Color is an incredibly important part of our lives. Colors surround us everywhere we go and can affect our mood and health. People have been using color as part of medical, mental, and spiritual therapies for centuries. Intuitively we seem to know that different colors affect our moods. Our language is filled with color. People often say “I’m feeling blue today, “ “I’m so angry, I’m seeing red,” or “I’m green with envy.” We use color in our homes and our clothes to help us affect our moods.
In order to fully understand color therapies it is important to understand the basics. Electromagnetic radiation is energy that spreads out as it moves. We call portions of the electromagnetic spectrum different names depending on the wavelengths of the radiation. From shortest to longest wavelengths there are radio waves, microwaves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, X-rays, and gamma-rays. Visible light is simply electromagnetic (EM) radiation that we can see. The human eye perceives EM radiation as colors ranging from about 700nm (red) to 400 nm (violet). The 7 colors of the rainbow – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet – span this range from 700nm to 400nm, each with a shorter wavelength then the next. White light is actually a combination of all of the colors of the visible spectrum.
While there are different cultural values associated with colors, there does seem to be a generally consistent effect associated with each color. Some colors of the spectrum are known as warm (reds, oranges) and others known as cool (blues and greens). Red is the warmest color. It has been shown to increase heart rate, raise blood pressure and increase muscle strength. It is associated with anger, strength, and violence as well as love and passion. Orange is another warm color and is very energizing. It is thought to be creative, fun, and full of life. Yellow is cheerful, happy and uplifting. Green is a cool color and is considered a color of life, growth, balance, and health. Blue, another cool color, has the opposite effect of red. It is calming and helps lower blood pressure and heart rate. It has a relaxing, peaceful, and tranquil effect. Pink is associated with love and open-heartedness. It is believed to have a calming effect and can decrease muscle strength. Purple represents royalty, wealth, spirituality, and wisdom.
Decorating with colors
Think about how the color of a room can change your mood. You walk into a bright orange or red room and likely feel energized. A blue or green room will feel more tranquil. There have been studies to show that wall color truly does have an effect on our mood. One study looked at the different effects of colors on prisoners. They painted 4 wings of a prison a different color and observed the reactions. They found that the men in red and yellow wings tended to be more violent than those in blue or green walled wings.
Some studies have shown that red increases strength and pink decreases strength. For this reason there are prisons throughout the US that are painting the walls pink. Some are even using pink jumpsuits and shoes for the prisoners! Studies have also shown that very active children become calmer in blue rooms. Designers with a background in the psychology of color will avoid reds and oranges in certain areas (bedrooms, hospitals, prisons) because they are too stimulating. They may use these same colors in areas that can handle the stimulating effects like sports arenas, locker rooms, and some living areas. Blues and greens are used in areas like hospitals and bedrooms to help bring a calm energy and sense of tranquility. Blues and purples are often used in spas or places that want a spiritual feel.
Wardrobe and colors
Think about the clothes you wear. The colors you wear will influence your mood as well as those around you. Therefore it is important to plan accordingly for special meetings and events. If you have a difficult meeting and you are feeling uptight and nervous, you will want to wear blue or green to help you stay calm. If you are feeling low energy or need strength, red or orange would work. Remember though that red can increase your heart rate and blood pressure. It may also incite more energy and anger in others. Yellow is uplifting and can help on a day when you feel down. Because yellow may help stimulate you intellectually, you could wear it on a day that you need extra brain power. Purple is good to wear when you are seeking spiritual strength. Simply giving some thought to your color choice each morning could help you regulate your mood.
Medical applications of color
Western medicine remains a bit skeptical about color therapy in general; however, there is at least one well-established and common use of color therapy in western medicine. Blue lights are used to treat infants with neonatal jaundice. The blue light helps reduce the bilirubin levels and ward off serious health complications.
There are some indications that blue light may also be helpful for rheumatoid arthritis, healing injured skin, and preventing the formation of scar tissue. Other evidence suggests that blue light can help with anxiety, eating disorders, addictions, and depression. More research is needed for these appliecations to become well-established treatments.
According to the Women’s Health Institute of Texas, red contact lenses are used to treat migraines. Red contact lenses don’t block out the red wavelength – they block almost everything else but red. These contact lenses have been applied at the start of migraines with very promising results. The Women’s Health Institute reports that many patients experience rapid pain relief and some experience complete remission of the migraine in a short time! They claim the red contact lenses are more effective than red-tinted glasses, but until they become more widely available you might try ordering some red tinted glasses to use at the start of your migraines (with permission from your doctor).
Energetic healing with color
In addition to mood and the above medical uses, there is promising evidence and theories about the effect of color on our energy system. There are practitioners (color therapists, massage therapists, energy workers, etc) who use color therapy frequently to assist with healing. Many of these professionals base their treatments on the idea that the body has 7 major energy centers – also known as chakras. Chakras are known as whirling vortices of energy. While the chakra system comes from ancient Indian medical systems, there is modern research to support the existence of the chakras.
Researcher Valerie Hunt discovered that certain areas of the body have very rapid energy oscillations – up to 1600 cycles per second (as contrasted with 0 to 100 cycles per second in the brain, 225 in the muscles, and 250 in the heart). The areas with these high-energy oscillations correspond to the 7 major energy centers or chakras. In addition, scientists have found that there are areas along the spine where the molecules of emotion (serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, etc.) are most dense. These areas also correspond to the 7 chakras. Each of these energy centers has also been shown to have different frequency ranges or colors (the 7 colors of the rainbow).
The first chakra, or root chakra, is located at the base of the spine and its color is red. It is associated with the sense of safety and security and it connects us with the earth. The second chakra is located in the area of your reproductive organs and is orange. It is the center of creativity, sexuality, and relationships. The third chakra, located just above the belly button, is the center of self-esteem and personal power. Its color is yellow. The heart chakra is the fourth energy center. This chakra is green and is our center of love and intimacy. The fifth chakra, with the color blue, is located around the throat and is our communication center. Next is the brow chakra, which is indigo. It is associated with intuition and imagination. Finally, the crown chakra is the energy center that connects us with the Divine or source energy. Its color is violet.
To help balance the chakras and enhance health and wellness, simply visualize each one chakra filled with the appropriate color and hold the intention to bring balance to the area. Start at the 1st chakra and make your way to the 7th. The colors of the chakras go in the order of the rainbow. Think of the acronym ROY G BIV. Red. Orange. Yellow. Green. Blue. Indigo. Violet. Do this imagery a couple of times each day for the best results.
Other methods of color therapy include the use of colored silk scarves placed on the body, chromotherapy bathtubs, colored glasses, colored lights, and colored stones. Some massage therapists and energy medicine practitioners will use some of these color therapy techniques to help you feel better and perhaps get healthier. As more practitioners use color therapy and more research is conducted, color therapy will become more of a mainstream treatment. I believe there is enough evidence (research and anecdotal) now to try it out. Let the colors in your life boost your mood and health!