Mindfulness Supports a Holistic Approach to Life.
As 2020 comes to an end, our stress level as a nation is palpable. According to the American Psychological Association report: Stress in America 2020, Americans are feeling significantly higher levels of stress compared to last year. COVID-19 is the leading source of this increase. Young adults are most at risk and will contend with the mental health consequences for years to come. The APA goes on to predict a nation-wide mental health crisis will follow this pandemic.
The field of horticultural therapy is adept in treating stress-related illness (HT and Mindfulness). In our profession, we witness first-hand, the harmful effects of stress on the human body, mind, and spirit. Inviting mindfulness into the practice of HT will support therapeutic outcomes and cultivate an environment of empathy and trust. Living mindfully will benefit personal relationships as well.
The practices of mindfulness and meditation are time honored and quite efficient in producing a pathway to wellness. The only catch is…it not so easy. Commitment to the practice is necessary to elicit true, positive, and lasting change. To complicate things more, choosing the right practice for you will take a bit of effort and some patience. However, benefits you receive from cultivating mindfulness will be worth your efforts.
“My working definition of Mindfulness is the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment, non-judgmentally”.
~ Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction
Mindfulness vs Meditation
It is important to make the distinction between mindfulness and meditation. They are very closely related but not one-in-the-same. Mindfulness is a quality of life, while meditation is a formal practice. You can practice mindfulness without meditation, but meditation does rely on being mindful. One of the incredible benefits of mindfulness and meditation is both practices enhance neuroplasticity in the brain. Research studies conducted, before and after an 8-week course in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), showed increased grey matter in the left hippocampus (learning & memory center) and a positive change in white matter (emotional regulation and self-awareness). Furthermore, the amygdala (your fear center) experienced decreased functional activity to emotionally charged stimuli. Participants reported a sharper focus, improved cognitive function and stronger personal relationships upon completion of the 8-week course.
Mindfulness is a wonderful self-care tool because you can personalize your practice. It can be tailored in ways that appeal to you. John Kabat-Zinn is the founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. His work has contributed to the growing movement of mindfulness into the mainstream of our society.
An attractive aspect of mindfulness is it can be practiced formally or informally, while you are sitting quietly or in a room full of activity. There are several different ways to learn mindfulness techniques. 8-week long courses are available with a synchronous or asynchronous virtual format. Local health care centers and community centers will also offer classes. Depending upon your dedication, it is possible to learn this stress relieving method from a book, an app, or YouTube videos.
Yoga and Tai Chi–
Most likely you are acquainted with these ancient practices that will strengthen your body and bring clarity of mind while using mindful breathing and awareness techniques. There are many on-line yoga sites to choose from, enabling you to build a practice in your own home and at your own pace.
Using mindful breathing and awareness exercises can be done most anywhere, at any time. With a bit of practice, it can be done anonymously with 1-, 2-, and 3-minute mini-relaxation exercises. Even if you spend just one minute in a mindful activity, you will realize the amazing benefits of this self-care micro-habit.
Forest Bathing is the practice of spending time in the forest to enhance health and wellness. Many cultures throughout the world engage in forest bathing, both formally and informally, to reduce the influence of stress in life. A certified guide will lead you through a 3- hour session where you will use mindfulness methods and awareness techniques to tap into the healing power of nature. Depending upon your location, either virtual or in-person sessions are offered.
One anomaly of living through this pandemic is “staying in”. Many of us, like it or not, are cooking most every meal at home these days. Why not make it enjoyable? This is the perfect opportunity to engage in mindful eating. Taking your time, experiencing each flavor, each texture and appreciate each bite. There is a specific method to mindful eating that will help to assimilate mindfulness into daily life.
Mindfulness in the workplace
Today, large corporations, health care practices, schools, professional sport teams and prison systems throughout the country are adopting mindfulness to improve the workplace environment. Engaging in mindfulness activities has been proven to enhance collaboration, produce a higher quality work ethic, and improve work-place relationships.
Most anywhere practicing mindfulness can be successful but there is one place where it is most favorable… within the garden. Horticultural therapy and therapeutic horticulture integrate beautifully with mindfulness. We have learned from ART, Attention Restoration Theory, that once you enter a garden environment you experience an involuntary physiological change. A heightened fight or flight response is instinctively diminished and replaced by the rest and relax response. HT and TH make use of this physiological change as a foundation on which to build therapeutic engagement and improve the health and wellness of all who participate. The benefit of introducing mindfulness into your HT or TH program provide your participants with yet another tool to use for cultivating wellness and self-care.
Mindfulness & HT: Symbiotic Relationship
HTI graduate Todd Snyder HTR Mindfulness in the Garden, conducts horticultural therapy programs for those confronting eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorders in residential treatment centers in Wisconsin and previously in the Greater Boston area. “For many, the garden is a place of novel experiences and discoveries that elicit one’s attention, pulling them “out of their heads”. This pulling of attention can temporarily “unhook” or “defuse” one from the ruminations about the past and worries about the future that, if not done, so often lead to unsuccessful attempts to think their way out of the related negative thoughts, emotions and somatic experiences. This is wonderful for all involved, including the therapist, as they see this impact in the moment. Todd goes on to say, “ The natural draw of the garden and therapeutic nature of gardening make for an ideal environment in which to learn and practice mindfulness which has the potential to improve efficacy of more traditional therapy approaches outside of the garden. It is experiential learning at its best”. Read more about Todd’s mindful approach to HT here.
The Insight Garden Program uses an innovative approach of “inner gardener” and “outer gardener” to transform the lives of incarcerated individuals through a connection with nature. Calliope Corriea HTR and HTI graduate, is an IGP manager at Avenal State Prison in California. She has been involved with this program since 2017. “Each garden created has an intentional space for meditation, whether it be an elaborate lavender labyrinth or a circle to stand in. We open each class with a meditation, a space to be mindful and to “transition” from the prison space to the garden space. In the beginning, the facilitators lead the meditations, practicing breath and using the time to notice our bodies, how we come to the class. We take the time to notice and to be mindful of what we are experiencing and to let go of any negativity”.
“Sometimes we do mindful, silent walks through the garden, taking the time and focus to look at what is blooming, who is visiting the garden, how do the flowers make us feel? Touching the flowers, smelling them, noticing their colors, textures, scents. We each pick a flower, bring it to the circle and share what it means to us.” Calliope has observed amazing transformations with program participants noticing how mindfulness can produce a sense of escape and tranquility. “The practice of being mindful of the moment, our bodies, and how we share a space inside an environment like prison is especially meaningful. It can offer a sense of freedom, of being a part of something beyond the fences and gates, connecting on a spiritual level to the earth, the world, outside of the prison walls”.
The time-honored practice of mindfulness, used as a therapeutic modality, has been successful in treating a myriad of stress related illnesses. Incorporating mindfulness into your HT/TH practice will not only enhance your participants therapeutic outcomes but will teach meaningful skill to diffuse stress in daily life. For the provider, mindfulness will improve attention, focus, and job performance. It will also create an avenue for self-care and balance in your personal life, something that may be lacking during this time of COVID.
Mindfulness is accessible to anyone who is looking to live life more skillfully. Taking time for mindful moments might seem like a huge obstacle right now. Consider creating a self-care micro habit that includes taking one minute for mindfulness each day.
One minute per day may be the best place to start.