Posted in lifestyle, meditation, Mindfulness, Planning and journaling, wellbeing

Monday Matters: 5 easy ways to focus on being grateful

Photo credit: Gabrielle Henderson for Unsplash

Research shows that practising gratitude is great for your mental and physical health. Being thankful helps you be more optimistic, accepting and happy. It can even reduce some of the physical symptoms of illness and reduce our stress levels. In today’s Monday Matters post I’m going to share some easy ways in which you can incorporate a daily focus on being grateful for what you have.

What is gratitude?

Gratitude is all about being aware of the good things you have in your life and taking the time to express your appreciation for them. It’s about finding the positives and developing a glass half full attitude. It’s choosing to focus on abundance and how much you have to be grateful for, rather than a feeling of lack or complaint. It’s also about acknowledging the role others play in helping us and being thankful for everything they do.

Gratitude helps us to see what is there instead of what isn’t

Make gratitude meditation part of your daily practise

There are lots of short guided meditations available on YouTube or apps like Calm and Headspace which are really helpful if you are just getting started with meditation – just look for those which focus specifically on gratitude. These are great for developing a relaxed state by focusing on your breathing before inviting you to consider what you are grateful for.

If you are more experienced with meditation, you might create a script that you can follow (this could be written in your bullet journal or typed out and placed next to your bed as a visual reminder). For example:

  • Get yourself into a comfortable position where you are relaxed but purposeful
  • Sit nice and tall like a mountain but keep your shoulders relaxed
  • Close your eyes and breathe
  • Take a moment to focus on your breathing
  • Now change the focus to your body and think about what you have to be grateful for
  • Widen the lens and bring to mind some of the things that you have which make your life easier or bring you great joy
  • Now focus on the people in your life and what they offer you. Silently thank them and feel the love spread through your body.
  • Think for a moment about how all of this gratitude makes you feel. Enjoy the sensations it creates in your body.
  • Finish your practise with some slow and steady breaths before making small movements and when you are ready, open your eyes.

It’s up to you when you want to practise but I find it nice to do first thing in the morning as it sets an intention of being grateful for the rest of the day.

Use affirmations

Writing some personalised gratitude affirmations that you repeat each day is another great way of focusing on all of the positive in your life. These can be quite general and things which we often take for granted e.g. I’m grateful for the clean air I have to breathe. I’m grateful that I have a cosy place to call home. I’m grateful for clean running water to drink and bathe in. I’m grateful for all of the delicious food in my fridge. I’m grateful for all of the opportunities that the modern world presents me with. This would make a lovely spread in your bullet journal and you could change your list each season. In the Summer you can add things like ‘I am grateful for sunny days’, ‘I am grateful for cold drinks when I’m feeling hot’ etc. In Winter time, ‘I’m grateful for my cosy pyjamas to keep me warm’, I’m grateful that we have central heating in our house’ etc.

Start a gratitude jar

I haven’t tried this one myself but the idea really appeals. You can choose any jar and you could even decorate it to show its purpose. It should be placed in a prominent place somewhere in your house (this might be a communal area if you want others to contribute to it as well) with paper and pens beside it. Each day (or most days), try to find something you are grateful for, write it on a slip of paper and place it inside. On days when you need a little pick me up, take some of the notes out and read them to remind yourself of what you have. You could also set a date in your diary or bullet journal to empty the jar out to see all of the loveliness inside.

Create a gratitude spread in your bullet journal

A few years ago, I created this wonderful sunshine gratitude spread and added to it during the weeks of December. I found it in one of my old bullet journals and have really enjoyed sitting and reading each of the things I had brought to mind. Many of them still stand today. I recall drawing the semi-circle by hand and adding the rays with a ruler to create the 19 sections. The centre of the sun is shading with coloured pencil and for the rest I used watercolour pencils as I didn’t have my paint sets then. There are so many different things you could focus on such as everyday things like your morning cup of coffee or your car to take you to different places. You can also think about people in your life who help you, for example your doctor who listens carefully and offers you appropriate treatment or your friend who provides a listening ear. You can even consider your own qualities and how they help you in your day-to-day life e.g. lots of patience with your children or your ability to be assertive when speaking to your boss at work.

