“The human soul is hungry for beauty; we seek it everywhere—in landscape, music, art, clothes, furniture, gardening, companionship, love, religion, and in ourselves.” John O’Donohue
Houston is full of beautiful spaces. With traffic and buildings everywhere, the beauty may be hard to see at times. But natural beauty is all over our city.
Why is this so important?
Nature helps us heal.
In 1984, Roger Ulrich published an article about the effects of our environment on the healing process. He studied patients who had gallbladder surgery. Half of the patients recovered from their surgery in a room with a window overlooking a grove of trees. The other half each had a room with a window that faced a brick wall. The experiment noted that the patients facing the trees had less negative comments toward their nurses, needed less pain medication, and left the hospital a full day earlier than the patients who looked at a brick wall.
Most of us have experienced this healing power intuitively. Many Houstonians are drawn out of the city limits to the crashing surf and swooping pelicans of Galveston. Thousands of us crave sunny days under the loping trees at Memorial park. A long hike. A bike ride. Our bodies already know exactly what we need, and we naturally feel a little bit better.
Scientists and psychologists echo what we have already discovered: beauty is restorative to the brain and the body. Esther Sternberg works in the fields of immunology and neurology. She has collaborated with a number of scientists, including Irving Biederman, to create a hypothesis that when we are in the presence of natural beauty, “endorphins are released in that part of the brain that recognizes a beautiful or preferred view.”
“A number of studies have shown that viewing natural environments containing trees for just a few minutes, or even looking at pictures of trees, can lower blood pressure, relax muscle tension, lower levels of fear and anger, reduce pain, ease stress, and shorten recovery time from surgery. (Bays, J.C.)”
After a full day of normal stressors (emails, traffic, homework, and fluorescent lights) our bodies can get depleted and fatigued. Time spent in the presence of beauty can rejuvenate and calm the body, mind, and spirit. We may even think of time spent in beauty as medicine for the soul.
With this in mind, I have incorporated photographs of beautiful Houston “healing spaces” throughout my website. I would love to know of more natural spots around Houston that draw us out and calm our spirits. Just this past week, I happened along a healing space as I drove peacefully along Bissonnet under a canopy of shade trees. I think it would be fun to collaborate with other Houstonians and create a gallery of favorite natural spots around the city. I would love to showcase your photography and the significance of the places in the photography.
Email photograph for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org and include
- Subject line: Houston healing space
- Name (optional)
- Details about what this particular spot means to you
This is a photograph of a park bench in Helen’s Park located on Stella Link Road. The park has several quietly placed shady benches located around a babbling brook and fountain water feature. Nice place to bring a good book and take a deep breath.
This photograph is taken at Memorial Park. In the spring a number of places throughout Houston showcase Texas wildflowers. The fresh colors and warm spring breeze remind me of new beginnings and the adventures in store for the coming year.
Things to do:
Connect with beauty. Notice any changes in the body before and after time spent in nature.
- Search for beautiful or calming spaces.
- Take a walk at a local park.
- Drive down to the coast for a day.
- Find a hiking trail.
- Bring nature indoors by adding a few plants to the decor.
Also, for those Houstonians interested in some quirky Houston history, my friend, Cale Ownby, has a terrific podcast, Platypus Houston, filled with fun facts about what makes Houston so uniquely Houston.
For more on this topic visit these podcasts on the healing power of beauty:
Bays, J.C. (2011). How to Train A Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness.
Ulrich, R. S. View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science. Vol. 224. Issue 4647. (April 27, 1984).