Sunday, January 18, 2009
I tend to go for houses painted in unconventional ways. But did you ever stop to think about why we respond to specific colors? Is it just an emotional reaction, or do different shades trigger physical changes on some bioelectric level?
When light hits the photoreceptor cells of your retina, it is converted into little electric impulses which dash right up to your brain and trigger a release of various hormones. Sunlight contains all wavelengths of color in the visible spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, and magenta) in addition to infrared and ultraviolet light, which we can‘t see. The body's various responses to the collection of colors contained in the sun's rays may contribute to why we feel so euphoric after a day at the beach.
Color has played a role in healing ever since the early human figured out that gazing at a calm blue sky eased a headache almost as well as chewing on white willow leaves. Indian Ayurveda -- the oldest healing modality in the world -- teaches that specific colors correspond to specific energy centers in the body. Ancient Egypt’s temple of Heliopolis contained compartments designed to break up the sun’s rays into different colors -- each thought to positively affect a different ailment. Even Babylon’s famed Hanging Gardens were touted as containing plants of all colors of healing.
When Newton played around with prisms and figured out how to fraction out the colors of light’s visible spectrum, physicians over the next century were so impressed with this magical discovery, they believed that targeted use of those colors could treat everything from smallpox to hysteria. Enterprising doctor Edwin Babbitt published a groundbreaking work on a new model of healing called chromatotherapy: Principles of Light and Color. Babbit’s work was followed up by a student Dinshah Gahdiali who spent years developing colored filters and specialized light fixtures known as Spectro-Chrome lamps. These devices were prematurely thought to be a cure for tuberculosis, diphtheria, gout, venereal disease and diabetes.
While these early docs appear to have overestimated color’s plausible healing potential, Swiss psychologist Max Luscher honed in on color preference as a marker for mental illness. (Supposedly if you liked dark colors, you were in bad emotional shape. Luscher would have definitely diagnosed most modern day creative types as wildly unstable due to our preference for black clothes. Then again, maybe he was on to something…)
Luscher’s contemporary Russian researcher S.V. Krakov devoted his work to studying the way different light wavelengths affected body responses like blood pressure and adrenal function -- studies that contemporary color therapists still recall, and justification for why hospital rooms are never painted bright red.
Rudolph Steiner and Theo Gimbel also investigated the therapeutic uses of color. They both suggested that the vibrational quality of different colors have either regenerative or destructive effects on living things.
In the last few decades, studies have shown the positive effects of full-spectrum light on everything from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) to insomnia and infertility. (Sunlight suppresses daytime release of melatonin and increases serotonin.) Full-spectrum light is also the first line of treatment for neonatal jaundice. And of course, in upscale spas all over the western world, new age types will offer high priced “treatments” in the form of various colored bottles of essential oils or tiny colored flashlights directed at acupuncture points.
I have no idea what physical ailment I may potentially heal by lingering at the steps of this colorful porch ... but I feel better just looking at it!