“In this world of increasing stress and complexity all of us need a haven, a healing environment, a healing home. As the information age hurls us into cyberspace, how can we remain grounded, centered, secure? The answer is not to acquire more, but rather to seek more meaning in what we acquire. ”

—  Kate Strasburg, Founder, Healing Environments

“We are not meant to be alone - we are meant to be parts of bigger families, bands, and tribes. The strength and comfort of community come from the principle that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And realizing that you have within you a limitless source of love that can benefit everyone and everything will help you form the best and strongest connections of your life.”

— Andrew Weil, MD / Founder, Program in Integrative Medicine, University of Arizona College of Medicine

Community & Environment: Healing from the Web of Life

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The New Medicine premieres nationally on March 29th, 2006.  Check your local PBS listings for more information.


people gathered around table

Your community of family and friends is an important influence in your life.

Community is a powerful force that can affect a person’s physical and mental health. We are intimately and inextricably connected to the people in our lives and to the physical spaces that we inhabit. That connection can contribute to illness, or it can help make us well.

In 1979, a landmark study of residents of Alameda County, California, by Drs. Leonard Syme and Lisa Berkman, showed that people with greater social ties lived longer than those with fewer social ties.  During the 1980s and 1990s, breast cancer research revealed that women in support groups fared better than those who suffered through their illness alone.  More recently, research shows that smokers who attend support groups have fewer relapses than those who don’t seek support, and a growing body of evidence suggests that the support of a family, community or church group can help buffer the negative effects of stress, depression and anxiety and assist in coping with illness.

The support and love that comes from community is part of what medicine is now calling an optimal healing environment.  An optimal healing environment is comprised of people, behaviors, physical spaces and treatments, and includes the psychological, physical, social and spiritual components of care.  An optimal healing environment provides the right conditions to stimulate and support a person’s inherent healing capacities.


woman exercising

Your physical surroundings can be a healing influence.

In creating these optimal healing environments, aside from the emphasis on community, many integrative medicine centers have crafted their physical spaces to evoke healing. Attention is given to visual esthetics, the flow of energy, sound and music, lighting, air, water, art, horticulture, architecture and building materials.  You can use these same principles in your home to create a more healing space.

Architects for the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, California used the principle of the Golden Ratio (1:1.618).  Shapes proportioned according to the Golden Ratio have long been considered aesthetically pleasing and are used frequently in art and architecture. The ancient Pythagoreans, who defined the Golden Ratio, believed that reality is numerical and that the Golden Ratio expressed an underlying truth about the universe.

The Continuum Center for Health and Healing in New York City used the principles of feng shui when they designed their building.  “Feng shui is a Chinese art built on the belief that qi, the life force pervasive throughout the universe, can be increased or decreased by the structure of and objects in our physical environment,�? explains director Woodson Merrell, MD.  According to feng shui, elements such as the color of doors and windows, the presence of water, the flow of foot traffic, and the placement of art, when correct, can have a healing effect.

The architectural firm that designed the Center, a leader in green design, also used eco-sensitive materials throughout the building so that clients and practitioners would not be exposed to any harmful elements while at the Center.

Likewise, getting rid of any toxic materials in and around your house is another key to healthy living.  The National Library of Medicines (NLM) hosts an online Household Products Database, which provides information on the potential health effects of chemicals contained in common household products used inside and around the home.  It includes 6000 brand name products and can be found at http://householdproducts.nlm.nih.gov.

“Your home—whether big, small, or somewhere in between—should be your sanctuary, a place where stress is left at the door and your soul is nurtured,�? says Andrew Weil, MD.  Experiment with natural lighting, plants, water elements and art.  More information about “greening your home�? and making it a healing space can be found here.


Connection is a source of health and healing.

Creating gratifying physical spaces, be it through beauty or ecology, is a way of inviting connection with the world around us.  In the same way, nourishing a loving family or community builds connection and places us, naturally, in a more healing environment.