Use gratitude prompts to evaluate your week

At the end of a busy week, it’s lovely to sit down and do some quiet reflection on all that you have to be grateful for. You can find a huge array of gratitude prompts on Pinterest -I’ve collected lots on this board so feel free to follow it if you need some ideas. You can either use them for journaling or to just focus your mind and thoughts. Here’s a few to get you started:

  • What challenge have you overcome and what helped you to face or overcome it?
  • What has been your favourite meal or snack over the course of the week?
  • Who have you felt inspired by?
  • What or who made you smile?
  • Think of a gadget in your home that has helped make something quicker or easier this week.
  • What is your main highlight?

You can also focus on your past experiences too:

  • Name a trip out that you’ve thoroughly enjoyed this year.
  • Think about one of your best memories from childhood.
  • Reminisce about one of your favourite holidays (vacations).
  • Recall something that you have made that you were really pleased with.
  • Think about something you have achieved in your life and consider your personal attributes which made you successful.
  • Recall one of the best gifts you have ever received and think about why.

That’s all of my tips for today. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them and that they are helpful in instilling gratitude in your life. Remember that even if you are having a tough time right now, there’s always something to be grateful for. You might have to dig deep to bring something to mind, but, by taking the time to reflect, you will be able to pick out some positives and this will help to improve your mood.

Posted in lifestyle, meditation, Mindfulness, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: 10 practical tips for starting an effective daily meditation practice

This month, I decided to implement a daily meditation routine and have spent some time researching how to get the most out my mindful minutes and encourage consistency. Today’s Monday Matters post shares some tips on creating an effective daily practise and how the different types of meditation can have a positive impact on your life.

Photo credit: Ben White for Unsplash

Why meditate?

Research has shown that there are a huge number of benefits of regular meditation for mind and body. Some of the main positives are:

  • Improves your self esteem and confidence and increases your levels of optimism
  • Helps you sleep better
  • Can make you more productive
  • Improves your brain function
  • Helps you appreciate your life more
  • Increases your attention span
  • Provides a sense of calm, peace and balance
  • Reduces pain and improves the immune system
  • Makes you feel more energetic, creative and spontaneous
  • Helps to control your thoughts
  • Decreases depression and anxiety
  • Reduces cravings such as for junk food, alcohol and cigarettes
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Increases compassion towards yourself and others

but there are many more and once you start to fit meditation in your life, you will soon reap the rewards.

How can I fit meditation into my busy life?

When I attended a mindfulness class through wellbeing services a few years back, everyone talked about how wonderfully calm and relaxed they felt after each meditation. Yet, when asked if they’d used the CD full of mindful practises at home over the rest of the week, most of the participants said that they didn’t have time! However, with the benefits listed above, surely taking ten minutes each day to meditate is worth fitting in to your schedule? I bet if I’d asked the attendees if they’d had time to mindlessly scroll through social media for half hour they would offer a different response. Hopefully the following tips will help to commit more easily.

