"We often think that to meditate we must be still and in complete quiet, learning to let go of our thoughts out of that basic type of meditation. We've had other things evolve such as guided meditation, and what I call moving meditation," says Dr. Manly. The goal of meditation, she explains, is to let go of worries in the past and anxieties about the future. "When we're involved in something like gardening, we are very much able to, in the meditative sense, let go of our thoughts and be focused in the moment on what we are doing."
Dr. Manly, who is an avid gardener herself, says gardening can be so rewarding is because it allows us to see how we as individuals can make a difference, especially in times like these where life can feel very stagnant.
"Last weekend I planted sunflower seeds," she says. "I'm waiting for them to pop their little heads up, and then I'll be able to see [that] I'm affecting change. I have done something positive. I will get a reward." The new sunflower isn't the only reward, she says. When you engage in something that feels rewarding, Dr. Manly explains that our dopamine and serotonin levels increase, which puts you in a better mood.
And she says that when practicing gardening as meditation, any project big or small can be beneficial.
"For some, having a full garden may actually be stress-inducing," she says. "It may feel like one too many demands when they already have a busy schedule or kids to care for. So the fact that they can keep three herb plants alive on their windows sill may feel like a huge accomplishment."
The positive feedback you get from gardening forges a bond between you and the plants, she explains.
"One of the things that I believe that gardening does for us, whether it's indoors or outdoors, is giving us the opportunity to focus on caring for the self while you're caring for something else," says Dr. Manly. "You have this relationship with the plants—you're watching it grow and plants give lovely reinforcement. Because if we're doing it in a way that's healthy for the plant, giving it enough water and fertilizer, it rewards us by growing."
Gardening as meditation is especially useful if you don't love traditional seated meditation. Instead of forcing yourself to sit and breathe for 15 minutes, which Dr. Manly says can induce even more stress if you feel like you're failing, you have to find what works for you.
"You don't have to do a seated meditation," she says. "If you can get the same de-stressing benefits by walking, by crocheting, by gardening, why not? You don't need to be doing what somebody else is doing."
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