Creating Healing Spaces and Healing Gardens

by HealthfulMD

The medical community has recognized the importance of sacred spaces and healing environments on the healing process. Create a healing place by following a few simple steps.

The Mind-Body-Environment Connection

Researchers within the medical, healthcare and design communities have discovered a connection between the mind, the body and the environment. Studies on hospital patients' healing rates have shown that those patients whose window looked out onto trees required less pain medication than those who looked out on a brick wall.

Dr. Esther Sternberg, author of Healing Spaces and The Balance Within, is one of the researchers exploring the effects of space on mental and physical health. Their studies are showing the connection between patients' physical environment and their ability to heal.

As a result, hospital and healthcare settings are paying more attention and creating healing places for their patients (and staff).

A Quiet Healing Space

From id_charlz
Summer Garden
Summer Garden

Stress Impacts the Entire Body

The people at University of Minnisota's Center for Spirituality and Healing and the Life Science Foundation are one of these hospitals actively creating a more healing environment at work.

At at University of Minnisota's Center for Spirituality and Healing and the Life Science Foundation they follow one simple guideline when in creating a healing environment, "look for ways to reduce stress in the environment."

Their findings are based on research in the field of psychoneuroimmunology, the study of the integrated interactions of the immune, neurologic, endocrine and psychologic systems and their effects on health. Psychoneuroimmunology researchers explore how the brain and nervous system interact with the body, the endocrine and immune system.

Stress impacts all of these different systems in the body and can affect the healing and recovery process. Reducing stress, by creating a healing environment, aids greatly in the healing process.

Places Where Nature May Heal


"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread,

places to play in and pray in,

where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul."

John Muir     

Healing Garden Fountain

From TheSwedish
Garden Fountain
Garden Fountain

Poll: Have You Experienced a Healing Space or Garden?

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The Need for a Healing Place


"We all need a tranquil, healing place to go

and leave our stresses and relax back to health and wellness."


Esther Sternberg MD on Healing Spaces

The Science of Place and Well-Being

Explore Healing Spaces


Place can trigger the brain's own healing processes.


I was fortunate to hear Dr. Esther Sternberg present a grand rounds on "Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-being" as part of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. (I attended as a webinar).

In her talk, Dr. Sternberg examined how the brain and the immune systems respond to stress and how stress can impeed the healing process by worsening illness. By understanding in more detail, how the brain contributes to the healing process (the field of psychoneuroimmunology) we can enhance our health by creating healing spaces.

She looked at how hospital designs are being changed to incorporate elements of nature and light amd reducing noise to promote health and reduce stress. She also offered several therapeutic interventions, considered to be complementary therapies, that could be used to reduce stress.

Dr. Sternberg's lecture is available through the University of Arizona by following the link below. 

Online Lecture on Healing Spaces

Integrative Medicine Grand Rounds

Healing Spaces:The Science of Place and Well-being
The presentation will address how the science of the mind-body connection explains phenomena such as how stress can make one sick, how belief can help healing, how the social world affects health, with a particular focus on how the physical environment can affect the emotions, and in turn help healing or potentially harm. Understanding these concepts will allow health care providers to judge how and when to judiciously apply mind-body therapies in conjunction with classical therapeutic approaches to maintain health.

Science of Healing

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Color, Light and Nature in the Workplace

From Marcin Wichary and Lee Wright
Flowers in the Workplace
Flowers in the Workplace
Plants and Natural Light
Plants and Natural Light

Tips to Create a Healing Space at Work

Mary Jo Kreitzer from the University of Minnisota's Center for Spirituality and Healing and the Life Science Foundation offers several suggestions to create a more healing environment at work.

  • Nature - Bring in plants, flowers, put up nature murals 
  • Photographs - Hang or display nature photos and those with special meaning e.g. family
  • Special Objects - Bring objects with special meaning to you e.g. a special rock, keepsake
  • Natural Lighting - Use natural light whenever possible 
  • Additional Lighting - Add light sources for additional natural lighting.
  • Water - Water can be soothing for some. Add a water element if it is helpful.
  • Aromatherapy - Aromatherapy can also be helpful. Diffusers can be used to disperse essential oils. 

Candles should be avoided for safety issues. Religious and political symbols should also be avoided in the workplace.


Mary Jo Kreitzer. What Can I Do to Create a Healing Environment? University of Minnisota, Center for Spirituality & Healing and the Life Science Foundation.

Tips to Create a Healing Space in the Hospital

As part of the article, What Can I Do to Create a Healing Environment?  Mary Jo Kreitzer shared the following suggestions to create a more healing environment when hospitalized in the hospital.

The first think to try and do is to get a private room. Not only will this cut down on excess noise, but patient's in private rooms have lower infection rates.

