Thursday, November 01, 2012

Lake & Garden: Body, Mind and Spirit

Reap a multitude of health benefits in your garden

There is no question gardening is good for physical, mental and spiritual health. Hospital officials are catching on, planting healing gardens and designing rooms so patients have a view of trees. They also are equipping patient rooms with shelves to hold the vases of plants and flowers visitors often bring. Research shows patients heal better if they can connect to nature.

Physical Health
“When I go to the garden with spade, and dig a bed, I feel such exhilaration and health that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others do for me what I should have done with my own hands.”  
- Ralph Waldo Emerson (1848)  
    Who needs a fitness center or gym when you have a garden? Tasks such as raking, mowing, digging, amending the soil and mulching are great calorie-burners as well as strength builders. A neighbor once told me he lost 40 pounds over two years just digging his garden. Every evening, when he got home from work, he spent an hour or so in the garden digging a series of terraces into the steep slope behind his house. He got the job done - and grew more fit in the process.  
    On average, a 150-pound person burns approximately 270 calories an hour performing garden tasks such as raking or mowing (not on a riding mower).  Pick up the intensity by digging, amending the soil or forking and spreading mulch, and the same person can burn 340 calories an hour.  
    With all the bending, lifting and general motion, gardening on a regular basis also increases flexibility, builds strength and improves balance. According to a study by Dr. Lori Turner at the University of Arkansas, women who garden weekly have stronger bones than those who are inactive. In fact, their bones are stronger than those who jog, swim, walk or take part in aerobics. That’s great news for those worried about developing osteoporosis.
    Experts suggest you approach garden exercise the same way you would traditional exercise. Instead of a once-a-week full-day of garden chores, work in the garden daily for an hour or so. Before beginning, stretch your lower back, Achilles tendons and hips, just as you would before going for a walk or run. Then start with light tasks such as pruning, raking or gathering fallen branches. Build up to the more heart-pumping jobs. At the end of a garden workout session, stretch again, allowing time to cool off.  
    With the possibility of burning hundreds of calories an hour and building muscle tone, you can swap your treadmill for a lawnmower and your weights for a shovel. Your world will be a more beautiful place, and you will be all the more fit.

Spiritual Health
    “To lift and penetrate and tear apart the soil is labour - a pleasure - always accompanied by an exaltation that no unprofitable exercise can ever provide.  ... When you open up the earth, even for a mere cabbage-patch, you always feel like the first man, the master, the husband with no rivals. The earth you open up has no longer any past - only a future.”  
- From “Break of Day” by Colette    

    Gardens are places to connect to a greater being, places for meditation and spiritual growth. To provide a helpful path to meaningful meditation, there is a growing trend to build labyrinths, circuitous paths like a maze that lead to a central point. Labyrinths as a tool to enable spiritual journeys have a long and venerable history.     Walkable floor labyrinths first appeared in 12th-century cathedrals built in northern France. Best known is the one in Chartres Cathedral, which is more than 42 feet in diameter.  
    A garden labyrinth is not difficult to build and adds an appealing pattern in the landscape, as well as a place where people can retreat for a quiet time of meditation and reflection.  

Mental Health
“The act of gardening itself is what keeps us out of the hands of the shrinks.”  
- From “The Curious Gardener” by Anna Pavord

    After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, visits to public gardens increased exponentially.  Intuitively, people knew they would find solace and comfort in green spaces. The evidence is overwhelming that being in touch with nature is good for mental health. What better place than your own garden?
    Gardening also cultivates character. Through gardening you learn patience waiting for a seed to sprout or a small plant to grow to its full maturity. You learn to cope with disappointment and failure when plants die or are eaten by local deer and rabbits.     You also experience the exaltation of unexpected blessings. Gardens are a metaphor for life with the cycles of nature: birth, death and regeneration. We know that after a long, hard winter, spring will eventually arrive. There is always hope.
    Whether you come to the garden for exercise, aroma therapy, nutritious and organic food, as a retreat from the hectic whirl of life, or as a place to connect your spirituality, a garden is a gift to be cherished and nurtured.  

    A walk down the garden path can be a journey to better health - that is if the path is designed for reflexology. These cobblestone paths are encrusted with hand-placed, textured and decorative stones chosen for their size and shape. As you walk barefoot on the path, the stones stimulate nerve endings in the feet, enhancing the body’s healing powers. The concept is based on the ancient Asian practice in which overall health is linked to precise points on the feet. A walk down a reflexology path is meant to massage sore muscles, eliminate toxins and help build immunities.  
    Sounds like hokum? A study by scientists at the Oregon Research Institute (ORI) in Eugene confirmed that regular barefoot journeys down cobblestone or reflexology paths can result in significant reductions in blood pressure and improvement in balance and physical performance among adults over 60.
    For a reflexology path in your own garden (consider one linking the house and dock), fix different sized smooth cobblestones into concrete. Once installed, every barefoot trek down this path will be a step towards well-being.