June 2021 FSW Blogs BENEFITS OF BEING OUTDOORS Week 1: Your Own backyard
This month I am going to explore the reasons why nature and the outdoors can benefit your mind, body and soul. An old Chinese proverb- “If you want to be happy for a lifetime, be a gardener.” Research shows that those who connect with the earth, on a daily basis, experience less stress and have a more positive outlook on life.
One of the methods I have used in the past with my clients, especially in the spring and summer months, is called Mindful Gardening. Taking time to connect with your gardens, whether that is a flower garden or a vegetable garden, can bring a deeper level of appreciation, love and connectedness that can help lower stress and anxiety in anyone.
If you are just starting out and have a clean slate to begin with, it is always a good idea to look at the space you want to create and imagine the end result. What types of flowers or plants do you see there? Do you want varying heights? Do you want varying scents and colors? Do you want a variety of tomatoes or peppers?
How do you want to feel when you look at the space? Do you want a feeling of pure bliss enjoying all the different colors? Do you want to smell amazing fragrances? Do you want to eat a lot of the lettuce, spinach or herbs?
Once you figure out what you want the end result to be you can easily choose the right plants, seeds and fertilizer for the area. Depending on your type of soil, you may need to add nutrients, minerals or a compost/manure concoction in with your soil.
When you have the plants and seeds, take time to inspect them. Connect with the plant and seeds. Take your gloves off and touch the plants. Look at the directions for the seeds and see how far apart to plant them. How deep do you dig the hole? How much water and fertilizer will it take for them to grow? By connecting with the earth and caring for your plants, you can foster a healthy self-confidence, slow the mind and become more focused and calm.
When you make a connection with the plant or seed you are putting into the earth with intention, that is where you can transform your mind into knowing you have made a bigger difference in your little part of this world, just by planting a seed.
After inspecting the plants and seeds, take time to feel the soil, without gloves first, and notice what it feels like. You may need a spade, hoe, garden rake and other tools to loosen the dirt and get it ready for planting. Find out which nutrients you will need for the flowers versus the tomato plants and add that to the dirt.
Take a moment and inhale deeply the fresh air and the smell of the earth so you can connect with this part of your space and bond on a deeper level. What memories does this bring up for you? What feelings do you have when you do this?
Take the time to inspect your tools including watering can. Look at the plan you created where you want specific plants to go, depending on their colors, size and fragrance. What area of your yard will work best for the vegetable plants; tomatoes versus pumpkins and squashes. Once you can connect with these things, the task of planting is no longer a chore, but a time of freedom, creativity and fun.
Place each plant carefully in the location you decided on. Take your time digging in the earth and placing them in the hole, surrounding the roots with dirt and other nutrients. When you planted the seeds, slowly poke a hole in the earth, allow yourself to feel the sensation of the soil and then put the seeds in and cover them nicely with the dirt and nutrients.
The act of being fully present with the planting of the garden will allow your mind and body to appreciate what you have accomplished. This act, alone, will boost your self-esteem and create more happy hormones flooding through your system.
I have used my gardens as my “yoga” for years and love spending hours and hours in my yard in the spring and summer months. I routinely talk to my plants in my gardens, especially when I am watering them, so fill your watering can and state an intention for your plants and seeds and either say out loud, or in your head as you are watering them; “May you grow hardy and may you be healthy.” Of course, you may think I sound crazy, but after you do it, notice how much more appreciation you have for the task you just accomplished and for what produce and flowers you will receive in a few weeks.
Here are some reasons why gardening is a great mindfulness tool:
1. Gardening brings us back to the present moment. This form of grounding can help us simmer down those racing thoughts. The sensory experience we get can uplift our happy hormones. Feeling the dirt in our fingers; smelling the fragrance of the flowers; tasting a strawberry or raspberry right from the vine are all great ways to ground yourself and be in the present moment. Thoughts of the past and worries about your future are wiped away. All of your energy, physical and mental, are in the here and now.
2. Gardening is a great tool to foster creativity and your fun factor. Choosing the colors, textures and layout of your garden will engage your senses as well as tingle the use of your right brain. If you have been in work mode and “serious mode” for a long time, use gardening to loosen up a bit and start those creative juices flowing. The more time you can spend in your garden or in this left-brain mode, the more creative ideas, problem solving skills and opportunities will present themselves.
