Now that the spring weather is in full bloom here on the west coast it is time to get pots and flower beds ready and simply enjoy being outside taking in the beauty around us. This weekend I had a long "to do" list sitting on my counter and my house was anything less than organized. But I made a choice to leave it all behind and head outside for a couple of hours. After all, I knew it would most definitely still be there when I came back inside.
Did I absolutely need to go outside to spend time digging in the soil? Yes, I did. Not from a pure sense of "it has to get done immediately" time pressure purpose. The need came from giving myself time to breathe in the earthy air, feel the soil between my fingers and just be in the moment. It had rained earlier that morning and there's nothing quite like the smell after a rain with the faint scent of spring blossoms in the air. I had been feeling worn from a week filled with activities and commitments. There were some things weighing heavy on my mind. When I feel like that, it is far too easy to plop myself onto the couch and get lost in a zombie trance either mindlessly watching tv or scrolling through social media. Sometimes it's great just to do that, but not if my purpose was to improve my mood, clear my mind and fill my spirit.
Nature, it does a body good.
Breathing: As I dug my hands into the damp soil I breathed in my surroundings. Our house backs onto a stream and I could hear the sound of water gurgling over the rocks as well as a chorus of birds from the large trees. I literally felt my breathing slow down and become deeper. When we are anxious about daily life activities, we often don't even realize how shallow our breathing can become. Deep breathing activates neurons in our brain to tell it to slow down, reduce our stress and tension. Our lungs take in more oxygen and muscles relax. Even memory has been known to improve with deep breathing.
Observing: As I dug, I took in the minute details around me. I looked at the bugs scurrying as I overturned soil, watched a snail cross along one of the pots and noticed the tiny buds and new growth on perennials. Those small moments that are overlooked in the big picture of everyday busyness. Being present and in the moment clears the mind of clutter and brings an attitude of joy, noticing the beauty of creation in even the smallest of details. Taking time to observe and being still in nature can bring me new perspective and more a positive outlook or mood. It can change how I react to daily events in my life. I am far more able to positively and effectively handle the unexpected things that come my way when I've spent time in nature. When I've been rushing and neglecting taking that time in the outdoors, well that is when things can unravel for me or I feel pressure and stress and then my family feels it too.
Touching: Often if children are struggling with anxiety or a variety of emotions, providing tactile or sensory support in the way of therapeutic putty or weighted blankets can be suggested. Well, digging in the soil can also help! It even goes a step further scientifically for boosting our mood. Not only does the feel of running our hands through the soil bring a sense of calmness but soil contains certain microbes that have now been shown to help relieve stress and combat depression. Even pulling weeds gives me a satisfaction in reducing stress levels or letting my frustration out. (especially those hard to pull ones with long root systems).
After spending time outside, I came back into the house feeling renewed. I would probably feel sore the next day as it had been a while for my body to be bending and stretching like that....a friendly reminder to ease myself into the season. However, I was feeling far more willing to "dig" into the things that lay before me with a much improved attitude for having spent time with my hands in the dirt. Remember as a child how much fun it was to dig in the dirt, even make mud pies? This week, take a page from your childhood and spend some time letting the soil calm your soul.