Now that in all but the coldest parts of North America the growing season is well underway, many of you have had a chance to spend a little time in that arbor in the back yard. Why is spending time in an arbor so relaxing? What can you learn from sitting there that can help you select other places to hang out when you want to relax?
Arbors generally are not in the middle of an open space, they are tucked away at the side of a garden. It's hard for human beings to decompress when their backs are exposed - that's one of the reasons why booths are restaurants are so popular. When we're eating in one, our backs are protected. Exposed backs are also an issue when people work in cubicles and face into the corners of the cubes - those workers are continually "on alert" wondering what might be happening behind them. Like chipmunks, we feel comfortable and relaxed in a space when we are positioned to see what's going on in our world.
Arbors often are located so the people sitting in them have a good view throughout the space - particularly to important "action points." If you can see clearly from where you are sitting to the door of the room you're in, or better yet to the door of the structure you're in, you will be more relaxed. If you can't see key action spots from where you sit you will always be squirming to look at them, if wiggling in place makes them visible, or distracted from relaxing by wondering what might be going on if wiggling doesn't bring them into view. We also like to be in spaces that we understand but that are moderately visually complex and offer some positive mystery - a view across a room filled with a few relatively simple paintings (preferably of nature, see below) or pieces of art, with a view into a curving hallway or through a window to a gently curving garden path, is a clear example of such a space.
Arbors give us a special and valued way of surveying our world. When we're in a space where there is a lower surface over our head and that's a little darker than a more brightly lit neighboring area with a higher ceiling, we feel particularly comfortable. There's an analogy to earlier times when we lived a much more basic life - being in an arbor-like environment is similar to being in a sheltered cave, for example, looking out over a brightly lit field. We have the same experience sitting in a canopied bed or a window seat or a womb chair.
When we're in an arbor, the area around us is filled with dappled light, and we find being in that sort of light very relaxing. Dappled light is the kind of illumination we experience when we're surrounded by dollops of sunlight that have made their way through the leaves of a tree. You can create the same effect by abandoning a bright, even lighting plan and using separate lights to create darker and lighter spaces in a room.
Nature is also filled with relaxing scents. Lavender, rose, bergamot, chamomile, marjoram and heliotrope have all been found to be relaxing in rigorous scientific research. Essential oils for each of these plants are easy to add to interior environments.
Daylight itself reduces stress by keeping our circadian rhythms in sync with the world around us, and a lot of research has shown that looking at gardens and other nature scenes helps mentally exhausted people restock their mental energy and return to high-level performance of concentration intense activity.
A relaxing space is also physically comfortable - anything else distracts you from your attempts to mentally decompress. A cushioned upholstered chair is a more likely location to unwind than a bus stop bench.
You can create a space in your life to relax. The physical criteria for it are straightforward - making the time to visit it is the real challenge.