to imbue, verb
1. to inspire or permeate with a feeling or quality
2. to introduce one thing into another so as to affect it throughout
this week, we’ve been waking up to the wildly powerful influence that physical environment has on our physical, mental, + emotional health. i, personally, have noticed that bringing my attention to this relationship between me + my surroundings (especially through the kaleidoscopic lens of all of my senses) has given me an abundance of oh wow! connect-the-dots moments in the last several days. even as someone who’s always been tapped into + conscious of the importance of atmosphere + space + landscape to her mood + energy, i keep finding fresh examples of this intersection in the world around me. from the power of decluttering to the potency of regular doses of fresh air + sunshine, from the impact of fresh flowers in a room to the effect that candlelight can have on the quality of a meal, we have overwhelming evidence everywhere of the way that environmental factors shape our health.
with this data illuminating that truth, we’re invited into action; the proof’s here that
through conscious + compassionate curation of those environments, we can enhance our wellbeing in ways large + small.
we can imbue them, infuse them, with the colors + the qualities that give us comfort, pleasure, + ultimately, health.
i choose today to share a story that captures just how direct + profound this relationship between person + place, character + setting, is.
an instructor + mentor of mine down at Duke IM shared this when we coaches-to-be at the time got into discussing the somewhat abstract concept of physical environment being so intimately connected to a person’s health.
this professor worked with a client, let’s call her jane, who had been referred for health coaching to support her in addressing chronic insomnia. jane had struggled with this condition for all of her adolescent + adult life; in her mid thirties now, she was at the end of her physical + emotional rope, feeling close to hopeless about finding relief from this + beyond discouraged at the way in which her lack of sleep was taking a tremendous toll on all other aspects of her life— work, relationships, everything. my teacher, jane’s health coach, was prepared to meet jane wherever she happened to be in her health journey, but expected that, likely, the two would brainstorm solutions in the area of the wheel of health focused on movement, exercise, + rest jane arrived to her first coaching session with this diagnosis.
the sneaky-beautiful power of health coaching is that in it’s truest form, it is a client-driven practice. as such, we as coaches always have room to be genuinely surprised, + potentially inspired by the insight + deep wisdom of the people with whom we’re privileged to work + to walk beside. in this partnership, we coaches are the behavior change experts, but our clients are the experts when it comes to themselves.
jane arrived at that session having completed the personal health inventory (phi) + having carefully thought through her unique relationship with each facet of the wheel of health. she had been fixated for years on unlocking the elusive epiphany to solve her insomnia: seeing slews of sleep specialists, experimenting with a range of nutritional, exercise, + stress-reduction regimens, + exploring various medication options. she was frustrated + exhausted with the topic. this was not going to be the area in which she set her health goals. instead, she arrived at this session energized by + committed to the idea of working on the area of “physical environment” (or as i call it in my practice: “inhabit”). after completing the phi, she, somehow, knew in her bones that it was only by addressing + working with this “environmental” dimension of her whole-person health that she might find the answer to this life-long struggle.
“what i need to do first,” jane said to her coach, “is paint my room.” paint it this glowing sunshine yellow, specifically. she followed this redecoration impulse with a few additional key elements, including purchasing a hot water bottle + softer, golden-hued lightbulbs for the lamps in her bedroom. through their conversations in this + follow-up sessions, client + coach realized that jane’s anxiety around sleeping had taken root early in childhood when she was living in a home that was defined by a profound impoverished sense of lack + was nearly always frigid; here, she felt little in the way of nourishing, cozy warmth, or even comfort or safety. when she went to bed, this old fear seized her most as her body memories of this deep cold stirred in her terror that if she fell asleep she might not wake up again.
what coaching allowed jane to see was that she had the answer, a personal + counterintuitive one, in her all along. because coaching encouraged her to examine + make connections among + between these disparate aspects of her life, jane found the solution to a health cornerstone, namely sleep. in the days + weeks that followed, jane not only painted her formerly white room a glowing yellow-gold color, but bit by bit she transformed her physical environment to thaw herself healthy. she saw relief from chronic insomnia almost immediately, + reset her sleep habits in just two months.
while the best sleep specialists do talk now about things like “sleep hygiene” (especially when it comes to addressing the physical + mental toxicity that plagues our uber-plugged-in tech-driven culture), not many would have had the time or the tools to facilitate jane’s coming to this powerful prescription for moving toward her own optimal health + wellbeing. coaching left room for the client’s voice, her self-reflection + self-knowledge, her energy, to be the force for epiphany, action, + transformation.
this story, (which is quietly mind-blowing, isn’t it?) reveals multitudes about the power of coaching generally, but also about how essential it is for each to us, all of us, to start treating “wellness” as a multifaceted entity,
to, when we’re attempting to address challenges in one area of our health, take into consideration the other areas that may seem unrelated; something like “physical environment” might provide the medicine necessary to healing another facet of our body + being.
so this week, can you shift your attention?
can you look at a struggle you might be having in your own health or in reaching your own goals for cultivating wellbeing, through this lens of “physical environment”?
how might more mindfully, playfully, health-fully inhabiting the places + spaces in your world, reshaping them, perhaps, address your areas of challenge?
how can you imbue your own habitats, (+ your own habits) with light, with warmth, with beauty?
perhaps it starts with a new coat of paint.
for nearly a decade, greta nelson has worked with women + girls in myriad capacities; she brings this kaleidoscope of skill, experience, + energy to active voice. she is a graduate of duke university's integrative health coaching program + holds a master's degree in english education from columbia university teachers college. in addition, she is a practicing educator, writing clinician, + e~ryt 500 certified yoga instructor. greta synchronizes expertise with passion to be a guide, an advocate, + a sister in support to each every one of her clients.