It’s amazing how the physical environment can influence mood, outlook, and attitude. My private practice is located inside a doctor’s office where I share space with several internists and pediatricians. When I first moved into the space four years ago, I did my best to compensate for the clinical setting and lack of natural light by softening things up a bit with a fresh coat of paint, colorful artwork, new carpet, and a large sofa and comfortable with plenty of cushions. Despite my beautification efforts, the absence of windows, artificial lighting, and stale air leave me yearning for the warmth of the sun and the feel of the earth beneath my feet.
I have always been sensitive to my physical surroundings, shying away from the bright lights, blaring phones, cold air conditioning, and tiny cubicles that are so common in corporate America. I am a firm believer in the beneficial effects of natural light, fresh air, and personal space on physical and emotional health and well-being. Have you ever walked out of a busy office for a bite to eat or a short break and noticed an immediate change in your mood? If such a radical change can happen in a mere instant, imagine the effect of your physical environment on your physical and emotional health when multiplied by a minimum of 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. For this reason, many people are drawn to flexible careers that offer a work-at-home option, where personal control over one’s physical environment is readily available.
This person-environment interaction also works in the reverse order. Have you ever noticed how your emotional state is reflected in your physical environment? My fiancé can always tell when I’m feeling overwhelmed by looking at the state of my desk and the interior of my car. Chances are, if there is chaos and commotion in my physical space, I feel depressed, tired, or emotionally overwhelmed. Reflecting on my single days, my favorite weekends spent alone were those where I sacrificed a social agenda in favor of domestic activities dedicated to restoring order and balance to my physical environment. These activities also included self-care, sleep, exercise, and self-reflection. Environments filled with chaos, disorder, and confusion often reflect a similar internal state within the people who create them. Likewise, an atmosphere of soothing tranquility, order, and calm is best maintained by a person who feels the same way.
Those of you who have been following my column know that I spent the month of August traveling through Costa Rica on a writing mission. By now, you’ve probably also come to the conclusion that hedonistic pursuits of beauty, tranquility, and relaxation are also thrown into the mix. I toured both coasts of the country, starting with the Caribbean and ending with the Pacific, with a night in the capital city of San José to break the trip. My first 4 nights on the Pacific coast were spent at the beautiful Harmony Hotel in Playa Guiones. Guiones is a small surf town located on the outskirts of a town called Nosara in a province called Gunacaste, on the north Pacific coast. After my stay at Harmony, I moved down the street to the more casual and relaxed Harbor Reef.
So what does my solo trip to Costa Rica have to do with the physical environment and its influence on mood, attitude and perspective? All! As I venture into the world of travel writing, I take note of how the travel industry capitalizes on person-environment interaction by directly appealing to the senses. I invite you to visualize these two very different hotels located within a 5-minute walk of each other but stylistically separated enough to be on opposite ends of the planet.
Harmony Hotel lulled me into stillness while Harbor Reef launched me into a state of increased energy and exploration. At the Harmony Hotel I spent 4 days of luxury comfortably ensconced within the protective folds of a full-service luxury resort. I practiced yoga every morning, just steps from my room in the hotel’s Healing Center. I walked the manicured pathways to the hotel’s restaurant, juice bar, pool, and beach. My daily needs were more than sufficiently met within the confines of the hotel grounds, leaving me with little need or desire to leave the premises.
As I walked down the street to Harbor Reef I immediately got the vibe of a casual laid back surfer hangout. Harbor Reef and the Harmony Hotel are on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of ambiance and clientele. Walking the grounds of Harbor Reef shortly after my arrival, I noticed how palpable the difference between the two hotels was. What every hotel lacks is also its greatest asset. A full-service resort vacation at a place like Harmony Hotel is hard to beat in terms of relaxation and comfort, however, dining with local Ticos and Harbor Reef staff and practicing yoga at the charming Nosara Yoga Institute is also a must. pretty fantastic.
In the huge open-air lobby of the Harmony Hotel, there is an immediate feeling of stillness and tranquility. A slight Balinese flavor is evident in the interior design of the lobby. I felt so safe and comfortable here that my mind actually contemplated asking about employment opportunities at the hotel. Maybe they need a psychologist on staff to help people deal with the alarming deficit of stress and aggravation, I mused. Plush sofas and chairs, dark wood tables, bamboo furniture and accessories, large ceiling fans, and soothing earth tones blend naturally with the surrounding jungle. There’s dim, somber lighting and a long, retro-style bamboo/wood bar where guests can choose from an extensive list of delicious happy hour concoctions.
At Harmony Hotel every whim is catered for; leaving guests with the slightest need (or desire) to venture outside of this private paradise. In fact, while staying at the Harmony Hotel it’s easy to forget you’re in Playa Guiones; the surrounding town tends to fade from consciousness. During my time at Harmony I felt as if I belonged to the narrow inner circle of an exclusive private society. Walking down the street to nearby Harbor Reef, I felt strangely conspicuous when I returned to the Harmony for a cocktail one night. The people I met at Harbor Reef who did the reverse trip (ie multiple days at Harbor Reef followed by multiple days at Harmony) seemed to disappear from the radar after checking into the Harmony hotel, never to be seen or heard from again.
Unlike the Harmony Hotel, Harbor Reef is far from a full-service luxury resort. It doesn’t pretend to be though, as the place travels to the beat of a completely different drum. Harbor Reef has heart and soul; the place is incredibly casual and the staff members are always happy to mingle with the tourists and share useful information about the local lifestyle and nightlife hotspots. Unlike at Harbor Reef, the staff at the Harmony Hotel, while professional and polite, maintained an aura of distance and inaccessibility.
Harmony Hotel launched me into a state of complete stillness, something that was sorely needed at the time. It wasn’t until I moved to Harbor Reef and emerged from my Harmony cocoon that I ventured into the town of Playa Guiones. Each and every morning I would walk 15 minutes through the jungle to the Nosara Yoga Institute, where I would practice yoga in a treetop studio overlooking the jungle, to the sound of howler monkeys screaming in the background. distance. The hike itself is a mystical, almost creepy experience. I felt like I was the only person on earth, the silence was all-encompassing, and words alone cannot capture the beauty of the little rays of sunshine that I saw dancing through the dark shadows of the jungle. I felt as if I had stepped into the pages of a children’s fairy tale and stumbled upon an enchanted forest. Sorry Charleston, but this sure beats doing yoga in a mall studio. If I hadn’t ventured out of the protective cocoon of the Harmony Hotel, I would have missed out on this incredible experience. These days when I practice yoga, I close my eyes and imagine myself back in that treetop studio in Guiones, surrounded by the beauty of the jungle.
How does your physical environment work for you? Is it time to shake things up a bit with some kind of change, however subtle? Changing your physical environment can be as simple as rearranging your bedroom furniture or moving your desk from one wall to another, adding some plants, or toning down the lighting in your home office. The change may involve traveling to another culture to expand your horizons and change your perspective, or a more radical change like a career transition or relocation to a new city. Regardless of whether the environmental change is subtle or life-altering, the goal is to maximize your physical and emotional health and well-being by finding a combination that works for you. Remember, there is no better time than the present to create positive change in your life.