My garden has become a medium for improving my health, increasing positivity and happiness, and learning lessons in self-awareness. Gardening helps me to evolve on all levels—physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. You can profit in similar ways from many different types of physical activity, however holding them with mindfulness and awareness adds much more to the mix.
In the garden, I am in motion—walking, bending, twisting, digging, shoveling, raking, all very carefully and in moderation. Fresh air is coursing through my system, heart throbbing, blood percolating along bringing oxygen and nutrients to tissues, reaching into congested areas, sweat pouring gently releasing toxins. A body needs all this!
Gardening is an especially judicious choice of exercise as it involves all three types of physical endeavor: flexibility, strength, and endurance. According to the Mayo Clinic, regular physical activity reduces the risk of a range of chronic conditions including:
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- harmful cholesterol levels,
- Type 2 diabetes,
- some types of cancer.
Physicality promotes better sleep and boosts your energy level. Sensible sun exposure increases Vitamin D levels, critical to immune function. Gardening itself can be an important element in any weight loss program as it burns 300-600 calories per hour. I love digging in the dirt with my bare hands. This stimulates the acupuncture points and draws in subtle earth energy, a needed balance in our mentally over-focused culture. Just being surrounded by nature and in contact with the earth—even with gloves—can help balance the earth element in your body.
Gardening perks up my mindfulness and awareness. In order to avoid injuring myself, which is a serious consideration given the status of my muscles, I need to listen to my body, tune into its physical capacity, be aware of its limits, and find ways to work wisely. This includes changing positions every so often, alternating the side of the body I am using to avoid repetitive muscle strain, alternating the types of garden work in any one session so I am not constantly using the same muscle groups, and lifting properly or asking for help. I recently made the mistake of focusing on one task far too long and ended up with exquisitely sore muscles for two full days. Gardening can be almost like a dance—keeping the body flowing and in motion rather than stuck in one position.
The bounty from my efforts is loaded with vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, and other beneficial compounds, and is grown without the use of pesticides or other chemicals. Organically grown produce contains triple or quadruple the amount of nutrients. By eating according to the seasons and my geographical location, I am adapting to nature instead of trying to bend it to my will and preferences.
Stress reducer and happiness instigator
It’s well know that any type of regular physical activity is a stress reducer. The extra oxygen going to your brain releases chemicals, which help to bring about an overall feeling of relaxation, happiness, and sense of well being. Gardening in particular places you in a beautiful, nourishing atmosphere teeming with life, colors, and textures. All your worries and distractions can melt away, as you focus upon the physical activities at hand. There’s also the wonderful sense of pure joy and accomplishment that comes as you watch your seeds burst forth from the ground and gradually gain full maturity.
A mirror of self awareness
Any activity can reveal your unhelpful habitual patterns when you take a moment to look. A tendency to push my limits, over-concentrate, and work without taking breaks all manifest in the garden. It is these lifelong counterproductive habits, ones that contribute to ill health, that I am seeking to eradicate. The garden is both a mirror reflecting these tired patterns and an opportunity to reject them and function in an entirely new way.
A spiritual boon
Gardening is a terrific form of mindfulness practice. I breathe out, relax, leave my senses wide open, and simply stay present and aware with the task at hand, while leaving my mind resting spaciously as well. When thoughts and emotions arise, as best I can, I let them pass by like clouds in the sky instead of chasing after them.
Gardening also imparts many profound spiritual lessons. For example, I am always amazed by the magnificent job the worms accomplish in my compost pile. All those solid forms magically disappear. Observing the process is like watching life, death, and transformation as it occurs. I can’t help but realize that one day the elements of this body too will dissolve. It’s a tremendous reminder of impermanence and the preciousness of this human life. The truth of impermanence is an impetus to set my priorities intelligently, live this life well, and love others without limits.
Any physical activity can be either an extension of our personal neurotic style or a wellspring of learning. The choice is up to you.
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