Gardening for Mindfulness

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In these strange times forced on us all by the Covid-19 pandemic many of us are experiencing increased anxiety, fear and general unease. It is hardly surprising given that we are facing a daily bombardment with the numbers of those who have died from the virus; many people are alone and their normal support systems have been taken away due to the need for social distancing. Even those who remain well are missing family and friends and the freedom that usually comes from being able to make an on-the-spot decision to ‘pop to the shops’ or nip out to a café for a coffee with friends. Even though we are now allowed outside for exercise more the stress can still feel overwhelming.

There is now a very large body of scientific evidence that proves that gardens, gardening and simply spending time outdoors are good for our mental, physical and social wellbeing. I can speak from personal experience in that there have been days when I have felt tearful or actual wept for no apparent reason, or felt an unexplained anxiety. 

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I like many, am missing seeing my family and especially my baby grandson, whose milestones like crawling and learning to walk I am missing out on. What has made me feel better is spending time in my garden, or at my allotment (I realise that am extremely lucky to have these). Time spent on simple tasks such as weeding or sowing seeds, or just enjoying what is growing always makes me feel better.

Many people believe that we are so busy planning or hoping for the future, or dwelling on the past that we forget to enjoy the present and live our lives to the full. Mindfulness is a simple way of helping us do this and whilst at the same time giving our brain a rest and relieving stress and anxiety. We don’t have to learn chants or meditate for a long time. We can easily learn to incorporate it into our daily lives, and one of the best places to do that is in a garden or outdoors in nature.

The Royal Horticultural Society have just published a book: ‘Gardening for Mindfulness’ which sets out in very simple terms what Mindfulness is all about and how gardening in a mindful way can help relieve the stresses and strains of everyday like.[1]

The book suggests a simple exercise as an introduction to Mindfulness and a way of just taking a few moments to stop and settle the mind.

Exercise: the study of a flower

  • Choose a flower: ideally a flower still on a living plant, indoors or out.
  • Find somewhere to sit, where you can be comfortable and not interrupted for at least five minutes.
  • Take a few deep breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth. Notice wher your body touches the seat. Concentrate on your breath and then gradually turn your attention to the flower.
  • What do you see? Colour – does it change in different parts of the flower, does light and shade affect it?
  • Is there movement in the breeze? Can the other senses become engaged – is there a smell, or sounds as an insect moves around the flower? Is the texture smooth or velvety.
  • How is the flower held on the stem? Upright, drooping, nodding?
  • Is there anything else that you notice?
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Take as long as you like for this exercise. If at any point you find yourself becoming distracted – your thoughts have wandered off – do not berate yourself. It is natural. Instead, bring your focus back to the flower and continue. By the end, you will feel that you have really seen the flower – something you may never have done before.

Look around you and find your own examples. Don’t neglect weeds – they can have beautiful flowers too.

Enjoy making some time for yourself – and relax!

Anita Gracie

Development Officer, Octopus Community Network

 

[1] Holly Farrell, Gardening for Mindfulness, RHS, 2017.