Work with the hospital staff to see what types of outside items are allowed in the room. There may be some restrictions due to health concerns of other patients. Bringing in some positive distractions helps to create a more personalized healing space within the hospital.

  • Artwork - paintings, pictures, family photos 
  • Plants and Flowers 
  • Personal Meaningful Objects - stuffed animals, favorite keepsakes, a healing stone  
  • Music - Bring in relaxing music for the patient, and within reason their favorite music (perhaps with head phones) 
  • Videos - Videos are a great way to distract patients. Watching funny films and laughing has been shown to help in the healing process. There are also videos specifically created for relaxation, with nature photos and relaxing music.  
  • Pets - Check to see if pets can visit. They may be able to visit in an outdoor area. 
  • Getting Outdoors - Many hospitals have outdoor gardens. See if the patient can go to the gardens or outside when they are able. 
  • Bringing Outdoors Inside- If the windows open, you may be able to bring a bit of the outdoors inside, if not, get the patient near a window with a view of nature.

There are a few things to consider to eliminate some of the environmental stressors inherent in the hospital setting. 

  • Smells - Disinfectants are used throughout the hospital setting. Aromatherapy can block out the negative hospital smells e.g. essential oils on cotton ball, stress-reducing lotions 
  • Noise - Ear plugs can block out sounds. A small fan can provide white background noise 
  • Lighting - Use outside lighting if possible. Bring in other natural lights, if able.

By working with the hospital staff you can help creat a healing space within the hospital.

Creating Healing Spaces on Flickr

Creative Commons Images
Healing Space???
Healing Space???

News Updates on Healing Spaces

Virtual healing spaces offer OUWB community opportunities for reflection, calmness  News at OU
Milwaukee is transforming vacant city-owned lots into 'healing spaces' with gardens, little free libraries  WPR
Healing Spaces: A Virtual Grief Group for Women Veterans  Veterans Affairs
'Healing spaces' in post-conflict societies -  The Christian Science Monitor

Healing Comes from Nature


"The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician.

Therefore the physician must start from nature, with an open mind."

Philipus Aureolus Paracelsus     

Create a Healing Space in the Exam Room Video

With Luke Fortney, MD from the University of Wisconsin Integrative Medicine Program

Tips to Create a Healing Space in the Exam Room

Integrative medicine practitioners are consciously looking for ways to create a calming, healing environment for exam rooms and within the medical office. They want their patients to feel safe coming to their practice. They also want an enviroment that will improve the healing process.

Dr. Luke Fortney from the University of Wisconsin's Integrative Medicine Program offers these suggestions for to turn an exam room into a healing space with by just including a few simple elements and taking care to remove a few others.

  1. Bring in elements of nature
  2. Push away technical elements e.g. phones, computers
  3. Include calming colors and natural light
  4. Reduce noise polution and noise distractions e.g. pagers, pages

These suggestions could even be applied to other business settings to create a more calming space for holding business meetings.

One quick and easy way to bring in nature elements is by using wall stickers or decals with soothing nature imagery.

How to Bring in Nature with Wall Art Stickers

Vinyl wall art stickers are an easy way to bring nature indoors. By putting removable wall stickers on the walls, one can create a more calming home or office environment.

A Calming Waiting Area

From Vixs
Calming Waiting Room Setting
Calming Waiting Room Setting

More on Healing Spaces

What Can I Do to Create a Healing Environment?
There is one simple guideline to follow in creating a healing environment: look for ways to reduce stress in the environment. This is based on research from the field of psychoneuroimmunology that shows how emotional stress impacts our bodies in multiple ways.

Making Places, Healing Spaces
The Canadian healthcare system has enjoyed a longstanding reputation for being one of the best in the world. Part of this recognition is based on the fact that pre-eminent Canadian hospitals intentionally draw on regional or natural themes to create meaningful and relevant designs. As a result, several examples have risen to international attention by addressing both the innate human desire to connect with natural surroundings and the necessity to deliver technologically advanced medical infrastructure.

Healing Spaces / Healing Gardens
There is a lot out there on healing spaces....When architects and sociologists and others look at what it takes to create healing environments (what I term 'Hospital Makeovers') they end up describing a garden.

Multi sensory Healing : Learning from Seductive Design of Contemporary Consumption Spaces
PDF File Presentation of Multi sensory Healing : Learning from Seductive Design of Contemporary Consumption Spaces given at the 29th Seminar of the Public Health Group of the International Union of Architects in 2009 by Zdravko Trivic, Dr. Ruzica Bozovic‐Stamenovic and Dr Limin Hee.

How to Use Inspirational Wall Quotes

Inspirational quotes can provide encouragement and raise the spirits. With wall art quotes, your favorite quote can be applied to a wall in your home or office for inspiration.

A Healing Meditation Garden

From Renaudeh
Meditation Garden
Meditation Garden

Gardens Can Impact People's Psyches


“Everything I do, whether for a hospital, a business, or a residence, is about comfort, healing, and faith.