10 tips for starting a daily meditation practise

  1. Start small Like with any new habit, it’s best to start small and create a mini goal to work towards such as to meditate for a few minutes each day. There are plenty of 5 minute meditations on YouTube to choose from and a variety of different apps which offer free trials.
  2. Make it a routine There are some things you do automatically every day without thinking e.g. brushing your teeth, taking your mediation, applying your make up etc. These tasks have become a routine and you can easily add meditation to this list too. I recommend choosing a set time and sticking to it. I like to do mine first thing in the morning before I start work and then I can be sure it doesn’t get bumped off my to-do list. You could choose last thing before bed if you want to get all relaxed ready for sleep. Find out more about the science and practice of creating habits here.
  3. Choose a comfortable place Where you meditate is up to you but try to pick a place where you will not be distracted and feel at ease (not too relaxed that you begin to feel sleepy though!). You can sit in a comfortable chair, curled up on your sofa, on a cushion cross-legged on the floor or even lie on your bed. You can also use props such as a cushion, bolster or blanket to help you get nice and snug.
  4. Try out different meditations to help you with different aspects of your life There are so many kinds of meditations available – breathing, gratitude, compassion, confidence, focus etc. Think about what you’d most like to instil in your life right now and work from there.
  5. Use guided meditations at first When I first tried meditation a fair few years ago, I used to think it was all about just sitting their cross legged and completely emptying your mind. I used to get really frustrated and eventually decided it was impossible and wasn’t for me. Now I use the audio tracks from the class I attended as well as the Calm app and short guided sessions on FitBit premium. I have a free trial for both apps and I particularly love using my FitBit app as it logs all of my sessions for me so I can check my progress and how consistent I’m being.
  6. Journal about your experiences Take time to reflect on your practice, what went well, what you struggled with, how you felt during and after, if you came up with excuses to miss your session and why this might have happened etc. If you felt really relaxed, it helped you have a more productive day or you enjoyed a wonderful night’s sleep, celebrate your achievements and use them to motivate you to continue. If you found it really difficult to switch off and ended up feeling really frustrated, think about what you could do differently next time or accept that it is all part of the learning process and it will become easier with time. Or, if you forgot to do your daily meditation this time, how could you make sure you stick with it? Could you set an alarm or get a reminder from the app you are trying out? Might you attach the practise to another of your daily routines e.g. do your session straight after your morning cup of coffee?
  7. Remember repetitive activities can be meditative too If you find you’re struggling with just sitting and meditating, remember meditation is all about attention and awareness and you might find that doing a mindful activity such as colouring in is much easier for you. I wrote a post full of ideas earlier this year which you can find here. Movement meditations are also an option such as tai chi, yoga or mindful walking.
  8. Be kind to yourself Remember to treat yourself with compassion as you develop your practice. Accept that it might not be easy at first and that your mind will keep wandering. Know that it’s okay to find it difficult and you’re not doing it wrong (try not to judge yourself). Just bring your mind gently and kindly back to your breathe and start again.
  9. Apply your mindful practice to other activities Meditation is all about focus and so is a kind of mindfulness that can be applied throughout your day. For example, when you shower, really concentrate on what you’re doing and how it feels, use your senses to immerse your thoughts in your experience – inhale the scent of your shower gel, observe the water running down your tiles or the screen, listen to the sounds the water makes as it hits the bath or the shower tray. You can even get into a meditative state as you do your daily chores as I explained in this blog post.
  10. Use a habit tracker (but keep it simple) If you’re a bullet keen bullet journalist like me, you probably know all about habit trackers and have seen many examples on Instagram and Pinterest. Habit trackers are great for monitoring your progress and consistency and keeping you motivated. However, if you add too many habits, the filling in process can become an onerous task and you are likely to get sick of colouring in boxes, adding dots, ticks or crosses. I recommend tracking a very small number of habits and only choosing one or two new ones to focus on and selecting other things that you want to become more consistent with.

So that’s it, lots of reasons to add meditation to your daily routine and my top 10 practical tips for beginners that will hopefully help you develop a successful meditation habit that you can stick with. Let me know in the comments if starting a daily practice is something you’re interested in and today’s blog post has either given you the motivation to get started. If it has, I hope you are soon on your way to enjoying the benefits for body and mind.

Until next time,

Posted in lifestyle, mental health, Mindfulness, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Introducing Friluftsliv and how to reap the benefits of this popular Norwegian practice

Photo credit: Scott Goodwill for Unsplash

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will know how much I love the great outdoors and how enjoyable I find spending time in nature. It’s really beneficial for my mental health and I try to make getting outside a big part of my daily self care routine. I’m sure most of you have heard of the Danish concept of Hygge (hue-gah) which is loosely translated as a feeling of peaceful cosiness and makes you think of soft and snuggly blankets, a flickering fire or the soft glow of candles. But, you may not have heard of the idea of Friluftsliv, and neither had I until last week. In a nutshell, it’s all about living an outdoorsy life and is a popular practice in Norway, which incidentally is consistently ranked as one of the happiest countries in The World. Today’s Monday Matters introduces you to Friluftsliv and considers some ways in which you can adopt its principles into your life wherever you may live.

