The British School of Meditation Blog

08Jun

Growing for Wellbeing

This week is Growing for Wellbeing week, and it is a celebration of how the ‘magic of growing your own produce’ can have positive effects on your health and well-being.  According to a Harvard study, participants who had access to green spaces live healthier lives, with lower rates of physical and mental illness.

Soothing the soul with mindful gardening

When I was in my late twenty’s, I was diagnosed with ME.  For a long time, I couldn’t plan outings, or attend events, as from day to day, I wouldn’t know how the fatigue would affect my body and mind.  Sometimes, I would have physical fatigue, other days I would have concentration issues and a foggy mind.  Then there would be the days when I would experience high levels of anxiety and sleep issues, or other days when all the symptoms would combine into one.  And then there would be days when I would feel ok.  

I just couldn’t predict how I would feel, yet it did seem apparent my body was somehow responding to high levels of stress.

When I did have tiny pockets of energy, I would like to be in the garden – I found it would soothe my soul.  I would love to feel the soil in my hands, and the sun shining on the top of my head.  I would delight in the smells of the fragrant flowers and plants, and be immersed in the vibrant array of colours, whilst listening to the rhythmic sounds of the rustling of the leaves interwoven with the sweet singing of the birds.  For me, being in the garden was the tonic I needed.  

What I didn’t know at this time, was I experiencing mindfulness moments – the ability to be present in the ‘here and now’ in an accepting, and non-judgmental way.

 

The healthy impact of gardening and mindfulness

When we have healthy cortisol, it can control our blood sugar levels, therefore regulating our metabolism, acting as an anti-inflammatory, influencing memory formation, controlling salt water balance, influencing blood pressure, and the immune system too.  One of the impacts of stress is increased cortisol levels and this can have negative effects on your health and well-being, causing rapid weight gain, high blood pressure, muscle weakness, mood swings (such as anxiety, depression or irritability), to name a few.

Studies into mindfulness show how it can be used to counter-balance the harmful effects of stress.  In fact, a study in 2013 demonstrated that mindfulness lowered the cortisol levels in the blood suggesting it can lower stress, and it may decrease the risk of diseases that arise from stress.

When it comes to gardening, a study in 2020 demonstrated that over the course of a year, the number participants that displayed healthy cortisol levels grew from 24% to 53%.  

 

Mindful Gardening

Now we are stepping into summer, this can be a symbolic time which can represent growth, warmth, adventure, nourishment, vitality and fun, and can be the perfect time to practice mindfulness.

All you need to do, is pause, and tune into your senses as way with engaging with the present moment.  If you wish, you can set a tone to observe what is unfolding with interest and curiosity.

Hearing:  Gently allow the spotlight of your awareness to float from sound to sound.  Can you hear children playing in their gardens, or the sound of a lawnmower cutting grass?  Does you awareness drift to cars driving by, or the birds singing in the trees, or the rustling of leaves?

Sight:  Now allow the spotlight of awareness to move to what you can see.  You might wish to pick a plant or flower.  As you zoom in your awareness, what do you notice about the shape of the stem, the leaf, and the flower?  Do the leaves have veins?  What do you notice about the contrast of colour between the leaf and its vein?  Is the stem the same colour or is it different?  What about the colour of the flower?  Are there shades of colour you haven’t noticed before?

Smell:  As you hold your plant or flower, what do you smell?  How far away do you need to hold it before you can smell it?  Do the various parts of the plant or flower have different smells, or is the fragrance constant?  If you were to rub a leaf between your fingers, would you be aware of a different smell?

Touch:  Now shine your awareness onto the sense of touch.  Is the texture of the plant or flower the same all over, or does it change when you hold the stem, or a petal?  What about if you bring your hands to the soil, what do you notice then?  Is the soil warm or cold?  Does it feel dry or moist?  Now switch your awareness from your hands to your feet.  Can you feel the ground against your feet?  Does moving your awareness from your hands to your feet change your experience?

 

Throughout the practice, you will find your mind will wander to thoughts, feelings, stories, memories and emotions and all of these things will be part of the backdrop to your experience.  But if you feel distracted, pause again and then come back to you tuning into your senses. 

 

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