I was outside doing a couple of hours of gardening a few days ago. Whilst I was digging around in the earth of our vegetable beds and doing some much-needed pulling up of weeds, this made me realise something. However I’m feeling when I step out of the door, within a few minutes of pruning, pulling or planting, I feel infinitely better.
Being outside does a number of positive things for me. It makes me feel grounded, connected to the earth and nature. It makes me realise that whatever’s going on ‘out there’ (in the world of work, politics, the media and so on) is really irrelevant. All that matters to me in that moment is that life continues, the world keeps on turning – and so often I forget that this is happening. I don’t take the time to simply exist.
When I do, out there in the wind, sun or rain, (yes I have been known to stubbornly continue weeding in rivers of mud!) I feel a sense of stillness inside. I notice, for the first time in weeks sometimes, the sound of birdsong which is probably always there but I’m usually too busy living inside my head to hear. I observe the uplifting sound of children playing nearby or the distant hum of a tractor in a field. And I start to feel really grateful for a lot of things.
Aside from really ‘discovering’ again the little things which usually pass me by (or rather those things I fail to notice) I leave the garden feeling positive. With a clear head and a sense of achievement, it’s an hours/days work well done. I think that one of the reasons for this is that, to me, gardening is a form of meditation.
What is meditation?
We can all conjure up the image of a serene-looking cross-legged form, eyes closed, sitting straight-backed for hours on end. In our vision of a meditating ‘guru’, this person might even hum a mantra or stare into the flame of a lit candle. Meditation could be these things. It could also be any number of ‘exercises’ designed to train the mind.
One of the key aspects about meditation is that it allows the individual to retain a sense of awareness of the present moment and to treat thoughts as passing, not dwelling too much on them. There are many types and benefits of meditation but ultimately, we can achieve similar advantages by remaining focused on the task at hand and actively engaging with it.
Frequently, because we are used to it, we may do the washing up or go to the gym only to find we are not really thinking about cleaning or running. In actual fact, our minds have wandered to over-think the words someone said to us that day or to run through a ‘to do’ list for completion later in the evening. This makes us disconnected from what we are doing and can create a sense of panic and feeling of continual rushing from one thing to the next.
So what does gardening have to do with this?
When I garden, I try really hard (and it takes constant trying) to focus on exactly what I’m doing as I’m doing it. I also allow other thoughts to come and go while I’m doing this, but am aware if they do enter my head and then try not to dwell on them as I often would.
I use my senses to help me to do this. If there is a particular smell such as cut grass, the perfume of a flower or even manure (!) I use this to draw me back into the present moment. I also listen and try to engage my sense of touch. I feel the breeze on my cheeks, the heat of the sun on my arms, the coolness of rain on my head (until it becomes too heavy and then I just listen to the sound of raindrops on my hood!)
Some people might call this a form of ‘mindfulness’. Whatever you call it, if you crave some inner peace or have heard about meditation but (like me) have found it difficult to ‘do’ in a formal sense, why not think of gardening as a way to a calmer mind.
And if you’re still not convinced, here are some reasons why being outside is good for you (put on those boots…)
- All that hard work digging, bending and squatting is good for your circulation and exercises your heart
- Physical activity in the garden increases your breathing and is a good workout for your lungs
- Gardening is a good past time for toning – go easy though, you may discover muscles you didn’t realise you had!
- Being outside can increase your intake of vitamin D. The UV rays from the sun penetrate through the skin’s layers and activate a chemical called ergosterol which is found in the skin. This converts into vitamin D which is important for healthy bones and can help protect against osteoporosis (a condition which causes bone to break down faster than it is being formed)
- Exposure to natural daylight can increase positivity and positive moods. Serotonin is often thought of as our ‘happy hormone’ and can influence mood amongst other things. Exposure to natural sunlight, even on a cold day, can increase serotonin levels and therefore our ‘feel-good’ factor.
- Researchers in Norway found that participants with moderate-severe depression who participated in a horticultural program discovered their symptoms reduced after 12 weeks. It is thought that one reason may have been that the focus on gardening served as a distraction to thoughts associated with depression.
- According to the University of Pittsburgh, exposure to natural light may help the physical healing process (spinal surgery patients in 2005 experienced less pain and stress and took fewer pain-relief medications post-operation when the outside was in view)
No garden? Try these suggestions:
- Join a community garden scheme. Visit www.farmgarden.org.uk for more information or to find a scheme near you.
- Create a balcony garden if you live in a flat on the first floor or above.
- If space is limited, enjoy the benefits of growing by designing a potted garden using troughs and tubs. Easy weeding and you can change the contents to suit the season with minimal fuss.
- Garden share with a neighbour- you may live near someone for whom the size of their garden is too much or they may simply not have time to tend to the plot. Why not ask them if they need a helping hand in exchange for your own area to cultivate?
- Garden FOR a neighbour. If you live near someone who is elderly, has mobility difficulties or is simply not a keen gardener, your could offer your services to help them out.