The term Friluftsliv, which is apparently pronounced free-loofts-liv, was coined by writer Henrik Ibsen back in 1859 and is made up of the Norwegian words for free, air and life and can loosely be translated as open-air living. Although it might be difficult to remember the name, the concept is luckily a lot easier to grasp. Not only is Friluftsliv about spending time outdoors, it’s also about being mindful of our personal experiences, feeling a connection with the natural world and appreciating all that it has to offer no matter what the season or what the weather brings. The benefits of all three of these have been widely studied and are known to be wonderful for our physical and mental wellbeing.

Having been mainly stuck inside for most of our time due to lockdown restrictions, many of us are now experiencing a strong desire to go out on long walks, sit in the sunshine and enjoy the fresh air of our outdoor spaces both near and far in any way we can. Now that we can drive to a range of locations and facilities in parks and other green spaces are starting to open up, it’s becoming a little easier to relax and enjoy nature. Obviously, we still have to be aware of others and stick with the social distancing recommendation of two metres where possible but we are able to find moments of peace and quiet now.

Photo credit: Toomas Tartes for Unsplash

You might not have immediate access to fjords, mountains and rural hideouts but we can all incorporate elements of Friluftsliv in our lives and feel its rejuvenating effects. Here are some ideas that you might like to try:

Find out what your local area has on offer

If you type in search terms such as ‘nature reserves’ or ‘places to walk’ and the name of your local area into Google you should be able to find lots of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. I started by search in Tyne And Wear and then expanded to the whole of the North East of England and wrote down a range of ideas in my bullet journal. Some of the places we have been to many times before, whilst others might be good for the future. I just wrote the name down for now but will of course need to check out any facilities and if they are currently open as there are still social distancing measures in place.

Be in the moment

One of the key elements of Friluftsliv is mindfulness and there are so many benefits of being in the moment and forgetting all about the stresses and strains of modern day life. As you enjoy your chosen outdoor space, try bringing your attention to your breathing, noticing the sensations as you inhale and exhale, thinking about the processes involved and the key part that trees play. Next, explore your immediate environment using your senses. Maybe you can hear birdsong or trickling water, perhaps you can feel a gentle breeze ruffling your hair or the smell of damp leaves. Really take the time to appreciate all that nature has to offer us. Perhaps find a spot to sit to a while and observe all of the different colours. Maybe you will have the chance to watch different birds and animals as they go about their daily lives. You might like to try going back to this same location at different times of year and noticing changes in the seasons. As you really concentrate on what is happening right now, you’re likely to be filled with a sense of calm and peacefulness. Just let it wash over you and enjoy the simple pleasures of life.

Photo credit: Kalen Emsley for Unsplash

All weather experiences

The UK has very changeable weather and you never know quite what to expect. It’s approaching the end of July and as I write this it is raining really heavily. You might think that it’s ‘stopping in’ weather and you could describe it as ‘a miserable day’ but as long as you dress appropriately, a nice walk can really help to lift the spirits. I’m not suggesting you take yourself out in the middle of a thunderstorm or a harsh gale, but a little rain, the crunch of snow underfoot in winter or a chilly wind in Spring or Autumn is perfectly fine with the right clothes and accessories. I’ve lost count of how many knitted hats and scarves I have in my drawer and I love wearing them all. I’ve also got plenty of sun hats and caps too to protect myself from The Sun and they’re all chosen for their bright and cheery colours and patterns.

