Tag Archives: mental health

Biophilia for patients and visitors at the Khoo Tech Puat Hospital, Singapore

Khoo Teck Puat Hospital
Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, Singapore

This week I’m in Singapore as a Visiting Professor in the Biophilia Research Cluster, based in the Department of Psychology at James Cook University. I’ve seen dozens of fascinating examples of biophilic design here, but this post is about just one of them – the incredible gardens at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

It’s a general and acute care hospital which opened in 2010. Laik Teng Lit, its CEO, commissioned a design which lowers stress levels and helps patients and visitors to relax in what can so often be a naturally very anxious situation. The result is an astonishingly vibrant environment with dense plantings, water features, and carefully designed natural materials across the six floors of the building.

Khoo Teck Puat Hospital
Khoo Teck Puat Hospital

The hospital is keen to engage its visitors in auditing the wild inhabitants too, so it records all the many different birds and butterflies spotted on the site.

Some weekends there are free classes in yoga, tai chi, and meditation which are open to the public and take place next to the groundfoor waterfall amidst a biophilic riot of colourful plants and foliage.

And there’s another added extra. A rooftop organic community garden is cultivated and managed by local residents who grow a stunning variety of fruits and vegetables. Some of the produce is given to patients and some is sold to pay for the upkeep of the space.

Fig Tree at the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital Rooftop Garden
Fig Tree at the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital Rooftop Garden
Vegetable Beds at the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital Rooftop Garden
Vegetable Beds at the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital Rooftop Garden

Coincidentally, this week The Conversation featured an article about a rooftop garden project at a church in Sydney, Australia. This one was designed for patients recovering from mental illness, but the principles  remain the same – stress reduction, wellbeing, and general health benefits.

Giant melon in the Vegetable Beds at the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital Rooftop Garden
Giant melon at the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital Rooftop Garden

At Khoo Teck Puat we were told that members of the community are encouraged to spend time in the hospital’s social spaces. In other words, you don’t have to be sick to go there. And indeed, many students take their laptops and study amongst the flowers, whilst older people and families also regularly go to the hospital just to chill out and relax!

Find Your Technature Balance (video)

Not so long ago, many of us worried about ‘worklife balance’. At its simplest, it meant making sure you divided your time sensibly between hours of work and hours of, well, everything else.

Today, we worry more about finding a balance between the time we spend online… and… everything else. And one of the most important parts of  that ‘everything else’ is the time we spend in nature. Today, we don’t worry so much about worklife balance, but we do worry about technature balance.

What Is Technature Balance?

Let’s face it, many of us are connected to the internet pretty much all the time. It’s where we work, where we play, where we meet up with people and stay in touch with distant friends and family.

All of that’s fine. But there’s something else we could be connecting to that has rather fallen by the wayside. Planet Earth. The soil beneath our feet. The air we breathe. The forests, beaches, fields, mountains, lakes and gardens of the natural world.

Today, most of us live in cities. Beyond the occasional urban park, they’re not exactly rich in greenery.

And long before the smartphone arrived, people who live in cities were already pretty accustomed to life without nature, but now it is fashionable to blame technology for that separation.

That is incorrect. It is we who are responsible. We thought we could concrete over the fields and design a better life for ourselves, free of nature’s wildness and uncertainties. But it’s very obvious now that this was the wrong way to go.

What we must do now is develop a new kind of balance, a technature balance. One which helps us live more healthily in cities, and more naturally with our technology.

Find Your Own Technature Balance

I’ve recorded a video explaining the notion of technature balance along with some practical advice on how to achieve it. In fact, just watching the film itself is an exercise in balancing the two, since it requires you to set aside five minutes of time to sit quietly and relax while you listen.

It ends with an invitation to audit your own technature balance. Here are some of the questions:

  • How many natural materials do you physically touch every day – real wood, soil, leaves, flowers, and vegetables.
  • When you need to rest your eyes, where do you look? At clouds, at trees, at gardens?
  • Did you tend a plant? Stroke an animal? Seek out a ray of sunlight and raise your face to its warmth?

I’d love you to share the results in the comments below, on the Technobiophilia Facebook Page, or on Twitter tagged #technature. I look forward to hearing how it feels for you!

Don’t know where to start? Here are a few tips:

  1. Images of nature can reduce stress and slow down your heart-rate so choose new pictures for your desktop wallpapers and screensavers.  Trees, water, blue skies and flowers all work well.
  2. Treat yourself to something made from real wood to add to your digital life – a mouse, a keyboard, a smartphone case. Enjoy the organic warmth, much more restorative than plastic.
  3. Take a trip into virtual reality to explore VR forests, plains, deserts, and oceans. Second Life has a wealth of landscapes to explore. Pause your shootout in Grand Theft Auto to take scenic photos of the glorious mountain ranges. Treat yourself to an Oculus Rift VR headset and open up whole new vistas.
  4. Go outside. Choose a topic to learn about this year – the shore, hedgerows, birds – and take your smartphone with you. There are lots of apps especially created for the outdoors, so remember – there’s no need to log off if you don’t want to.

How Nature Can Make You Kinder, Happier, and More Creative

This article from the Greater Good Project points out that we are spending more time indoors and online but recent studies suggest that nature can help our brains and bodies to stay healthy. Here’s an excerpt:

Source: How Nature Can Make You Kinder, Happier, and More Creative | Greater Good

I’ve been an avid hiker my whole life. From the time I first strapped on a backpack and headed into the Sierra Nevada Mountains, I was hooked on the experience, loving the way being in nature cleared my mind and helped me to feel more grounded and peaceful.

But, even though I’ve always believed that hiking in nature had many psychological benefits, I’ve never had much science to back me up…until now, that is. Scientists are beginning to find evidence that being in nature has a profound impact on our brains and our behavior, helping us to reduce anxiety, brooding, and stress, and increase our attention capacity, creativity, and our ability to connect with other people.

“People have been discussing their profound experiences in nature for the last several 100 years—from Thoreau to John Muir to many other writers,” says researcher David Strayer, of the University of Utah. “Now we are seeing changes in the brain and changes in the body that suggest we are physically and mentally more healthy when we are interacting with nature.”

While he and other scientists may believe nature benefits our well-being, we live in a society where people spend more and more time indoors and online—especially children. Findings on how nature improves our brains brings added legitimacy to the call for preserving natural spaces—both urban and wild—and for spending more time in nature in order to lead healthier, happier, and more creative lives.

Here are some of the ways that science is showing how being in nature affects our brains and bodies.