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Gardening my Mind

Updated: Apr 28, 2021

Welcome to another post from my Rewiring for Creativity series, focused on the topic of how decorating helped support me during my healing journey. This entry specifically discusses gardening!

My recent pursuits in gardening were initially inspired by others in the retraining community when I noticed my mood shifts just in experiencing photos of their gardens. The more I learned about gardening, the more I was reminded of and felt connected to my late paternal grandfather who was a master gardener. As I explored this new hobby, I also unearthed memories of my maternal grandparents' farm in Poland and tending to crops with my grandmother as a child.

To gain more knowledge of the technical aspects, I took in-person workshops at local plant nurseries and the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension office. I learned about composting, soil, beneficial insects, pollinators, and creating a Florida-friendly yard. The experience was deeply nourishing for my prefrontal cortex, enhancing neuroplasticity for all that I was learning, and it was emotionally rewarding because of the memories and associations that were also strengthening.

As global events reached my area last spring, my pursuits continued virtually. I saw it as an opportune time to focus in on a project—my first vegetable garden. I acquired seeds from the local library and set up a raised garden bed in my backyard based on recommendations from a retraining buddy.

There is something magical about planting seeds and seeing growth emerge. I was fascinated by witnessing the process unfold. Like the brain retraining journey, so much happens beneath the surface before growth is seen in more tangible form. Each morning I would go outside to tend to my garden, observing the changes that had taken place just from the day before. It was truly amazing. I had planted two varieties of green bean, carrots, basil, and sugar baby watermelons as my first adventure in this "victory garden". I recall being so excited to see the sprouts for the first time and started to document their progress over time.

Tending to the garden served as a restorative activity for me where I drew great inspiration for my own journey in "brain gardening™" or rewiring my brain. It was a restorative practice of mindfulness, connecting to nature, and just witness the magic of growth. I gave me a sense of hope and also led to being more aware of ways I could elevate mood and absorb myself in something that was invigorating.

Gardening has many proven mental and physical health benefits. Interacting with nature, especially with the elements of water and earth, can regulate mood, serve as a grounding practice, and improve general psychological well-being with positive effects on emotions or behavior. It was a way to also broaden my training zone with physical activity and the Florida heat over the summer months. In my joyful movement accountability group, we coined the phrase "gardio™" where spending time in our gardens served as a restorative and rewarding cardio workout.

The use of horticulture, or the art and practice of gardening, for its wellness benefits has a rich history that dates as far back as 2000 BC in ancient Mesopotamia. According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, Ancient Egyptian physicians prescribed walks around a garden for patients with mental illness. Around 500 BC ancient Persians created gardens to soothe the senses by involving beauty, fragrance, flowing water, and cool temperatures. During the Middle Ages, on the grounds of a monastery hospital, plants were used to express purpose of cheering up melancholy patients and gardens were used to treat both physical and mental conditions. The first modern documentation of horticulture being used as a treatment for mental health purposes was in the 1800s. Dr. Benjamin Rush was the first to suggest that field labor in a farm setting helped attain positive outcomes for clients with mental illness.This discovery lead many hospitals in the western world to begin using horticulture as a means to start therapeutically treating patients with mental health and developmental disabilities. In 1817, in what is now known as Friends Hospital, an environment with landscaping, paths and a park atmosphere was constructed in effort to assist patients in their recovery. In 1879 Friends Hospital built the first greenhouse that was used for therapy. Post World War 1 horticultural therapy was used to help servicemen rehabilitate. The first degree in horticultural therapy was officially established in 1972.

Needless to say, the practice of gardening during my rewiring journey was very much an inspiration for also creating Brain Gardening™. Somewhere along the way to recovery, I also became a plant lady. 😅 If you saw yesterday's post for #PlantAppreciationDay on my instagram page, I shared some of the lessons learned from caring for houseplants. Here's a combined graphic below:

These were some of the lessons that also carried through to gardening outdoors. Abandoning control was very much a part of that experience as well as practicing patience and deep gratitude. There is something particularly rewarding about the experience of growing your own food and vegetables where that sense of gratitude is so much richer all the way through to the meal. I always seek to be mindfully present at meal time to consider the resources, places, and people that were involved in my ability to have the food or ingredients. When the food originates as a seed in your own yard, that gratitude for self can also be especially present in that experience. I gained a sense of pride, self-appreciation, and confidence through my gardening pursuits.

If you have any interest in learning more about gardening, the resources I found available through my local extension office were extremely supportive to the process. If you're not yet ready for such an endeavor but would like a less involved approach to gardening while still gaining much of the same benefits, my Mind Your Garden desktop zen garden kit will soon be available in the Brain Gardening shop.

Next blog topic: Dopamine Dressing

About the Series:

Every other Wednesday, I give more insight on tools I used to heal from chronic health issues, anxiety, and tap back into my creative self as part of my Rewiring for Creativity series.

The series began last year with a general overview of how creativity can be used to promote neuroplasticity. I discussed the creative and neuroplastic benefits of doodling, as well as offered some examples on how music and dance supported my creative pursuits and rewiring journey. Most recently, I discussed how Photography helped me build new association and overcome certain phobias. Earlier this month, I introduced the topic of decorating by discussing my transformation and use of an off-limits space in my home using rainbows!


About Alina

Alina is a multidisciplinary artist who used brain retraining coupled with creative pursuits to recover from a lifetime of chronic illness. Her healing journey has inspired her to create Brain Gardening, an online resource featuring resilience tools that are rooted in science and cultivated through the arts.

Brain Gardening takes neuroplasticity research and presents it through a designer lens using simple language and interactive materials, while reflecting the deep insight of Alina's personal experience navigating the journey herself. Through this platform for healing, Alina will be creating and curating evidence-based resources for cultivating wellness through neuroplasticity that can be incorporated into an existing self-care practice or serve as an introduction to neural retraining techniques.

Subscribe to the mailing list at Brain Gardening to stay informed as new offerings emerge.

If you're on Instagram, follow @braingardening where you can find Alina's "Mindful Moments in Nature" every Monday and "Ask Alina" on Tuesdays where you can submit your own brain retraining questions for answers on her Wednesday IGTV series.

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2 opmerkingen

Great article Alina ❣️ I love gardening and how you have brought awareness of how it relates to our brain retraining! Beautiful photos. Thank you for these wonderful insights.


Merridy Pugh
Merridy Pugh
15 apr. 2021

Loved this article, Alina. I'm so fortunate that my grandmother, whom I now think of as a landscape or garden artist, instilled in me a love of gardens and flowers. She was passionate about her gardens and created what I now know to be almost magically beautiful spaces full of trees, flowers, greenery, hiding places, pools, archways and creepers. These were a big part of my babyhood and later childhood. When I was tiny she would pick me blown roses from her rose bushes to play with and I still remember the feel of the cool petals on my face and how the scented flowers would fall apart in my hands. I do not have her skills but I find…

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