In the fourth week of lockdown, we present the third instalment in our indoor activities with plants series. Make sure you check out our guides on re-potting and propagating plants, if you missed them!
Practising mindfulness with plants, or through active plant care, is one way we can nurture our wellbeing through nature. This blog will help you understand what we mean by mindfulness, why it’s so beneficial, and how plants can help cultivate a calmer mental state.
What is mindfulness?
With so many books, apps and seminars dedicated to the subject, mindfulness might seem daunting, but at its core it's very simple. Mindfulness is about being in the present moment and relaxing your head.
Our minds are constantly flitting between different stresses, anxieties and preoccupations. We may think we’re having a conversation, getting some work done or reading a book, but our thoughts have split off in a number of other directions. We're running through lists of things we need to do; things we haven't done and things we'd rather be doing, so while we're physically in one place, our minds are elsewhere. This not only affects our ability to complete tasks, it impacts our relationships, our careers and the degree to which we enjoy life.
When we learn to master our thoughts, we become better at directing and focusing our attention. So, while it may feel like practising mindfulness might seem indulgent, in the long run it can actually make you use your time more efficiently (and more enjoyably!).
Mindfulness can also help you cope with low-level anxiety and depression.
When we’re able to move flexibly between thoughts, we are more likely to identify destructive patterns, and separate maladaptive ideas from reality and our sense of self.
How to practice mindfulness
There are many ways to practice mindfulness and you shouldn’t be overly concerned about whether you’re doing it ‘right,’ as long as you feel you’re working towards a calmer state of mind.
You might set aside time to sit and focus solely on slowing down your mind, as you would prepare for meditation.
If you wish to start here, we recommend finding a place where you feel comfortable and free from judgment. Find a comfortable seated position, and set an alarm for five minutes (you can increase this as you go).
Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes and turn your attention inward; observe your breath; sensations in your body and the thoughts you’re having in the current moment.
Gradually, and without effort, let these thoughts fall away and let your internal monologue fall away.
Mindfulness with everyday activities
Some people find the above activity either too daunting a task, or not for them at all.
If meditation isn’t your bag, you may find that you can calm your mind most effectively when you’re doing everyday activities, like washing up, ironing or vacuuming.
Routine tasks, like those above, require little of our attention which means our minds tend to wander. A second route to mindfulness would have you turn your attention solely to the task at hand, fully immersing yourself in the present moment and letting competing thoughts slide away from your consciousness.
Take, for example, a routine task like making a cup of coffee. To perform this activity mindfully, you would attend to every aspect of the experience, without analysing it or departing into your thoughts: you might focus on the weight of the coffee in your hand; the smell as you open the bag and the sound of the grinds falling into the french press - etc.
How to practice mindfulness with houseplants
Houseplants can - and should! - be integrated into either approach to mindfulness.
Simply being in an environment rich with nature helps ease stress levels and relax overstimulated minds (read more about the benefits of plants here). As such, creating a plant nook, or filling a whole room with plants will help ease you into a mindful meditation. Environmental signals like this have been used for millennia to great effect, with the intention of most Buddhist meditation to be at one with nature and the universe.
Integrating mindfulness with active plant care is another small way of effecting big changes to your mental wellbeing. As with making a cup of coffee, the idea is to focus solely on the act of looking after your plants and bring your awareness to the present moment.
If you'd like some extra pointers, use these suggestions to start with:
- Put your phone and other screens aside.
- Turn your attention to the plant's foliage, form and colour - first using your eyes, then using your hands.
- Press your fingers into your plant's soil, working out what it needs from you with your senses alone.
- Take a long, slow, deep breath, and connect with the relative stillness of the plant(s) before you.
- Minutely inspect your plants foliage, taking a cloth to wipe away any dust and turning your plant so it absorbs light slightly differently.
- Remove each plant from its decorative pot and slowly pour water into each planter, listening to the sound of water sink into soil; observing the soil darken and change in texture.
- As you complete these activities, silently state an intention for your plant and/or for yourself. For example 'take in this nourishment, grow well and be healthy.'