When I was beginning my career, landscape design appealed to me as a form of sculpture and as a way of showing my commitment to the environment. It seemed to be the perfect combination of art and civic responsibility.

What I have realized along the way is the tremendous power gardens can have on people’s psyches.”

Topher Delaney    

Award-Winning Landscape Architect    

More on Creating Sacred Spaces and Healing Places

Create a Healing Environment for Yourself
A place to call your own, and to use as your personal sanctuary, can be a comforting touchstone during the cancer journey. Even if it's only a shelf or table top, or perhaps a small room, creating a sacred space for yourself, and incorporating it into your daily life, can be a wonderful gift.

Creating a Sacred Space: A place for peace and introspection
Sacred Space can be as small as the breath taken in during prayer, as large as a cathedral or as expansive as an ocean view.

How To Create a Serene Sacred Space
"Sacred Space" is a special place you can retreat to and spend time alone in quiet meditation or retrospection.

Healing Gardens Video

From California Heartlands

More on California Heartlands Healing Gardens Episode

California Heartlands Episode 919 - Healing Gardens
Throughout history gardens have served as a place of healing and hope. Landscape artist Topher Delaney shows us the unique connection between the cycles of life and plants through healing gardens. One of Delaney’s most prized gardens is the “Blue Garden” where her planted creation honors the life of fallen Bayview Police Officer Isaac Espinoza. California Heartland’s Rob Stewart meets Delaney at her well-known studio in San Francisco called, Seam Studio.

Elements to Include in a Healing Space

While each healing space or healing garden created may be unique, there are some common elements that are mentioned when thinking about creating a healing space.

Authors of the article "Multi sensory Healing : Learning from Seductive Design of Contemporary Consumption Spaces" presentation recommend including the following external areas when creating a healing space:

  • Colors
  • Textures and Touch
  • Nature
  • View
  • Lighting
  • SoundsMusic
  • Smell, Aroma
  • Art

Other elements to include are Water (if people find the sound of water soothing), favorite or beloved objects (like photographs, mementos, candles) and healing rituals.


Jan Johnsen. 2010. Healing Gardens / Healing Spaces. Serenity in the Gardenn Blog.

Zdravko Trivic, Ruzica Bozovic‐Stamenovic and Limin Hee. 2009. Multi sensory Healing: Learning from Seductive Design of Contemporary Consumption Spaces.

Create a Healing Environment for Yourself. 

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More on Healing Gardens

Healing Garden - Kernan Hospital
The Healing Garden at Kernan Hospital provides a unique environment for patients, families, staff and visitors. It has been designed as a therapeutic tool for teaching our patients how to deal with physical challenges as they transition into the community, and renew interest in the leisure activity of gardening.

What Are Healing Gardens?
The term healing gardens is most often applied to green spaces in hospitals and other healthcare facilities that specifically aim to improve health outcomes. These gardens provide a place of refuge and promote healing in patients, families, and staff.

Healing Garden at St. Luke's Hospital Milwaukee
Aurora Health Care's St. Luke's Medical Center is a Milwaukee hospital that opened its healing garden in June to help care for body, mind and spirit.

Healing Garden on Flickr
The Healing Garden at the UCSF Women's Health Center at Mount Zion provides patients, family and friends the opportunity to reflect and focus. The garden, located on the first floor of the center.

Botanical wall art on Flickr
In a UCSF medical building on Sutter off of Divisidero, San Francisco, CA. An entire wall was filled with tiles like this, all of them apparently different.

Books on Creating Sacred Places

Helpful Resources to Create a Healing Place and Healing Garden
The Medicine Wheel Garden: Creating S...
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Open Spaces Sacred Places: Stories of...
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Adding Labyrinths to Sacred Places

Walking Labyrinths are Healing Elements incorporated into Healing Gardens
The ancient labyrinths are finding their ways into modern society as sacred, healing symbols. One can experience the calming, healing effects by walking or with finger labyrinths.
Updated: 06/06/2011, HealthfulMD
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ohcaroline on 08/22/2011

I am always happiest when I am outside in a natural area. Trees, shrubs and flowers bring such a sense of well being to me. Interesting article.

petunia on 06/05/2011

Very helpful information for all of us, whether physically sick or just stressed - we need more beauty in our lives today.

Dianne on 06/03/2011

In many cases we have lost touch with nature. Bringing nature into a hospital setting and reducing stress is good.

HealthfulMD on 06/03/2011

Thanks Paul.
I know I survived many challenging times during my residency days by escaping to the outside garden areas within the hospital to reset and renew.

pkmcr on 06/03/2011

There is something truly peaceful that comes from spending time relaxing or even working in the Garden and you have conveyed a lot of helpful information here

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