Photo credit: Matt Heaton for Unsplash

Enjoy a nature holiday

As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, our holiday abroad for this year has been postponed until next year but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a nice break here in the UK. We’ve been to some amazing places in the countryside and some of our favourites have been staying in log cabins in forests and woodland. The idea of going camping (or glamping) also really appeals as I love the idea of being surrounded by nature. There are also self catering cottages in more rural locations which can be used as a base for walking holidays.

Photo credit: Michael D. Beckwith for Unsplash

Take up a new outdoor hobby

There are lots of hobbies you might like to consider that encourage you to go outdoors. I love taking my camera out and about with me to capture signs of the seasons such as Autumnal berries, squirrels gathering nuts for the winter, blackbirds searching for tasty worms on our lawn, blue tits collecting nesting materials and new buds developing on the trees. Sometimes I just absorb nature and use my senses to explore, whilst at other times I like recording my finds in photographs. I also often take my binoculars out and about with me so I can do a little birdwatching either at nature reserves or in woodland areas. Hiking or cycling are some other great pursuits as you can enjoy the psychological benefits and have a wonderful workout too.

Photo credit: Steve Harris for Unsplash

Picnics and alfresco dining

We like to take any chance we can in the Spring and Summer to enjoy picnics by the coast, at a nature reserve or in a country park or garden. The car boot always has a folded blanket and a couple of folding chairs in so we’re always prepared whether there are purpose build benches or not. We’ll often take a book or magazine with us too for when we’ve finished eating. Our garden patio also has a table and chairs with a parasol so that we can eat our lunch or dinner outside when it is fine.

Try a little skychology

I love looking at the ever changing sky during the day, first thing when the Sun is rising, in the evening at Sunset and at night to see the twinkling stars. Skychology is a relatively new term which recognises that looking up and noticing what’s going on up there has the potential to make you feel calm, connected and present. My husband I regularly sit out in the garden after dark (sometimes with a glass of wine) and find it really peaceful. In fact, much to our excitement, we actually spotted an inquisitive hedgehog one night and have started putting out food in the form of special biscuits which we picked up in a local garden centre. We’ve seen at least two different ones now (one was much smaller) and we were amazed how noisy they are when they’re eating and wandering around. The little one snuffled its way to our wildlife pond for a thirsty drink too!

Photo credit: Diego PH for Unsplash

Snatches of outdoor time

I’m lucky enough to work from home and can sit at my dining table for a direct view of our garden and can pop outside for a quick stretch whenever I want. I can also go out for a walk around the block or drive to a local park or a woodland area. But, if we make it a priority, we can all find a little time to spend outdoors at least a few times a week if not every day. Maybe just enjoying your morning cup of coffee or your breakfast in your garden first thing or taking a stroll through your local park when you finish work. For me, finding time to get outdoors is so vital for my wellbeing that it has become part of my daily routine.

Digital detox

Finally, it’s also a really good idea to take a break from social media and your phone for a while to encourage complete relaxation. If you can’t bear to leave your smart devices at home, try burying them in the bottom of your bag and avoid looking at them for a few hours. A lot of quite remote places have no signal anyway!

Final words…

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Friluftsliv and are keen to incorporate elements of it into your life. Let me know in the comments how you plan to embrace nature in the future or what you enjoy doing in the great outdoors. There’s so many wonderful things to see out there that once you start, you’ll soon crave your nature fix every day!

Bye for now,

Posted in creativity, life hacks, lifestyle, Mindfulness, wellbeing

Monday matters: 7 mindful hobbies for stress reduction and relaxation

Hobbies are a great way to focus on the present, reduce stress and anxiety levels, leaving you feeling calm and relaxed and with a wonderful sense of achievement. What’s more, they’re an excellent form of mindfulness which is proven to benefit you in a number of ways both mentally and emotionally. Here’s some hobbies that I currently enjoy, have tried and loved in the past and one that I would love to try in the future.

