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[whitespace] Color Me Healthy

The psychology of color is moving from frontier to functional in the world of alternative medicine

By Rebecca Patt

THE GRASS REALLY may be greener on the other side. It all depends on what type of lighting they're using over there. At least that's the perspective of color psychology, which holds that greater health and harmony may be as easy to attain as painting the hallways yellow-orange and the bedroom walls grass-green.

Color psychology is a discipline that now goes far beyond green M&M's and mood rings. "Color has enough energy when it's reflected that if you took squares of color and blindfolded somebody, they would know the cool from the warm colors," says Sylvia Eckheart, owner of interior design firm The Space Within.

Eckheart says color healers divide the body into seven different chakras, and each chakra is associated with a different color and a different set of bodily functions.

"Each color is a vibration of light energy that is absorbed into the body and into the system in these seven different centers. Each of these centers you have to keep in balance," she says. "People sit under blue fluorescent lights and wonder why they're so depressed all the time. It's the lack of balance."

Eckheart says that several studies have been done that show workers become more productive and have fewer accidents when the lighting in the workplace is changed from florescent to full spectrum.

Healing Environments

One particular area where color psychology has gotten big is in health-care settings.

"When they are using the correct colors and color in the right way they find that patients get better quicker," says Rebecca Bushner, owner of color consulting firm Unlimited Color. "It basically all comes down to the way the rooms are decorated."

Bushner says that the main goal for health-care centers is choosing colors that will be best for the patient in terms of promoting healing and lessening anxiety. She said that one of her pet peeves is the overuse of white in health care. It may serve the doctors, but it doesn't help the patients.

"The color white is associated with being clean and sterile, but the problem is it's cold and it doesn't have any feeling to it," says Bushner, who is distinguished by her matching multicolored accessories and frequently-changing hair color, currently a bright red.

Bushner says that alternative therapists often ask her what color to paint their rooms in order to create a healing environment, and she advises bringing the feeling of nature inside with plants, natural materials, fountains and subtle tones of colors like salmon, pale yellow, sky blue and mossy green. Bushner says one of the most important stress-relieving factors is to have a window with some kind of view, so that patients don't feel so confined.

"There is no one magic color you can put on the walls," says Bushner. "It's a combination of elements."

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From the July 31-August 7, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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