by Cynthia Chomos
Seattle Woman Magazine
There’s no place like home — a healing home, that is. Far beyond aesthetics, form and function lies the potential to turn an ordinary abode into a healing haven. Like a soothing balm, it can melt away stress, embrace you in the midst of life’s challenges and provide surroundings for soulful reflection.
Transforming a house into a haven starts with understanding the intimate relationship between the outer self — the home — and the inner self — body/mind/spirit. Looking into the mirror of psyche and soul, a home reflects the state of a life, perhaps cluttered and out of control at times, or on better days orderly, flowing and relaxed. For better or worse, we are a product of our surroundings, and simply creating a sense of order can do wonders for physical, mental and emotional well-being. A great place to start is to clear the clutter, creating a space to breathe.
The next step is to establish ownership of a special spot within your domicile. We often “claim” our living spaces with furniture and décor, filling empty places in our lives like stuffing pictures into a scrapbook. Ask yourself: Does my home have a place to reflect and rediscover myself amid the many roles I play as wife, mother, employee, daughter, sister, volunteer? It’s easy to get caught up in a rhythm of responsibilities and never-ending “to do” lists; however, we can lose our sense of self in the process. I know because I did.
Being a do-it-yourself artist at heart, I saw my bungalow in Ballard as a canvas and often had many house beautification projects persistently vying for my attention. My physical labor, however, didn’t move as quickly as my imagination, and I was always envisioning the next creation, never fully in the moment or sitting still long enough to enjoy being in the spaces I created. One project led to another and while I was creating a lovely home, I wasn’t living in it.
This became obvious to me when, exhausted from “beautification burnout,” I sat in my kitchen looking out the window at the newly created garden. A comfy chaise lounge under the canopy of a graceful 40-year-old dogwood tree beckoned me. I heeded its call and soon found myself lying beneath the sun-filtering branches, savoring the moment and doing absolutely nothing — nothing but breathing in the fresh air, aware of the rise and fall of my chest, each breath opening a quiet space within me. In that life-altering moment, I made a vow to value time to rest, as well as to work in my home. Since that time, I have made that balance a regular part of my life.
Do you have a place of your own for rest and reflection? Creating a home sanctuary is easier than most people think. If space is limited, a sofa and a cup of tea in the early morning hours before the kids get up can serve the purpose. A bubble-filled bathtub can function as another tiny island of calm. Be even more creative. A friend converted a large closet into a meditation space where she disappears each day for a silent retreat. Rarely used guest rooms are valuable real estate. Replacing the bed with a sofa bed can yield a delightful quiet zone.
Once you’ve found a place where your inner world can flourish, the next step is to look at outer surroundings and bring them to life. Take a cue from nature and entice all five physical senses: sight, sound, touch, taste and scent. In the presence of nature, our senses come alive, whether we walk among pungent pine trees or dig bulbs into the moist, dark earth, infusing us with an organic feeling of well-being. Connection with our whole selves, through the senses, allows us to slow down, “smell the roses” and be fully present to heal.
In her book, Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being, neuroendocrine immunologist Esther Sternberg shares research indicating that hospital patients with a view of nature healed faster than those without. Through studies of sensory perception and its impact on the endocrine system, which can retard or promote well-being, she asserts that our built-in environment affects all aspects of health, including stress reduction and relaxation.
Unlike nature, the spaces within our linear, man-made dwellings can become stagnant, lacking fresh air, vitality and “sensory nourishment” for healthy living. To make a haven especially restorative, consider these questions.
Sight: Are you inspired by what you see reflected in your home? Is your bedroom restful and nurturing? Is your family room vital and engaging? Color is a vital source of energy that can energize or calm any setting. Use muted and cooler colors for quiet locations and brighter warm tones for active spaces. Evaluate the art and symbolism on the walls and replace anything that doesn’t reflect the vitality of who you are. Open the curtains and allow sunlight to brighten rooms. Expand horizons with a view of a garden or bring nature indoors with a plant or colorful arrangement of flowers.
Sound: What sounds do you hear during the day or night? Are they tranquil or loud and active? Traffic noise can be neutralized with an indoor water fountain or soothing music. The gentle sounds of a wind chime outside a door or the rustle of bamboo leaves are welcoming. Consider the first sound of the day. Is it a jarring alarm clock? Consider buying one that plays a CD of cheery and inspiring music.
Touch: Do your décor and household fabrics change with the seasons? Is leather furniture cold on your skin? Choose a cozy chenille blanket and soft pillows instead to warm you on the sofa. Let your curtains, pillows and bedding reflect the seasons, using lightweight, smooth fabrics such as cotton or linen in the spring and summer, and heavier texture, such as chenille, velvet or flannel in the fall and winter. Nothing in nature is static, and your habitat should not be either.
Taste: Do you have a variety of foods in the kitchen to nourish your body?Attractive displays of fruit, vegetables, nuts in the shell and dry beans or pasta are colorful reminders to eat healthily. And an array of herbal teas keeps calming chamomile or stimulating ginger right at your fingertips. Maintaining a food garden is a triple win, offering pleasant décor, good exercise and better nutrition.
Smell: What scents do you experience in your home? Are you greeted by a dog-saturated carpet or the fresh smell of citrus? Keep the air you breathe free of toxins by using green cleaning products, and avoid synthetic plug-in room fresheners. Try lemon and peppermint oils, which are mentally uplifting and stimulating, or use lavender or juniper for a calming and relaxing effect. These and other aromatherapy oils can be purchased online at Youngliving.com or in bulk at places like Zenith Supplies in Seattle’s Roosevelt district. Open windows on a regular basis to let the house, as well as its occupants, breathe fresh, clean air.
Transforming a home into a healing haven takes a commitment but brings inner and outer worlds into harmony. Through this process, you can become one with your surroundings, and that nourishes the whole self — from the inside out.
Cynthia Chomos is a feng shui consultant, color designer and speaker who specializes in creating home and work spaces that nourish body, mind and spirit. For over 15 years she has helped transform lives through the “person/place” connection.