Zentangles

I had a go at producing some Zentangles quite a few years ago when they were featured in a magazine (I think in Breathe). I found information from the article that I’d cut out in one of my journals a few days ago but I couldn’t actually find the patterns that I did. I do remember that I found them really relaxing to do and was pleased with the results so I decided to give them another go.

The Zentangle method was created in 2003 by an American couple called Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts. They describe it as an ‘easy-to-learn, relaxing, and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structure patterns’ which they call tangles. The three and a half inch tangles are drawn on a small square of paper, and are made using a combination of dots, lines, simple curves and orbs. You have no idea what your finished piece will end up like as you focus on the process rather than worrying about the results. To find out more about the method and to see some beautiful examples visit the official website. For now, here’s some from a complete beginner (me!):

My first attempt at Zentangle in a long time. Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it creative.

Birdwatching

I love birdwatching in my own garden, whilst out for nature walks and from various hides in local reserves and parks. It’s such a relaxing activity yet one which requires plenty of concentration and patience. Although our back garden is relatively small, we have a range of feeders in a little wildlife area and have recently purchased a new covered table which the birds are just starting to take to. We also have a small pond, several bird baths, plenty of shrubs, plus a fence covered in ivy which is full of spiders and their webs. Our space has recently become really popular with a range of small and larger birds and we even had a sparrow hawk visiting last month!

I bought a pair of binoculars last year so I could see birds up close when I visit the hides in nature reserves across the North East but you really don’t need to have any equipment to enjoy birding – just your eyes and your ears, making it a cheap as well as mindful hobby.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

Journalling

Mindful journalling is all about the act of expressing your thoughts and feelings on paper and is a wonderful tool for reflecting, evaluating and processing all that is going on in your life. Done regularly, journalling has many benefits including stress reduction, improved mood, emotional regulation, more self confidence, better immunity, a sharper memory, increased productivity and the ability to empathize with others.

I’ve been journaling for a long time now and it has become a part of my daily routine and something I would really miss if I stopped doing it. I mainly tend to put pen to paper in the evening as I like to reflect on my day, record what I grateful for and write about what I’m looking forward to the next day or what I’m anxious about (click here to see my previous post which describes the ‘putting the day to rest’ technique in detail).

I do sometimes do some journalling in the morning as a way of starting my day on a positive and creative note and find the book ‘Five Minutes in the Morning – A Focus Journal’ provides some great prompts to help me decide what to write about. I managed to pick it up really cheaply in my local bookshop but it’s also available on Amazon as an ebook which you could use if you bought a special notebook to write in.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

The journal is split into different sections, each with a particular focus and considers topics such as the power of writing, creating clarity, considering what’s important in your life, developing an attitude of abundance, solving problems and challenges, productivity and goal setting. It’s up to you how you use the book, you could either work through each prompt in order or you could just pick and page at random and see what you find.

Another book that I really love for prompt ideas is ‘Mindful Journaling’ by Tara Ward. The focus of this book is on exploring mindfulness in a variety of ways and then recording and evaluating your experiences of doing the different tasks. Recently, I completed an activity where you put something in front of you that you would like to eat and reflect on how the food stuff reached your bowl or plate and all of the processes involved in sourcing the ingredients and creating the product. I chose some Crunchy Nut Cornflakes and had so much to write about and it made me eat them much more mindfully afterwards too.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

Sketching

I used to hate drawing as I thought I was no good at it but recently I’ve started to really enjoy developing my skills. My favourite things to draw are plants and other aspects of nature such as leaves, berries and fruit. I always really take my time and focus in on the outline shape of the objects and then add detail carefully. Apparently this style of drawing is known as a ‘Zen method’ which is all about observing and following the contours of the object with your eyes whilst letting your hands draw. You can find out more in renowned Dutch artist Frederick Franck’s book ‘Zen seeing, Zen drawing’ which I have neither seen or read but it sounds like it is focused on mindful drawing as a meditative technique for observing and discovering the world around you.

