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How Plants Make You More Mindful

By Karen Weir-Jimerson

Mindfulness: It’s your ability to be present in the moment, aware of where you are, and conscious of the place and thing that you are doing. “Life is available only in the present moment,” says Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk and respected writer about mindfulness.

This seems like a simple concept. Except that it’s not. Your phone’s insistent rings, dings, and alerts distract you. There’s work stress, relationship issues, politics—well, you know. So how do you center yourself, quiet your thoughts, breathe deeply, and live in the moment?

How about raising a houseplant?

If you keep indoor plants in your home and office, you already know their power. In addition to looking great, they keep you connected to the great green world outside. And they remind you that the world is a place of growth. Plus, there are multiple studies that show that being in proximity to plants reduces stress, increases productivity, and even helps you heal and sleep better.

But what about becoming more mindful?

When you are conscious of being in the present, you are more aware and thankful for the things that you have, the life that you lead. If you’ve taken yoga or meditation classes, you know that experiencing the now allows you to replace the stresses of the world with a deeper calm. So how can your houseplants help you be more mindful? Here are 6 ways.  

1. Savor the “Plantness” of Your Houseplant.
Can we learn something from the way plants live? Because what is more “in-the-moment” than a houseplant? Houseplants react calmly and beautifully to their immediate surroundings— sunlight, air, water, temperature—and using those surroundings to thrive and grow. Mindfulness expert Joan D. Stamm (author of Heaven and Earth are Flowers: Reflections of Ikebana and Buddhism) says “We simultaneously contemplate how flowers mirror our own unique and life-affirming essence, and teach us the great lessons of patience, humility, and the beauty inherent in impermanence: cycles of beginning, maturing, ending, transforming.”

Mindfulness exercise: Set aside a time to appreciate your plants. Look at the growth habit and form of your plant—some plants grow up, others cascade down. Appreciate the texture, color, and shape of the leaves. Breathe in the scent of the soil.

2. Rejoice in New Growth.
What is more positive than the physical manifestation of growth? New leaves sprout, flower shoots emerge, the plant gets taller and wider. When you are mindful of your plant, you’ll discover little changes that let you know that things are going well—your plant is thriving! What an amazing feeling it is to nurture something and have it respond.

Mindful exercise: Look for signs of new growth in your plants once a week; observe how your plant develops new leaves. Each plant has its own artful way of producing new growth. New prayer plant leaves (left) emerge from the stem in a loose roll that elegantly unfurls. Spider plants produce baby plants at the end of long tendrils that can be plucked off and planted.

3. Breathe Deeply.
Did you know that houseplants clean the air? Sitting in the general proximity of houseplants means that you will benefit from their air cleansing talents. A NASA study shows that houseplants remove toxins and indoor pollutants, such as benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, toluene, and ammonia, from the air.  NASA's top air-cleansing picks include these plants. 

Mindful exercise: Practice deep-breathing exercises in a room with houseplants.

4. Engage with Nature.
When you share your living spaces with plants, you bring the beautiful and diverse outside world into your home. You can engage with the glories of nature on a personal level in every room. Plants help remind you of different eco-systems on earth. And thanks to the adaptability of houseplants, you can recreate those environments. In fact, you can create plant groupings that remind you memorable trips and locations: a bowl of cacti or an earth star in gravel (left) evokes a desert landscape, a terrarium of ferns and mosses recalls the soft verdant floor of a forest in the Pacific Northwest, and a hanging tangle of pothos or philodendron feels like a jungle hike in Costa Rica.

Mindful exercise: Research where your plant comes from (for example, Norfolk Island Pines are originally from the Norfolk Island, a small island 900 miles east of Brisbane, Australia). Reflect on the journey this plant species has made to share the indoor spaces of your home.

5. Connect with Another Living Thing.
Being mindful also means embracing relationships to other living things. Maybe you work long hours. Perhaps you travel 5 days a week. Sometimes you aren’t home long enough to own a cat or dog. Or even a goldfish. But that doesn’t mean you can’t surround yourself with life. A plant isn’t as demanding as a pet. All you must do is fulfill its basic needs (provide the right light and hydration) and you will be rewarded with a beautiful living thing. Adding plants to your living space helps you remember that you are a citizen of the world. Just one species hanging out with another species. It’s a nice feeling to walk into your home and be greeted by the spiky “welcome home” from a snake plant (left) or a “how-was-your-day?” from a majesty palm.

Mindful exercise: Relish the small acts of caring for your plant: watering, feeding, dusting leaves.

6. Discover Enjoyment in Doing Nothing.
In the teachings of Tao, learning wuwei, or doing nothing, is an important way to achieve a sense of balance. After you have provided everything you need to grow a plant (the right light, fertilizer when needed, water when the soil is dry, humidity if the species requires it), then everything else you do with your plant is the concept of wuwei—doing nothing but allowing the plant to exist, thrive, grow—all without your help.

Mindful exercise: Take a moment every day to slow down and enjoy the moment of having a plant. Then admire your plant’s ability to carry on in the world without your constant assistance.  

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