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Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being [Kindle Edition]

Esther M. Sternberg
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Does the world make you sick? If the distractions and distortions around you, the jarring colors and sounds, could shake up the healing chemistry of your mind, might your surroundings also have the power to heal you? This is the question Esther Sternberg explores in Healing Spaces, a look at the marvelously rich nexus of mind and body, perception and place.
Sternberg immerses us in the discoveries that have revealed a complicated working relationship between the senses, the emotions, and the immune system. First among these is the story of the researcher who, in the 1980s, found that hospital patients with a view of nature healed faster than those without. How could a pleasant view speed healing? The author pursues this question through a series of places and situations that explore the neurobiology of the senses. The book shows how a Disney theme park or a Frank Gehry concert hall, a labyrinth or a garden can trigger or reduce stress, induce anxiety, or instill peace.
If our senses can lead us to a “place of healing,” it is no surprise that our place in nature is of critical importance in Sternberg’s account. The health of the environment is closely linked to personal health. The discoveries this book describes point to possibilities for designing hospitals, communities, and neighborhoods that promote healing and health for all.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Even the ancients understood that some places had healing powers. But in the late 20th century, scientists began to study how space affects both mental and physical health for good and ill. NIH researcher Sternberg (The Balance Within) thoroughly chronicles research on the neural pathways that connect our sensory perception of our environment with our ability to heal. Why, for instance, do hospital patients whose window looks out on a grove of trees require less pain medication than patients looking out on a brick wall? Sternberg also examines how incorporating light and nature into our cities and buildings can promote health and reduce stress, and how this concept is influencing urban design and the layout of hospitals. Finally, Sternberg counsels individuals to find that place in the world that invites and promotes healing and reduces stress (for her, it is a garden of her youth). The conclusions—e.g., that noise induces stress, which can impede healing—seem intuitive and well known, but readers interested in neuroscience will learn much about the research on why this is the case. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Most of us explain what other people do in terms of their individual abilities, motives, and personality traits, even when their behavior is due primarily to situational forces. This important and beautifully written book shows that contemporary medicine has made the same fundamental error about healing, and shows how powerful situations and spaces can be in moving people from illness to health.
--John Cacioppo, author of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection

This engaging book--conversational in tone, informative in content--is full of insight on collective healing and well-being. Esther Sternberg reveals the power of both natural places and architecture to elevate and enrich human experience and health. Enjoy it, and benefit from reading it!
--Norman L. Koonce, former CEO, American Institute of Architects

A vividly written book about a humanly important issue: the ways in which the spaces we literally inhabit--whether they be hospital rooms or spacious outdoor vistas--are not just backdrops to our dramas of health and illness, but actually have an impact on the outcomes of those dramas. Mixing accessible science with elegant "you are there" journeys of exploration, Sternberg has written a book that pushes the boundary of mind-body science in ways that patients and their caregivers alike will appreciate.
--Anne Harrington, author of The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine

Esther Sternberg is a rare writer--a physician who healed herself by going back to ancient truths known by the Greeks, and proving them. With her scientific expertise and crystal clear prose, she illuminates how intimately the brain and the immune system talk to each other, and how we can use place and space, sunlight and music, to reboot our brains and move from illness to health.
--Gail Sheehy, author of Passages

Even the ancients understood that some places had healing powers. But in the late 20th century, scientists began to study how space affects both mental and physical health for good and ill. NIH researcher Sternberg thoroughly chronicles research on the neural pathways that connect our sensory perception of our environment with our ability to heal...The conclusions--e.g., that noise induces stress, which can impede healing--seem intuitive and well known, but readers interested in neuroscience will learn much about the research on why this is the case. (Publishers Weekly 2009-03-16)

What Sternberg does so skillfully is to stitch together an explanation as to how so many of the things we intuitively find relaxing, like yoga, or sitting by the sea, or in a bright airy room, affect how quickly we heal. She provides the science to back it up and explains it so engagingly that it's hard to resist sharing her conviction.
--Linda Geddes (New Scientist 2009-05-09)

Healing Spaces [is] an exploration of environmental influences over the brain, the body and the course of mental and physical disease...Anyone who has ever felt peace descend in lovely surroundings will find a few seeds of explanation in her book.
--Abigail Zuger, M.D. (New York Times 2009-06-30)

In this fascinating book, physician Esther M. Sternberg explores the intersection of architecture and medicine; the studies and conferences (primarily through the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture) and vast body of literature that reveals the extent to which our external environment plays a role in healing...Sternberg's findings are fascinating, some strange, some pure common sense--thought-provoking for both individuals and institutions.
--Susan Salter Reynolds (Los Angeles Times 2009-06-28)

After this fascinating, engaging, and challenging read I'll think about the health consequences of where I am in a different way.
--Richard Mitchell (The Lancet 2009-07-04)

Sternberg offers a fascinating study of the complex relationships between health and "healing places."...She makes the work of many pioneers in brain and behavioral research accessible to laypersons even as they rub elbows with such figures as Walt Disney, Frank Gehry, and the Dalai Lama...This is a fine, thoughtful volume.
--J. Quinan (Choice 2010-01-01)

