rubbish for food. Our seemingly inconsequential actions can wipe out whole species and even complete ecosystems. When we see ourselves as disconnected from the natural world, it is easy to use its resources for our immediate gratification, forgetting the impact we may be having and the consequences for future generations.

In recent years an environmental awakening has seen us promoting greater respect for nature and seeking more simple ways of being. The realisation that we are not just interconnected with the natural world but also intrinsically dependent on it for our health and wellbeing has moulded new attitudes and even political policies. Consequently, thousands of marine sanctuaries and parks have been established worldwide (but it is also sobering to note that the total area protected is still only a fraction of the entire ocean). This trend may reflect our inner need to find harmony. More people are turning to the ocean for healing on all levels of their being.

The ocean’s healing powers

As a source of healing, the sea contributed to the pharmacopeia of classical times, with early Greek medicine promoting the use of sea salt for skin lesions, the drinking of salty water for digestive troubles and the inhaling of saltwater steam for respiratory diseases. Salt water was also used externally to combat skin diseases and freckles.

The father of medicine, Hippocrates (5th century BC), mentions the use of saltwater steam inhalations in his great works. The Greek physician Galen (2nd century AD) referred to sea salt and sea foam in his medicinal recipes for skin diseases, infectious wounds and digestive troubles.

Paracelsus, the 16th century Swiss-German physician and alchemist, recommended salt water for the treatment of wounds and intestinal worms. He believed that a saltwater hipbath was a remedy for skin diseases and itching. “This brine,” he said, “is better than all the health spas arising out of nature.” Sea water was administered for rheumatism and general rehabilitation in Europe throughout the 1500s. It was also common practice among seaman with gastric problems to drink half a glass of clean sea water each day, for several days, with reportedly excellent results.

Seawater therapy was the main healing modality at the Royal Sea Bathing Hospital in Margate, Kent, which began operating in the late 18th century. Seawater baths also became extremely popular in France at the time. Numerous centres for marine cures were set up in Europe and some still exist today. In 1935 more than 400 seashore sanatoria and preventoria were in operation worldwide.

Salt water as therapy

Approximately 65 per cent of our body weight can be attributed to water, and there is a strong similarity between sea water and our mineral make-up. As demonstrated by French biologist René Quinton (1866-1925), our blood plasma is constitutionally comparable to sea water itself. The “ocean” of extracellular fluid bathing our cells is even more similar in trace mineral content. You could say that the ocean is within us all. Recognition of this close affinity between our body fluids and sea water has spawned many theories about the healing powers of this resource, and the health benefits of consuming sea water as a complete mineral source are becoming evident.

A major medical breakthrough occurred when it was discovered that salt water could be used as an isotonic saline solution for intravenous infusions. Saline solution can temporarily replace large amounts of lost blood because of its similarity to human blood plasma. Salt water is also used in modern-day medicine intramuscularly and subcutaneously. Externally, it can be valuable as a wash and as an enema.

Salt baths have been used in the treatment of psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, chronic eczema and arthritis. Saltwater steam inhalations are often recommended for respiratory disorders, including the common cold. Seawater enthusiasts drink salt water to assist with digestion, as the expectorant effect of salt water on the stomach increases the secretion of gastric juices.

Thalassotherapy (sea therapy) utilises the sea in a variety of ways for healing. It incorporates exposure to a maritime climate, the consumption of sea water and the healing effects of the sea’s pounding waves. It also uses heated seawater baths and combinations of electro-acupuncture and seawater therapy. Thalassotherapy promotes freeing oneself of stress with a change of lifestyle and surroundings. It also incorporates heliotherapy (sun therapy) and aerosol therapy (from salt particles in the sea air). In days past, it was common practice to take children with weak muscles or deformed limbs down to the seaside to bathe them in the salt water or put wet sand packs on them as they lay in the sun at the water’s edge.

Some research highlights the use of sea water to boost the immune system, suggesting it can be effective in treating immune disorders like chronic fatigue. Other research claims that sea water can reduce acidity in the body and has the power to counteract various acid-related conditions such as arthritis, sciatica and skin disorders. Some believe that drinking sea water can re-establish the acid/alkaline balance in individuals with an acidic system, thereby aiding recovery from digestive disorders such as gastritis, especially if it is attributed to nicotine abuse.

Salt is said to symbolise life itself. Essentially, our basic physiological functions depend on a balance in the body between salts and liquids. When this balance is upset, disease may occur. The late Dr Fereydoon Batmanghelidj, author of Your Body’s Many Cries For Water (1992), believed that many health disorders are directly related to chronic dehydration and a lack of mineral salts in the diet. He advocated a saltwater cure for many conditions, including lower back pain, asthma, hypertension, morning sickness, obesity and even high cholesterol.

In Africa, purified sea water is used to “wash away” physical, psychological and even spiritual conditions. It is hailed as a great healer and used for body purification, enemas, colon cleansing, massages, poultices, steaming and bathing. Some Africans use it as a natural solution for dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, athlete’s foot and spots. They believe that bathing in sea water increases the elasticity of the skin and improves its appearance.

American Indians residing near the Great Salt Lake, Utah, drank small quantities of inland sea water for health and to enhance the efficacy of their herbal remedies. Some people continue to drink sea water to boost the health properties of superfoods such as chlorella and spirulina.