My first attempt at still life fruit sketching! Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

Watercolour painting

As those of you who follow my blog will know, I got into watercolouring about 9 months ago and have enjoyed experimenting with different techniques including creating washes, wet on dry and wet on wet methods. Now I’ve learnt the basics, I’ve started to try out my skills on creating actual art pieces. This is my first try at wet on wet poppies and adding stems using wet on dry. In order to create my piece I spent some time looking at photographs of poppies and the work of other watercolour artists. I then really focused on the process of mixing colours, getting the right consistency of pigment to water and then allowing the colours to blend on the page. I wasn’t concerned about the finished look but I think it turned out well, for a beginner anyway!

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

Pottery

I’ve done two ceramics courses at a local wellbeing centre and found them to be amazingly beneficial. I met some wonderful, like-minded people who I got on really well with and involving myself in playing with the clay to explore different techniques and then designing and making my own pieces was so relaxing. The sessions were three hours long and in that time, I found that my mind was fully focused on the tasks at hand and the level of concentration required helped me to switch off from my anxious thoughts and feelings. Most weeks, we also got some of our freshly fired work back and it was so exciting to see our pieces at various stages of the making process and celebrate what we had achieved as we developed our skills.

Obviously, at the moment, there are no ceramics classes available which you can attend due to lockdown restrictions still being in place but it is certainly something I would recommend looking into in the future if you enjoy getting creative with your hands.

Flower arranging

This is a mindful activity that I would love to have a go at in the future as I imagine it’s really interesting to learn the various techniques involved and you can produce some stunning pieces to decorate your home and bring you joy. There are loads of free video tutorials and tips available online from florists and expert flower arrangers if you want to discover the basics or if you sign up to Skillshare you can do a full online course at home. I know my local college usually offer beginner’s floristry sessions but it may be a while before they are able to start them up again.

Photo credit: James Coleman, Unsplash

Do you do any of the activities I’ve listed already or do you have other favourites? Have you found you have more time to do hobbies because of the lockdown restrictions?

Posted in lifestyle, mental health, Mindfulness, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Plantastic ways that gardening boosts your wellbeing

Over the period of lockdown, many of us have been finding ourselves with extra time to spend in our gardens and will have no doubt experienced the many benefits that gardening brings for our bodies and our minds. Today’s Monday Matters post is a collection of reasons why gardening and looking after plants is so good for your wellbeing. At the end of the article, I’ve also included a number of gardening related quotes from poets, famous gardeners, psychologists and other gardening fanatics that I’ve collected and would like to share with you.

Gardening is great exercise

Digging, planting, mowing the lawn, weeding, raking, deadheading and pruning all burn calories, increase flexibility and give your muscles a really good stretch. Some activities are obviously more labour intensive than others, but on average, an hour of gardening has been shown to burn up approximately 300 calories. And what’s more, this form of exercise not only helps your body and strengthens your heart, but also gives you an amazing space to sit it and enjoy the glorious sunny weather we’re currently having.

Mindfulness whilst gardening

Gardening is a great opportunity to practise mindfulness techniques which focus on being aware of the present moment and our current thoughts and feelings and the sensations which we are experiencing. When gardening mindfully, we appreciate the process and use our senses to explore, rather than thinking about the future and worrying about how we are going to get our space looking perfect or Instagram worthy. Before you even collect together your tools and start the jobs on your gardening to-do list, spend some time appreciating your outdoor space, maybe considering all that you have achieved so far or focusing on how grateful you are to have a garden. Use your senses to explore, taking in all of the sights, sounds, smells and sensations such as the bright and colourful flowers, the amazingly active insects as they dart from plant to plant, the different leaf shapes, textures and scents, the birds singing or the breeze gently blowing your hair.

When you do start on the hard work, continue to pause and use your senses to explore your bodily sensations and immediate environment such as the texture of the soil between your fingers, your muscles flexing as you move the mower back and forth on your lawn, the sun warming your skin, the water sprinkling the ground as you use your watering can, or the array of different plant shapes and petal colours in your borders.

