Creating Indoor and Outdoor Spaces for Health and Vitality

A longing experience to be a part of nature becomes concrete when you get to know your envorinment's elements and cycles of nature.

| May/June 2002

As warm weather returns, we begin to open our windows, dust off the patio furniture, and move our activities outdoors. How many of us realize that these simple, instinctive actions are the basis of ecological healing?

For starters, being outdoors can boost our vitality. The air outside is usually cleaner and fresher than indoors. The gentle breeze that cools us in hot weather carries the fragrance of earth and plants. Sunshine warms us, synchronizes our biological rhythms, and stimulates essential bodily functions. Birdsong, moving water, and rustling leaves delight our ears.

Whether we are dining on a patio, having tea in a solarium, rocking on the front porch, or meditating in a gazebo, our senses are revived by the complex outdoor world.

Even urban apartment dwellers can create enlivening outdoor spaces. A balcony, patio, or a small patch of dirt—or a community garden on a nearby empty lot—can be your starting point. A friend of mine put a couch on her apartment balcony, created a living privacy screen with plants, installed a small recirculating fountain to mask city noise, and spent many happy hours there.

How does the planet benefit from all this bliss? A well-conceived outdoor living space is warmed by the sun and cooled by shade, breeze, and moisture; thus it lessens our consumption of fossil fuels. Attached outdoor living rooms can improve the energy efficiency of a home: A porch can shade a south wall in summer, or a sunspace can collect solar heat in winter. But perhaps most important is the experience itself. From inside a sealed, climate-controlled building, it’s easy to believe that we are separate from—and can dominate—the rest of life. Moving our activities outward reunites us with the community of living things and reminds us to care for the biosphere that sustains us.

I’m not advocating that we get rid of buildings, nor do I think that indoor/outdoor spaces are appropriate for all locations, seasons, and times of day. But in most climates, there are times when the weather is good enough that we can create satisfying outdoor places by gently modifying environmental conditions. Spaces that are neither totally enclosed nor completely vulnerable to the weather allow us to enter into a nourishing dance between human needs and the elements.

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