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The power of plants in the consulting room

Apr 30, 2021
Biophilic design

As therapists, we draw on the power of plants daily in the essential oils and even the carrier oils, that we use as part of our treatments. We know that while peppermint can help to ease nausea, bergamot can be helped to decrease anxiety. So, it should come as little surprise that plants themselves also have powerful therapeutic benefits, even when they’re simply standing and minding their own business in the corner of a consulting room.

The power of plants in our living and working environments is being increasingly recognised and incorporated into interior and architectural design. Termed ‘biophilic design’, plants are used more and more to help us connect with nature as well as to improve air quality and ambience. From living walls to well-placed pots and herbs, plants bring a different dimension to indoor spaces that could make a profound difference to both your sense of wellbeing and the experience that your client has with you.

Plants and air quality

 

Studies suggest that indoor plants can reduce up to 87% of toxins in the air within a comparatively short space of time. This concept famously first appeared in a NASA experiment, which was published in 1989. Further research went on to find that “soil microorganisms in potted plants also play a part in cleaning indoor air.”

Bill Wolverton who was involved in the original research has suggested that “two ‘good sized’ plants per 100 square feet of interior space” was recommended, and that “The Boston fern is one of the most effective plants for removing airborne pollutants”. It’s worth pointing out that other scientists suggest that the research in this area outside laboratory conditions is limited. Therefore, while we know plants are vital for our wellbeing, there’s little quantifiable evidence for measuring their effectiveness indoors.

Plants and physical wellness

 
 
 
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On a physical level, a study from 2015 found that the process of tending to indoor plants and being around them can help "suppress sympathetic nervous system activity and diastolic blood pressure”. Another study showed that the presence of plants indoors helps to reduce fatigue and headaches by up to 20 to 25%, and that patients in hospital rooms with plants have reported decreased post-operative pain.

Plants and emotional wellness

 
 
 
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From an emotional wellness perspective, plants in our environment have also been shown to have a positive impact. Benefits have included improved mood, reduced stress levels, increased productivity, improved attention span and increased pain tolerance. Many report a lessening in symptoms of anxiety and a generally improved sense of calm.

Which plants to include and when?

The research on which plants to incorporate into your setting is limited, although the suggestion is that environments where light, views of nature and access to open space are limited will benefit in particular. Courtesy of that study by NASA, the Peace Lily has been lauded for its benefits as well as being a low maintenance and pretty plant. The humble ivy plant is also recommended for purifying the air and the Boston Fern is said to be a natural humidifier.

If we draw on our aromatherapy backgrounds however, there is logic in going straight to source. Lavender, with its pretty purple flowers, can help promote better sleep, rosemary can help improve cognitive function and mint can help to ease digestion and headaches.

It’s important to be aware that the specifics around plant benefits indoors are limited because it is an ongoing area of study. You should also be mindful that some people have allergies, and although it’s highly unlikely someone will have a reaction to a pot of lavender in your treatment room, you should be mindful of where, what and how you place plants in your practice.

Even so, as we continue to have ever greater appreciation for the natural world and its impact on our wellbeing, adding plant life into your consulting room or other areas of your spa or practice is one way you may consider enhancing the customer experience - as well as your own!

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