Focusing on the present will help you to slow down and take a break from the fast pace of modern life. It will also enable you to forget about all of your various stresses and anxieties for a while as you really concentrate on what you are doing and how it is making you feel. In this way, gardening becomes a kind of meditation which is amazing for your mental wellbeing.

Gardening in the sunshine

It’s well known that to much sunshine can be harmful for your skin but as long as you apply an appropriate level of sun cream and seek shade during the middle of the day, the sunlight can have lots of mood lifting and health benefits. It is believed that exposure to the sun increases the release of seretonin in the brain which makes you feel happier, calmer and more focused. Vitamin D is also produced by your body naturally in response to sunlight and this has a number of benefits including regulating your wake and sleep cycle, improved immunity, stronger muscles, reduced inflammation, reduced risk of osteoperosis, reduced risk of some forms of cancer and reduced risk of type 2 diabeties.

Getting in touch with your creative side

Gardening is a great way to express yourself creatively. You get to decide on a design for your garden based on your budget and the space you have available to you including the kind of areas you wish to have such as somewhere to sit and relax or dine al fresco to fruit and vegetable patches or wildlife havens. When you’ve learnt about the type of soil you have, planting times and which areas of your garden get the sun and at what time, the fun of visiting garden centres to choose plants or packets of seeds to grow your own begins. You can select the colours you find appealing for flowering plants and spend time reading different labels to establish which plants are best suited to each garden condition. Even if you don’t have flower beds, you can choose from a huge array of pots and containers to put on your patio to create a container garden.

What if I don’t have a garden?

If you don’t have access to your own garden, don’t fear, you can still benefit from plants and nature in a number of ways. Most garden centres have now re-opened whilst keeping to social distancing rules and many supermarkets are stocking a range of houseplants making it really easy to bring beautiful greenery into your home environment.

Photo credit: Alena Ganzhela for Unsplash

Another way of brightening up your space is by treating yourself to a bouquet of fresh cut flowers of your favourite blooms. Again, these can easily be found in your local supermarket and a good quality bunch should be guaranteed to last for at least seven days.

Photo credit: Christie Kim for Unsplash

If you’re feeling creative, you could also make a pretty collage of plant images collected online. I did this last month to go with my succulents theme in my bullet journal. Basically, I went onto Unsplash and Pexel and searched for cacti and other succulents and then printed off some of my favourite images on photo paper. Then I stuck them into my journal and added some decor using my brush pens and some stickers. Just looking at the spreads brightens my mood.

One of the double page spreads I made last month

Finally, here’s those quotes I mentioned which I think are really motivational and thought provoking at the same time:

‘Gardening adds years to your life and life to your years.’ – Author unknown

‘A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.’ – Gertrude Jekyll (British garden designer, writer and artist)

‘We might think we are nurturing out garden, but of course it’s our garden that is really nurturing us.’ Jenny Uglow (British biographer, historian, critic and publisher)

‘Gardening: It grounds us… gets us out of our busy heads and back into our bodies. Alone there on our knees, we can breathe. With our nurturing hands duly occupied, while gardening we allow ourselves the time & space to truly feel – peace, pride, satisfaction, joy.’ Cardthartic Birthday card (cardthartic.com)

‘The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.’ – Alfred Austin (English poet)

‘By becoming in tune with the seasons of growth and fall, preparation and harvest you make your mind and your body happier and healthier. By having a direct stake and involvement with the process of plants growing, of having your hands in the soil and tending it carefully and with love, your world and everyone else’s world too, becomes a better place.’ Monty Don (Gardeners World presenter and keen horticulturist)

‘Flowers are restful to look at. They have neither emotions nor conflicts.’ – Sigmund Freud (Austrian Psychologist)

‘Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.’ Mary Sarton (American poet)

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the many health benefits of gardening and my post has encouraged you to get outdoors and spend time in your own outside space or even visit one of your local parks to have a picnic and appreciate the floral displays and plants there. Let me know in the comments what your favourite aspects of gardening are and what you’ve been getting up to over the last few months.