Wednesday, June 21, 2017

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Mind, Blue Mind

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Mind, Blue Mind

“I was really nervous at my first appointment with my new doctor.  There in her waiting room was a huge beautiful fish tank.   She examined me and took my vital signs.  Then she told me to go back to the waiting room and look at the fish.  When she took my blood pressure and heart rate again, they were all lower.  Now I go early to my appointments. And I have an aquarium at home.”

I heard this story from a ministry colleague as we walked through the “Viva Baja!” exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and looked at the colorful tropical fish and coral.  The fish reminded him of his doctor, his improved health, his reduced stress. 

Researchers at the University of Exeter set out to prove the urban legend that doctors and dentists have fish tanks to reduce patient stress.  At the UK’s National Marine Aquarium they wired up 111 research subjects and had them stare at a massive tank as it was slowly restocked after some repair.  First day there was just water and sea weed.  The subject’s stress rates lowered just a bit.  Then as more fish over several days were added to the tank the subjects heart and blood pressure dropped further.  The more fish, and more diversity, the lower the rates.  

One researcher said, “In times of higher work stress and crowded urban living, perhaps aquariums can step in and provide an oasis of calm and relaxation.”

I’ve read about other such studies in neuroscientist Wallace J. Nichols’ fascinating book “Blue Mind: How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected and Better at What You Do.”  He contrasts “Red Mind,” our all too common state of being edgy, stressed, fearful, in anger and despair, with “Blue Mind,” a sense of calm, peacefulness, creativity and healing. 

I’m working on a brochure for our Blue Theology Mission Station to help people who come with us to the Monterey Bay Aquarium have a more “Blue Mindful” experience – help finding the quiet oases of calm, where to notice the inspiring wall quotations, how to sit and stare at a tank and lower your blood pressure, ways to pray there even on a busy day.  Suggestions welcome! 

“Take a course in good water and air; and in the eternal youth of Nature you may renew your own.”  John Muir

Come lower your blood pressure with us on a youth mission trip or adult pilgrimage at the Blue Theology Mission Station in Pacific Grove.  I post these devotional invitations each Wednesday here and at  My new longer, more scientific column on the Seven Ocean Literacy Principles is at This week’s it’s about weather.

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