As an integrative health coach, I help my clients evaluate their wellbeing from a holistic perspective. This includes exploring the dimension of the client's physical environment and how physical elements can support or hinder wellness. Some of the questions I encourage clients to explore include:
- What internal and external spaces do I enjoy being in?
- How do I feel in these special spaces?
- What characteristics do these spaces have in common?
- Are there amenities, colors, sounds, and smells that promote my alertness, productivity, relaxation or sense of ease?
- What things in my environment might contribute to ill health, poor lifestyle decisions, or stress?"
The answer to these questions will often tell you much about how to best promote or restore health, nurture the mind and nourish the spirit.
For example, I discovered that tending a garden and spending time in wide-open spaces ground me, restore my energy level and often provide clarity to my thinking. When I first moved to New England, I noticed that spending time by the ocean made me feel at home. Years later it dawned on me that the expansiveness I felt by the ocean was very similar to the openness I experienced as a child growing up in the midwest among miles of rolling corn fields. Spending as much time as I can close to the ocean is vital for my wellbeing. It is here that I feel most at home.
Our physical environment often presents a formable obstacle to making healthy lifestyle changes. For example, having a television and computer in the bedroom does little to promote a healthy sleep-rest pattern since it is far too tempting to fall asleep in front of a late night show or check email one last time before going to bed. Neither of these activities promotes relaxation nor induces sleep.
Other times, integrating things readily available in the physical environment is a great way to jumpstart healthy lifestyle changes. I spend much of my summers on Cape Cod so building my exercise routine around the beach and nearby bike path makes a whole lot more sense than setting goals to go to the gym three days a week.
For thousands of years people have understood that some places have healing powers but not until the 20th century did scientists really begin studying how space affects both mental and physical health. The science behind this realization is fascinating and I highly recommend Ester Sternberg's book, Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-being (Book & Research Review Section.
Consider taking time to really evaluate your physical environment, noticing how it impacts your mood, behaviors and levels of stress. Sometimes we have a sense for which environments promote our own wellness and which ones cause stress, but we still don't take the time to create an environment at work and home that capitalize on this self-knowledge. Take a few moments now to reflect on your own physical environment. Is there something easy you could do right away to make your environment a bit more conducive to your health? If so, set this intention and act on it today. In addition, consider sharing your goal with the Age Well Be Well community by posting it on my blog this week. Paula's Blog
Here are a few changes I have made in my own physical environment that have had a substantial impact on my wellbeing. I hope they will encourage you to begin brainstorming ways to change your own environment to make it more supportive of health and happiness.
Music: I'm not someone who is constantly plugged into my iPod but I have discovered that music has an important influence on my mood and outlook. I have even become aware of how certain songs trigger a cascade of memories and stories in my mind. Sometimes this is beneficial but often it causes me to begin thinking or worrying about the past or future, hijacking my enjoyment of the present moment. So I decided to take control of my musical input by creating tracks on my iPod for the mood/outlook I desire. I have a track for exercise that is upbeat and energizing as well as a track that pulls together music I find relaxing. I also like listening to Pandora Radio because it allows me to create my own stations. When a song is played that doesn't generate the spirit I desire, I can quickly log this into the system and it won't play on my station again. I'm particularly fond of ambient music, finding it helps me focus when I'm working and relax when I'm ready for bed.
Visual Cues in the Kitchen: When it comes to eating, I often makes choices based on convenience and the amount of time I have to prepare and eat a meal or snack. With this in mind, I decided to put healthy and quick options clearly visible and readily available in my kitchen. I purchased a variety of clear plastic containers to sit on my kitchen counter and filled them with nuts, seeds, dried fruits and whole-wheat crackers. In addition, after shopping for produce I immediately clean and prepare most of the fruits and vegetables and place them in easy to reach containers in my refrigerator. When it's time to prepare a meal or snack, they are ready to cook or eat immediately with very little additional effort.
Special Space for Meditation: It took me time to find a space that was conducive to my formal sitting meditative practice. I tried a number of locations in my home before settling on a surprising site. I live in a four-story narrow brownstone in Boston and discovered that a small bench on the fourth floor landing is perfect. This very small space has little to distract me and a skylight provides natural light. On the padded bench, I have a small meditation book and a bamboo basket that holds small scrapes of paper with the names of family, friends, or situations I wish to hold close to my heart. The simplicity and natural light are undoubtedly important but I also realize having a space that is completely devoted to meditation validates how essential this element is to my life. The more I practice on this small landing, the more this space seems to cultivate my practice and create a deeper sense of wellbeing.