Respecting the ocean

Considering how dependent we’ve become on the ocean, how can we use its awesome power without abusing it? How can we utilise the wondrous natural systems that support us on so many levels without depleting them? In an article in the UNESCO Courier, marine biologist Sylvia Earle evoked “the energy potential of harnessing the [ocean’s] waves” and the “sustainable possibility of feeding the world’s hungry through algae”. When you consider such possibilities, you realise that the ocean truly is one of our most precious resources. However, it will only remain so if we can sense the connection we have with it as a “living” identity. If we can develop greater respect for the ocean, we can work synergistically with it in ways that benefit all interconnected beings in the “ocean of life”.

Practical uses for purified sea water

First aid

Sea water (saline) is used as an antibacterial solution for eyewashes and the treatment of cuts and rashes. Because of its antibacterial properties it can also be used as a natural mouthwash or to soak dentures. It has been used to heal ulcers and soothe sore throats and as a preventative against colds and flu. Sea water reputedly promotes healing and alters the permeability of skin cells by preventing leakage, making it valuable for treating seeping lesions in the cases of eczema, pimples, herpes and thrush.

Food

Concentrated sea water is a unique seasoning that enhances salads and greens. It maintains the crispness of vegetables and lettuce and blends more easily than dry salt with salad dressings. Sea water also brings out the natural flavours in meat, without dehydrating it, and blends well with marinades. Not only does it impart a fresh taste to foods, its potency lies in the ease with which it allows us to incorporate a number of minerals into our daily diet.

Electrolyte replacement

It’s possible to make your own sports drink with the right concentration of purified sea water added to juice or water. The electrolytes that occur naturally in sea water exist in the ratios most readily absorbed by the body. You can replenish the electrolytes that are lost during exercise and in the sauna (which can result in cramping and fatigue) with a simple, homemade sports drink containing natural sea water.

Beauty

Sea water is becoming increasingly popular in beauty treatments. It can be used as an astringent (to tone skin) and an antiseptic (to clear blemishes). Its antibacterial properties make it useful as a natural deodorant and it can also be used as a soothing sunburn wash. Massaging sea water into your scalp after washing your hair reputedly treats dandruff and promotes full-bodied hair.

A seawater bath can induce deep relaxation and provide a feast of minerals for the skin. Sea water soothes the skin and helps extract toxins from the body. Simply add sea water to a warm bath and soak for at least 10 minutes. The minerals in sea water are said to best penetrate the skin at Full Moon — the optimum time for healing and regeneration. At New Moon, it is said, the body’s capacity for detoxification is at its greatest — an excellent time for a cleansing seawater bath.

Mineral tonic

Seawater samples have been shown to contain 92 trace elements. In addition to the impressive macro and trace mineral content of sea water, its liquid, ionic form is that which is most easily absorbed by the body, making it a near-perfect mineral supplement. Sea water is very effective as a tonic because the trace minerals are in the correct forms and ratios needed for absorption by the body. Sea water’s alkaline nature (it has a pH between 7.9 and 8.3) suggests it has the power to harmonise the acid/alkaline balance in the body. Sea water also includes the natural acid buffer magnesium bicarbonate.

Ayurvedic neti

Anecdotal evidence suggests that using purified sea water is the most potent way of practising neti (cleansing the nose and sinuses with water) because of sea water’s supposedly excellent drying effect.

Mental health

Sea water contains salts that replenish the circuitry of the brain with an influx of negative ions. It also contains lithium, an element said to be a mood stabiliser. As such, sea water is said to boost confidence, promote independent thinking, neutralise emotional trauma, brighten the spirit and fortify the nerves. If you find yourself in a dark mood, go to the beach, behold the waves and let the negatively charged ions spraying into the air wash away your bad (positively charged) mood.

References

Charlier, R., and M.C. Chaineux. “Since millennia, healing from the sea.” Museum of the World Ocean, 2002. Available at http://vitiaz.ru/congress/en/thesis/150.html
Claydon, John. “The Essential Health Benefits of Sea Water.” June 1998. Available at www.harmonikireland.com/index.php?topic=seawater
Earle, Sylvia. “20,000 worlds under the sea — The sea and its treasures.” UNESCO Courier, July-Aug 1998. Available at www.unesco.org/courier/1998_08/uk/dossier/intro11.htm
Lovelock, James E. The Ages of Gaia. W.W. Norton and Company, 1988. Cited by www.panspermia.org/gaia.htm
Minton, Melinda. “Seaplants.” Available at www.aesthetic-education.com/seaplants.html
“The Healing Power of Brine.” Health & Healing 22, no. 3 (Jan-March 2003).
“Traditional Healing.” SA Entrepreneur website. Available at www.sa-entrepreneur.co.za/archives/Traditional%20Healing.htm
Wormer, Eberhard J. “A taste for salt in the history of medicine.” Science Tribune, March 1999. Available at www.tribunes.com/tribune/sel/worm.htm

Astoria Barr is a freelance writer with an extensive background in alternative therapies and spirituality. She is studying to teach Dru yoga and works as a volunteer for non-profit and peace organisations.


Like what you read? Sign up for a weekly dose of wellness