Mindfulness and Gardening
The Benefits of Stopping, Breathing and Enjoying your Alaska Garden
Gardening has consistently proven to be a healthy, mood-enhancing activity that begets numerous psychological and physical benefits. For example, gardening showed significant increases in quality of life, self-esteem, life satisfaction, happiness, and sense of community, as well as reductions in stress levels, anxiety, and depression. Additionally, gardening is associated with increased overall levels of physical activity and fitness, increased calorie burn, lower body mass index (BMI), and reduced risk of obesity.
Mindfulness has shown promise in multiple arenas, including the treatment of ailments such as addictions, insomnia, chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Furthermore, mindfulness and gardening activities have shown therapeutic promise in the treatment of stress-related symptoms, such as reducing stress, decreasing cortisol levels, and improving general well-being, while providing an opportunity for self-expression and creativity.
Gardens, whether domestic or communal, offer a space for recreation, enjoyment, leisure, exercise, nutrition, personal expression, socialization, and relationship. Gardening and mindfulness provide the ability to develop a sense of interconnectedness and interrelationship with the natural world (plants, animals, minerals, and the Earth) and with other humans. In our gardens we can observe and interact with the animals that dwell there or the ones visiting our feeders, entertain family and friends, propagate plants, watch the flowers grow, play with our children or pets, enjoy a cup of tea or a moment of solitude, plant a tree to commemorate each of our children’s births, work alone or in community, share our crops… Can you think of more?
The Art of Mindful Gardening:
Mindful gardening teaches us to bring together mind and body into centering and grounding activities that keep us in the here and now. Grounding helps to calm down the unrelenting stream of thoughts running through our heads, let go of our worries, detach from emotional pain, become absorbed, and reconnect with the beauty of the outside world: Our bodies in movement, our attention focused, our minds still.
So… How can I do it, you ask?
Well, mindfulness, like gardening, is an art that takes a little bit of studying, practice and getting used to. Mindful gardening requires that we pay attention and engage our whole being in our gardening activities. So we must take a moment to be truly present in the garden. We need to learn to look at routine gardening tasks with fresh, new eyes. It necessitates that we become aware of what is going on around us, that we notice changes, that we involve all our senses. That we observe, feel, see, sense, smell, taste, listen, hear, touch and manipulate.
This short mindfulness practice poem can be useful in setting the mood for mindful gardening and reminding us of the task at hand:
Enjoy your Alaska Gardening Experience
Here is an example of what each of the above-mentioned steps look like in my daily practice:
Observing small daily changes in the garden, I am aware that newly planted wildflowers and butternut squash are finding their way to the sun. I also notice that today, sunflowers are growing from the seeds unwittingly sowed by the birds that come to gorge daily on our squirrel-proof feeder.
Listening, I notice the calls of soaring bald eagles, the buzzing of bumblebees, and the plants asking for water and shade under the hot sun.
Feeling the ground under my knees, I become aware of the warm temperature, and slightly coarse and humid texture of the soil mixture held in between my hands.
Seeing the little fish in the garden pond rushing to hide under the plants, I remove excess algae from their summer dwelling.
Smelling I enjoy the earthy fragrance of dark, rich organic matter transformed from kitchen scraps and garden waste by composting worms.
Tasting I delight in the fruits of the garden as I mindfully graze and collect delicious berries and greens from planter to planter.
Hearing my breathing, I am present to the gentle sounds of the hummingbirds nectaring on our flowers.
Touching and Manipulating as I garden, I am aware of the wheelbarrow, garden tools, seedlings, garbage bags, dirt, and mulch.
Sensing the interconnectedness of all things, I am one with the air going in and out of my lungs. I am aware that my in-breath is the plants’ out-breath and that my out-breath is the plants’ in-breath.
Now it is your turn…
Start small, but remember to practice daily so it becomes a habit. Because, in this case, practice truly makes perfect…or better anyway! And, having offered your labor of love to your Alaska garden, make sure to take the time to sit back, relax, smile at its beauty, and enjoy its bounty.
Become aware that you are breathing.
Follow each breath from beginning to end.
Become aware of the dewdrops…
Know that each winter carries within itself the promise of spring and
Each autumn heralds an inevitable summer.
Become aware of the constant Flux and Transformation inherent in Life.
See how each seed harbors the potential of being a great tree, ancient cycad, edible weed, delicious fruit, or fragrant flower.
Notice how the organic refuse in your compost pile
bears the possibility of fertile soil
Each worm’s nutrient-rich castings bring within the bounty of nourishing foods:
Myriad fruits, vegetables, grasses, nuts, seeds, grains, legumes…
Enjoy your Garden,
Enjoy this Earth.
Relish the Present Moment.
Know it is a Unique, Wonderful, Irreproducible Moment.
Dr. Martha Martinez
Dr. Martha Martinez enjoys hiking, gardening, traveling, teaching, and spending time in nature. She is a seasoned Mindfulness Educator, Gardener, and Practitioner. She is also a National Wildlife Federation Habitat Steward, University of Florida IFAS Certified Florida Master Naturalist, University of Florida IFAS Certified Florida Master Gardener, University of Alaska Master Gardener in Training, and Tri-County Sustainability Steward. You will not find her online, on Facebook, or on Twitter, but out in nature mindfully gardening or enjoying the trails.