The ancient practices of phototherapy and chromotherapy are gaining momentum as valid science. Researchers are now able to study how light and color not only affect psychological behavior, but also physiological systems of the body. An article in The New York Times explores how color and light influence well-being in a variety of circumstance; from prison cells to neonatal units, coal mines to classrooms.
Early use of light and color for healing
Phototherapy (utilizing full-spectrum white light for healing) and chromotherapy (using specific colors to influence health) have been used since 2000 BC. Ancient Egypt, Greece, China, and India all practiced light therapy while the Egyptians and Greeks also embraced color therapy. In the hermetic traditions of Egypt and Greece, colored stones, minerals, and crystals were used in chromotherapy. Treatment sanctuaries were also common. These spaces were painted in specific colors recognized for their healing qualities.
The modern age of phototherapy and chromotherapy
As reported in The New York Times, light and color both powerfully affect the body and mind. Take the color pink. When violent juveniles under detention in San Bernardino County, California are placed in a cell painted bubble gum pink, they relax, stop banging and yelling, and often times fall asleep within 10 minutes. It is estimated that 1,500 hospitals and correctional facilities throughout America have also implemented the shade bubble gum pink in at least one room.
According to Massachusetts Institute of Technology nutritionist Richard J. Wurtman, research has shown that individual colors influence respiration rates, blood pressure, along with biorhythms and brain activity. Due to these findings, color is used as a treatment for a wide-range of illness and disease.
For instance, blue light has been used for the last decade in neonatal units to treat jaundice. Approximately 30,000 premature babies each year in America are treated with baths of blue light, thereby avoiding dangerous blood transfusions.
In Russia, ultraviolet light is showered upon coal miners to prevent black lung disease while classrooms utilize ultraviolet lamps. According to Faber Birren, a leading color consultant, “children grow faster than usual, work ability and grades are improved and catarrhal infections are fewer [when exposed to ultraviolet light].” Additionally, ultraviolet light is used as the standard treatment for psoriasis in the Untied States.
Full-spectrum white light has been shown to influence brain chemistry. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a stunning example of how a deficiency of sunlight can cause severe depression. When a person who suffers from this malady is exposed to full-spectrum light, either through the sun or an artificial light box, SAD symptoms disappear.
Mr. Birren concludes in The New York Times:
“Perhaps these are new beginnings. The magical properties of light and color, granted by men since the earliest of times, accepted, renounced and accepted again through the ages, have forever held fascination. It would be delightful, of course, if a thing of such psychological beauty – color – also held a mundane role in human physiological well-being.”