Product Details

  • File Size: 2391 KB
  • Print Length: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; 1 edition (May 31, 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003S3R4IC
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #358,025 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful and Important Reading July 5, 2009
Dr. Sternberg's new book is a delight to read. It's one thing to demand of a competent science writer that she decipher and distill complex research and tell lay readers what the findings mean. It's quite another to demand that the writer entertains and inspires her readers at the same time. But Dr. Sternberg does both. I hope its accessibility gains the book wide readership, not only among casually interested readers, but among architects, engineers, builders and building owners. The concepts it puts forth are important--at least as important, in my opinion, as those advocated by followers of the "green building" movement, which seems all the rage right now.
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important lessons will be learned from this book June 2, 2009
The world around us has an influence on the quality of our mental and physical health. Being calm, happy, and finding joy in what we do will increase the quality of our health. This book provides a wonderful insight into the influence of what we see and hear on our health. Dr. Sternberg writes in a manner that is not only easy to read and understand but is highly motivating. Adults should share her insight and with children to increase the likelihood that they will grow up being aware of their environment on their health. This book provides important insights and is an important contribution not only for the quality of health of current generations, but for future generations. I recommend it highly for all who are concerned about promoting healthy lifestyles.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Healing Spaces February 11, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Dr. Sternberg makes an excellent case for the powerful role of the mind in promoting healing. I gifted this book to a dear friend who has Multiple Sclerosis and who struggles on a daily basis to cope with her disease. There is no doubt that a positive attitude is foremost in coping with any chronic health problem. Equally important is creating an environment where that positive force can thrive. Enabling ourselves to return to a functioning level depends on our ability to comprehend the advances in research on mind-body-environment integration. To that extent the author has successfully taken complicated research discoveries and simplified them through example and discourse in layman's terms. When we acquire this knowledge and use it in our daily lives, we enhance our ability to rise above being victimized and defined by a disease process. I highly recommend this for people who are living with any chronic disease process and for their caretakers as well. The average healthy individual will find this book useful in building an environment that promotes health in their daily lives. There's no magic or superstition in this book. It's based on solid science. Read it and get on with living a good life.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New studies back old ideas November 27, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
After listening to a fascinating CBC radio interview with Dr. Sternberg, I bought the book for additional information and was not disappointed. It is interesting to read about new studies that provide empirical evidence supporting both old and new theories.
A great glimpse into evidence based design in healthcare facilities.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Creating Our Healing Space November 4, 2010
When my husband Richard and I worked with an architect to design the passive solar house where we now live, we were less concerned about the architectural style and more concerned that the house be healthy, which we defined in part as "connected to the out-of-doors" and "comfortable without fuss or excessive energy use." Hence its open, airy spaces lit by abundant natural light, the large south-facing windows framing views of the peaks rising over town, and the sliding-glass doors throughout that invite movement between the house and yard.

After reading Dr. Esther Sternberg's Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being, I understand more about the intuitive design decisions we made. Without consciously realizing it, Richard and I designed a space that is healing in the most fundamental sense, a house that makes us feel good just to live there.

"There is a turning point in the course of healing when you go from the dark side to the light, when your interest in the world revives and when despair gives way to hope," writes Sternberg in the opening paragraphs of Healing Spaces. "As you lie in bed, you suddenly notice the dappled sunlight and no longer turn your head and shield your eyes. You become aware of birdsong outside the window and the soothing whir of the ventilation system down the hall... This is when the destructive forces of illness give way to healing." That impulse toward healing, she notes, comes from within. "But do our surroundings, in turn, have an effect on us? Can the spaces around us help us heal?
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great for corporate wellness October 20, 2010
I am a corporate wellness director who is often asked by superiors to justify health programming for my constituents with the evidence-base (appropriately so). Dr. Sternberg's book is a fantastic review of the impact of environment on health and why everyone should pay more attention to our surroundings as they influence many aspects of overall well-being.
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not very good September 17, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I really wanted to like this book, as it purports to address an area that I feel represents a "next level" of sustainable living within an integrated world. There are some brief, and ultimately unsatisfying, forays into the how and why of human response to place. There's also a whole lot of unnecessarily detailed exposition on the particulars of perception; pages and pages of glowing biography (shout outs?) of a seemingly endless string of scientists and their paths to discovery; lots and lots of talk about sickness; and a chapter on the 'magic' of Disneyland (yes, you read that right. Disneyland). This book reads less like a serious investigation on the power of place (where's geographical determinism? human integration into rapidly disappearing natural settings? the well researched positive effects of green and natural spaces? the natural playground movement? feng sui?) than a guided tour through the author's professional experience, and associated thoughts thereon. In other words, a vanity project. Too bad, because the power of place to influence human (and thus the planet's) well being is a fantastically rich subject, one that this volume skims in a most superficial way.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Lot of Truth...
I saw a lot of truth in this book and highly recommend it.
Published 24 days ago by B. Dunnagan
5.0 out of 5 stars For Home and Institutions
A must have for seekers of Interdisiplinary Knowledge!
Science for enriching ones own home/place of well being! Read more
Published 1 month ago by Hurting puppy in Western N.Y.
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
have not read it all
Published 2 months ago by grams
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
great for a holistic health professional.
Published 4 months ago by maryann Ingersoll
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book and chronicle. Highly recommended.
I have heard Esther Sternberg speak about the connection of place and healing. This book really ties together the concept of how one's environment either promotes or impedes... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Grubster
3.0 out of 5 stars Another Reviewer Said it Best - This Book Has the Wrong Title
To me, a title of a book is the same the title of a paper. Just as the paper should point back to the title and thesis, the book should point back to the title. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Butterfly
2.0 out of 5 stars where's the meat?
I finished this book extracting very little information.

While the author mentions the type of studies that have taken place and their (predicting) abstract... Read more
Published 15 months ago by sandstorm
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
Thoughtful and rational approach to the psychology of space. As an architect, this was great for me and reinforced my own philosophies, but anyone would find it useful and... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Goodidea
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous book
This book awakens us to look out the window, look at the world and understand the impact that Nature, green spaces and the aesthetics of the garden have on our health. Read more
Published 20 months ago by MyrnaB
4.0 out of 5 stars A bit technical
Although some of the material was more technical than I had interested, the connection between healing and our biology was fascinating. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Barbara Zelley
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