3. Just like the lotus flower, even when the roots are in muck, it produces the most beautiful flower. Tending to your garden and even a compost pile will offer this bit of beauty for us to use. The lesson to learn is that beauty will come from the mess we need to walk through. Sometimes life can mirror a compost pile, but with patience, perseverance, planning and self-reflection there is always a positive transformation that arises. Gardening can help you realize and appreciate this process in your growth.
4. Working with the earth can connect you to your higher source. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Earth laughs in flowers” and I truly believe it. When you are creating new growth and magnificence in your garden, you are becoming more and more aligned with your spirituality and your part in the universe. How can you bring more beauty, fragrance and stability into your world?
5. Gardening can help us realize when we need to “weed out” the old and dying to bring in new life. How can you remove toxic thoughts or people from your life to create more growth and expansion?
6. Gardening allows us to appreciate the insubstantiality of the garden. You can’t control it, you can only cultivate as much as you can. Winter comes, plants will die, but this is only temporary. Gardening is a great way to learn how to give up our “control” over situations and to let the Universe take care of it.
7. Gardening reminds us that we need the rain in order to appreciate the sunshine. Realizing that we will need to go through some hurdles and struggles in our life is part of the growth and expansion we are striving for. We need the “rain” in order to grow and expand and then shine our “sunshine” on others in our lives. Your “garden” (or mind) is a magical place for transformation. You learn patience, you can let go of any expectations, you can let go of control and you gain more peace, calm and harmony. Your garden can teach you that a quiet mind is a calm and peaceful mind that is more aware and open to change. It is a mind that is also filled with love and appreciation. You will elevate your sense of purpose whenever you garden.
8. A garden, like your goals, will need daily nurturing. You need to water the soil, pull weeds on a regular basis, prune trees or roses, get rid of the dead and unwanted branches or stems. You will need to fertilize and check in on the plant’s growth. Your goals and dreams need this same attention. Set up the same “watering” schedule, “pruning” schedule and “fertilizing” schedule so that your goals and dreams are growing and expanding and not withering on the vines.
Dedicating 30 minutes to connect with Mother Nature can become routine for you so that you can feel a boost of happiness every day. Leave your phone indoors and truly use all your senses when you are in your garden.
What three unique things do you see?
What three scents do you smell?
What three textures did you touch?
What three sounds did you hear?
What three flavors did you taste on your tongue?
During this time, you don’t need an objective at all. You can just putter around, or sit quietly near your garden. You may just notice what is popping up through the soil and what area looks a little dry and need watering. Just be in that moment, without worrying about what you need to make for dinner, or the plethora of emails you need to respond to tomorrow. Just take that moment to “be” with your garden. It gets easier and easier to do this when you practice it daily. If 30 minutes seems like a long time, start with 10-15 minutes and gradually increase the time after a week or two.
Speak your gratitude for Mother Nature and your garden out loud. I like to thank Mother Nature for the beautiful flowers and their amazing scent. I like to acknowledge the warm sun on my face or the smell of the breeze. I appreciate how Mother Nature is helping my plants grow.
You can include any type of spirituality into this gratitude. You can talk to divine spirit, God, your gardening partner, the worm wiggling next to you. There is a real value in speaking your gratitude and becoming more aware of your surroundings.
You can use garden time as a transition time for you. If you have had a hard day at work, before going into the house and being bombarded by animals, family and mail, take a moment and spend some time admiring your garden. Even just five minutes can be a great transition time for your heart and mind to slow down and appreciate some beauty. Create this transition time when you really need it. After work, but before making dinner. After dinner and before getting the kids ready for bed. After breakfast and before sitting down to do some work.
You can also receive this same feeling from creating planter box gardens on your apartment patio. You don’t need a yard and big garden boxes. Using a couple of pots on your balcony can become the best gardening spot for you to decompress and enjoy some downtime too.
Garden for your mental health. The daily sunshine is great for boosting your happy hormones and decreasing your anxiety and depression as well as boosting your immune system.
How do you use gardening for your mental health?