Green House Blog

Biophilia, Salutogenesis & the Roots of Humanity

In this week’s podcast, GHP Senior Director Susan Ryan sits down with Tammy Marshall, founder and CEO of Biophilia Pharma, for a second time, to delve deeper into biophilia, salutogenic approaches to healing, and imagining a future of eldercare that prioritizes a holistic relationship to nature. I ended this podcast completely in awe of the enormous power of nature as a healing force that seems to be completely untapped in our modern, busy lives. Further imagining the power of biophilia in eldercare could result in a radical, refreshing, and humane way to age.

Designing a Better Life with Biophilia 

The textbook definition of biophilia is the innate desire of humans to be in or around nature. Marshall further breaks down biophilia into its two components—bio, or life, and philia, or to love something. I think this is a beautiful way to frame our relationship to the natural world around us. To love nature is really just to love ourselves. 

A salutogenic approach to healing is a mode of “causing” health, instead of attacking a disease, and biophilia fits well into this model. Proximity to the outdoors, sunlight streaming in through windows, even something as analog as a floral motif on a curtain—these biophilic aspects of environmental design have all been proven by research to positively impact our wellbeing and can be seamlessly integrated into our lifestyles.

On Recognizing Our Roots 

For me, a big takeaway from this podcast is that biophilia isn’t for “fringe, sustainable, eco folks,” as Tammy expressed. Instead, biophilia is deeply rooted in what makes us human. And whether or not we recognize it, we know it on an intuitive level. I’ve always felt more relaxed and at peace when I dig my toes into the grass or look up at a massive blue sky. But only now have these benefits been translated to clinical language. 

Marshall brought up a study at Mount Sinai that re-engineered rooms for a stressed-out workforce to recharge and take a break before returning to work. These rooms were designed in a biophilic manner, with sounds of nature in the background, natural materials, and sunlight. A measure of biometrics before and after showed a marked decline in stress-related measures. What’s so profound to me about this study is how easy it is to engineer our own lives for similar results. Simply a walk in a garden, a run in the morning, or a taking a Zoom break by looking out a window can recenter and recharge us. This isn’t hard to do. After all, nature has always been free.

Taking Action

In the last podcast episode with Marshall, there was mention of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing in the 1800s. She was an early example of taking a salutogenic approach to caring for patients. We saw a shift to pathogenic approaches to illness with the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Speaking to that point, Susan related the back-and-forth of health approaches in history as a pendulum swinging. She posited that maybe, the pendulum is finally swinging back to what feels right. That thought is chilling to me, but in a thrilling way.

To see healthcare shift before our eyes is truly to witness history, and after the destruction of COVID-19, I hope that we take lessons from the pandemic to heart and aim to “cause” our health proactively.

Meghna Datta is a GHP intern and a pre-med student at Duke University.