When life feels like it’s getting on top of you, spending time in a quiet garden can really help you regain your inner balance and perspective.
By its very nature, gardening forces you to slow down. It’s not something that you can rush or do in a hurry and it gives you the chance to be mindful.
It’s easy to make mindful practice a part of your time in the garden, whether it’s pausing for a meditation session or simply being more aware of your body while you’re gardening.
You don’t need to have your own garden to enjoy spending time with plants – even gathering a little herb collection to tend to can provide the opportunity for relaxation.
Health benefits of gardening
Spending time in a garden can have real physical and mental health benefits. A study completed in 2006 found that gardening can lower your risk of dementia by 36 per cent.
If you’re gardening outside, you’ll also increase your vitamin D absorption simply by being outdoors for a longer period of time.
Gardening is also a great way to boost your mood. Studies have shown that spending time in nature can improve mental health and gardening has been used as therapy for depression for many years.
A 2010 study by the University of Essex found that “every green environment improved self esteem and mood; the presence of water generated greater effects”. Time to put in that water feature!
Try our tips for mindful gardening
1. Walk barefoot
This one is best saved for the summer months – and when you’re not using tools. Walk through your garden and enjoy the sensation of the grass underfoot. How do the blades feel between your toes? What other sensations can you feel? Is there a breeze? Pay attention to your senses and think about what you can hear, smell and touch.
2. Learn to switch off your autopilot
Holly Farrell, author of Gardening for Mindfulness, says that we need to avoid working on autopilot. “It is how we can sit at a desk for hours, manfully trying to finish a piece of work, and not notice until we finish just how very tired, hungry, cold and stiff we are.”
By living on autopilot, we miss out on opportunities to truly enjoy great experiences when they’re happening. When you start to pay attention, you learn how fully experience the moment.
4. Study a flower
Find somewhere quiet to sit and start by taking a few deep breaths, then begin to examine the flower. Pay attention to each part of the flower in turn – how do the petals look in this moment? Is the centre of the flower flat or curved? Are the leaf edges smooth or serrated? If you feel your mind start to wander, simply bring your attention back to your breathing for a few seconds, then return to the exercise.
5. Pause before you begin
Holly recommends pausing just before you step into the garden to ground yourself: “Close the door or gate behind you, then stop. Find a spot ahead on which your eyes can rest, then take a deep breath, in through your nose and out through your mouth.”
Once you feel calm and relaxed, carry on with the day’s tasks.
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6. Be grateful
Clea Danaan, author of Mindful Thoughts for Gardeners, says: “A good way to stop anxiety in its tracks is to feel gratitude. Feeling a sense of thankfulness and even wonder for our lives is a form of mindfulness, which is why this works to stop anxiety.”
When you’re feeling frustrated with your garden and your vine has only produced one pitiful grape, Clea says you should change your perspective and try to feel grateful instead: “This one grape really is really very pretty, and this grape vine is still alive. I have soil in which to plant a grape vine. I have a garden in which to cultivate that soil. Then my single grape becomes a celebration.”
7. Listen to the falling rain
“Without water in some form, we cannot garden,” says Clea. “Listening to rain can be a simple meditation. Next time it rains, take time to become present through the sound of the rain. Hear it patter and fall on the roof.”
Photos by Kyson Dana, Tom Ezzatkhah, Daniel Apodaca, Caique Silva, Nine Köpfer, Nigel Tadyanehondo and Annie Spratt on Unsplash