American Institute of Stress (AIS) Executive Director Heidi Hanna, PhD talks with Good Morning San Diego about the benefits of being at the beach, and how you can train your brain to tap into the benefits through mindfulness practices that include cuing calming sensations.

Trigger Your Brain for Relaxation

“You don’t have to be near an ocean to practice a beach state of mind,” Hanna says. “Listening to sounds of the ocean is more relaxing than relaxation music or white noise. You can also use aromatherapy that will mimic the experience of those negative ions [like experienced at the beach] and actually feel more calm and relaxed. One of my favorites things is just taking off your shoes and letting your feet be free and really feeling the sensation of the Earth.”

Hanna states that there are a lot of studies on a concept called ground, which is connecting with the Earth.

“The foot has more sensations and nerve endings than any place in the body. You can tap into that and train your brain to get into that relaxed state.”

The newscaster suggested opening a bottle of suntan lotion and smelling it to be a stimulation to take your mind back to the beach, and Hanna replied, “Absolutely! Especially if you can close your eyes and imagine that you’re there. Allow yourself to listen to sounds of the ocean crashing or get your breathing pattern into a nice consistent rhythm, then the smell will become something that we call a neural cue. So every time you smell that, you’ll be taken back to that place. We know that sensations like smell and sound will trigger a part of the brain that is very strong at cuing memories and physical sensations.”

Negative vs Positive Ions

Negative ions might sound like a bad thing, but they’re actually really good for you.

“Artificial electricity, artificial movements and sounds, can create positive ions which makes us think it’s something good for us, but it’s actually a positive charge that’s really disruptive to the human system. The negative ions are actually missing a charge, so it acts kind of like an antioxidant that you would eat in your body that can help absorb free radicals. A negative ion that you breath and consume can have a lot of those same benefits for healing the body. They’ve been shown to enhance immune function, decrease inflammation, things that are really important for our health.”