Better Healing by Looking Inside and Out

Physical spaces in our lives can stress us, make us sick, or help us be well.

Science is now proving what we have known intuitively for centuries – that beautiful surroundings and “places of peace” aid healing. Maybe that’s one explanation of why so many of us are willing to pay more for a hotel room with a beautiful view.

According to immunologist Esther Sternberg, Research Director at the University of Arizona in Tucson, a living being is constantly repairing itself against a variety of different insults in its environment at a molecular, a cellular, and an emotional level.  Therefore, we simply cannot underestimate our environment when it comes to the impact it has on our well-being and our stress level.  When individuals who need to heal are placed in environments that don’t trigger a stress response, they are likely to release positive, anti-pain molecules and dopamine molecules that allow their bodies to heal more effectively.

The good news for you and I, is that means we can affect our wellness by managing our internal and external spaces. Since most of us are healing all the time, perhaps from a jagged day at work, bad traffic, illness, depression, whatever – we can’t afford to overlook creating a place of peace in our lives – internally and externally. The excellent news is that people like Sternberg are working with architects to build better wellness into our hospitals, workplaces, and homes so daily healing can be easier for all of us.

At an “On Being” radio interview, Sternberg spoke about her new book, Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being.  She cited a well-controlled hospital study in which the single variable that differed between patients was a view out the window.  The study found that the patients with a view of a grove of trees left the hospital a day sooner (on average), needed less pain medication, and had fewer negative nurse’s notes than patients who had a view of a brick wall.

Sternberg makes it clear that she’s not advising anyone to cancel chemotherapy and to escape to a desert island for his or her recovery.  Rather, she advocates that you aid your healing process by managing your environment and using mindful modalities, like meditation, yoga and prayer to help amplify pathways in the brain that are proven to help the immune system do its job of healing.

Sternberg talks about finding your “place of peace”, both inside and out.  She intimates what that means is slowing down – by either forgetting or not worrying about time. In daily living, we’re so conscious of time, it’s hard to strip that preoccupation away.  Activities like walking slowly, using a Buddhist prayer wheel or drum, or visiting a meditation garden can help you to slow down and notice the beauty around you.

Sternberg commented “…the most important point that I came to in my own journey in writing this book is that we really can create places of peace not only in our real world, in our physical environment that surrounds us, but in our own mind’s eye. And those kinds of places of peace are portable. In many different traditions, like the Buddhist tradition or in virtually all religious traditions, you close your eyes and you visualize something. That’s a way of carrying these environments, these healing places, within you. It’s wonderful if you can go to them, but if you can’t, you can bring them to yourself.”

Now that Sternberg’s reminded us how important our surroundings (internal and external) are, I hope you will take some time to invest in yourself and your living space. Rid yourself of clutter, but also honor objects of beauty and meaning, and add music, color and light. I hope you will allow yourself a few precious moments of quiet mindfulness each day; even five minutes can make a difference. My hunch is you’ll feel better for it.

Check out the full interview here:


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Date: Sunday, 14. October 2012 14:10
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