Mindfulness in the garden

Gardening can be a calming and mindful experience.

Practicing mindfulness just a short time each day can rewire our brains to react to stress in a more positive and healthful way. Mindfulness is a type of meditation, focusing only on the present time, without judgement of yourself or others, and gently letting your thoughts go, until a later time. Notice your breathing and how your breath feels going into your lungs. Notice your belly as you inhale. Mindful walking is another way of bringing yourself into the present moment and letting go of thoughts that may be unhelpful. Notice your steps as your feet touch the ground. Pay attention to your posture, the movement of your hips, your arms and shoulders. Many movements can be mindful when you use them to focus only on the present movement, and let distracting thoughts go until you are ready to deal with them.

Now that summer is upon us, gardening can also be a very beneficial mindful activity. As you place new plants in your garden, appreciate its beauty and uniqueness and notice your care in finding a perfect place for it. Feel the dirt and other garden debris in the soil as you dig and pat dirt around the new plant. Notice the colors beginning to show in your garden, the perennials leafing out and reaching toward to sky. You are a part of the garden as you work the soil, and the garden experience is a part of your experience in the present moments while you are there. As you practice focusing on yourself in the garden, and what is happening in the garden, you may experience a calm, even joyful feeling being able to spend your time there. This is a form of mindfulness, being in the present with yourself and your surroundings, accepting what is there without judgement of either.

By allowing ourselves enough time to fully engage and be fully present with our gardening, the same relaxing effects occur. The physical effects of mindfulness include a decrease in cortisol, which is a hormone we produce to help us defend ourselves and fight back against whatever is causing stress. When we have a build-up of cortisol, we are quick to react to stressors and less able to think clearly. High levels of cortisol too often over time can also speed up memory loss, dementia and reduce brain cells. Practicing mindfulness trains our brain to react less quickly to stressors, leading to less cortisol affecting our emotions and actions, which in turn can lead to better acceptance of our situations and our environment.

You can begin to practice mindfulness through breathing, movements, and many activities including mindful eating by contacting Michigan State University Extension to see when classes will be held near you.

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