Watch, now, how I start the day: a note on self-guided mindfulness by Dr. Jessica Hancock

This entry to the Kruckeberg Garden Blog was written by Jessica Hancock ND. Jessica is a naturopathic physician (www.mapleleafnaturopathy.com) and co-teacher at Mindful in the Wild (mindfulinthewild.com). She utilizes mindful healing approaches in her private practice as well as in her monthly Mindfulness in the Garden workshop here at Kruckeberg Botanic Garden. 

I know that the cancellation of public events and the call for social distancing can be challenging and even make us feel alone and isolated.  I want to encourage you to remember that in these challenging times, nature can be a supportive ally. Despite our class not gathering, I want to offer some guidance on ways you can tap into the deeper sense of connection and support that the natural world offers.  And, I encourage you in coming weeks to take regular visits to Kruckeberg Botanic Garden (open Friday through Sunday, 10am-5pm) or other local parks near you for continued support.

Nature is an excellent prescription to deal with some of the stressors around the current news and events!  Research studies have demonstrated that time in nature balances our nervous system and decreases ruminating thoughts, depression and anxiety while increasing our overall sense of calm  In addition, research shows that spending time in nature actually increases our immune function.  For example, spending time in an area with forest canopy increases white blood cell count allowing us to better fight infections!

Tips for a mindful walk in Kruckeberg Botanic Garden

First and foremost, turn off your technology.  Silence your phone to avoid any distractions.  Let your sense of wonder and curiosity lead you as you embark on your mindful walk.  As you slowly stroll through the garden, you might imagine seeing and experiencing everything as if for the very first time.  Invite a childlike sense of joy as well.  It is normal to have distracting thoughts arise.  As they do, see if you can notice them and bring your attention back to something in the natural world around you.  Simply let nature be your guide.

Connect with your senses

Focus on your sense of sight:  Notice what draws attention to your field of vision. Perhaps you are drawn to motion: branches moving in the wind, a bird flitting from branch to branch, light flowing in through the canopy, or clouds moving in the sky.  Simply notice what you are drawn to and pause for several minutes to really experience it.

Then bring your awareness to your sense of sound:  See what sounds your attention is drawn to. You can practice focusing on sounds that are close by and then extending your awareness to sounds that are more distant.   Listen for bird songs or the sound that branches make blowing in the wind. Perhaps you might pause by the pond and simply listen to the trickle of the stream.  Pay attention to what shifts within you as you focus on listening to the sounds of the garden.

Bring your awareness to your sense of touch:   As you walk through the garden, notice what calls to you to be explored through touch.  Perhaps you might notice and explore the array of bark textures.  Take time to just make contact with the bark of the tree and notice the effect it has on you. Research demonstrates that touching bark for 90 seconds can lower heart rate and promote a sense of calm. The native demonstration garden at Kruckeberg also has a variety of textures to explore from soft smooth leaves and moss to prickly leaves and rougher textures.  Have fun exploring!

Breathe with the trees

The larch and conifer grove at Kruckeberg has a wonderful variety of evergreen trees to spend some time with.  Through our breathing  we have a reciprocal relationship with trees.  As we inhale, we breathe in oxygen created by the trees and plant life around us. When we exhale, we secrete carbon dioxide, which the trees and plants need for their energetic processes.  In addition to oxygen, trees secrete into the atmosphere a healing elixir composed of phytochemicals that interact with our immune system in very significant ways.

Perhaps you can pause in the conifer grove.  Take a moment to simply breathe with the trees.  As you inhale slowly, imagine your lungs and skin opening up to the gifts of the trees.  As you exhale slowly, release your breath, providing carbon dioxide to the trees.  Inhaling, offer gratitude for the gifts you are receiving from the plant life around you. As you exhale, offer your gifts back to the plants.  Really connect with this deep relationship we have with all of life around us.

Connect with a Sit Spot

As you walk through the garden, consider taking 10-20 minutes to sit in one place that you are drawn to.  Take time to notice all that is around you, incorporating all of your senses.  This is a nice practice to close your mindful walk. You can reflect on the meaningful moments you had on your walk and what intentions or memories you would like to take with you as you leave the garden.  Perhaps you can re-visit your sit spot regularly, seeing how it shifts and changes over time.

Gratitude

In times of uncertainty it can be helpful to pause and make space for all that you might be grateful for and in all the ways that you are supported.  Spring brings so much to be thankful for: the return of the songbirds in the morning, blossoms and buds bursting from trees, the return of longer days.  As you see signs of spring in the garden and the world around you, perhaps offer up a pause of gratitude for just noticing these special moments.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Spring poems by Mary Oliver that celebrates the return of the light and sun.

Why I Wake Early, by Mary Oliver

Hello, sun in my face.

Hello, you who make the morning

and spread it over the fields

and into the faces of the tulips

and the nodding morning glories,

and into the windows of, even, the

miserable and crotchety–

best preacher that ever was,

dear star, that just happens

to be where you are in the universe

to keep us from ever-darkness,

to ease us with warm touching,

to hold us in the great hands of light–

good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day

in happiness, in kindness.

May these exercises offer some guidance as to ways you can continue to find support in these challenging times.  Despite the difficulties we may be experiencing, time in the natural world can be a salve for our souls.  With the return of longer days and light, I hope you find more time to get outside and experience the wonder and healing potential of the natural world.

2020-03-18T14:53:00+00:00March 18th, 2020|