By Hannah Stephenson
Find having greenery in your home calming?
Surrounding yourself with houseplants could even boost your meditation, according to psychologist and plant enthusiast Dr Katie Cooper, who has more than 200 houseplants in her home.
“We are physiologically hardwired to be living a life in the wild, and respond really positively to attributes of nature and plants – the form, the shape and the colour – and they help us relax our nervous system and restore our mental attention,” says Cooper, author of new book Plant Therapy, a guide on how an indoor green oasis can support mental and emotional wellbeing.
“Having plants around you while you are meditating can be particularly grounding. It’s about being in the present, and plants can really activate your senses,” Cooper adds.
“Any plants which have fractal patterns (forms that repeat themselves as they are magnified, such as leaves or fronds), that are a lush green colour or have an over-arching shape to them are good, but typically I would just go with a large-leaved green plant, like an alocasia or a Calathea orbifolia.”
Where should you position plants while meditating?
“You could have it in your eyeline, looking at and appreciating its form, colour and fractal patterns, but it depends on what type of meditation you are doing,” says Cooper.
“If it’s purely yoga with plants in the room, then they can be placed anywhere, just to give a general ambience and relaxing environment.”
Should you use scented plants?
“That would be great if you were meditating around plants, because you could use the smell to ground you in your body and connect you to the wider world. Lavender or herbs, or anything with a fragrance can be noteworthy.”
Cooper suggests you bring your nose and the plant closer together, becoming aware of its fragrance, or even the smell of the soil. With each inhalation, explore the scents around you.
How do you meditate with plants?
Sit in a comfortable upright position with your feet flat on the ground, resting your hands on your thighs or on a table, then allow your body to become still and focus on your breathing, then draw awareness to your body and its sensations, Cooper suggests.
Then allow your attention to come to your eyes and notice the plant in front of you, its colour, shape and pattern, and the way the leaves connect to the stem, and the different bends and contours in the shape of each leaf.
What other techniques can people try?
“Lots of people find it difficult to roll out the yoga mat and sit there and meditate. It’s much easier to get wrapped up in a moment just looking after your plants. It’s much more of an applied form of meditation, like running or sowing,” says Cooper.
“If you are tending to your plants or dusting them, watering them, you are very much in that moment in time, which is quite mindful.
“It’s being able to use the plant in its sensory form, the way you touch it, the way it smells, or if it’s a herb you can taste it as well to activate all your senses, to connect you with the moment you are in. This takes you out from your anxieties and the thought processes which take you to your worries of the past and the future.”
Should you touch the plant?
“You can bring it up into the light to look at it, seeing interesting fractal patterns, which have been known to produce relaxed yet wakeful states. It’s about taking the time to appreciate something natural in our environment, that we wouldn’t often do.”
Explore the plant’s exterior texture, running your hand gently over its leaves. Squeeze the leaves slightly and notice how this gives you a sense of its interior texture, she suggests. Notice how the leaves feel in your hand and the sensations you experience as you connect with the plant.
How should you end the meditation?
Admire the plant one last time, Cooper suggests, acknowledging all the sensations it has given you and notice how the feelings connect you with your surroundings, nature and the life around us.
“It’s about appreciating something for its natural beauty and taking the time to notice something you wouldn’t have if you were just walking past it,” says Cooper.
“Make room for these other living things in your life that aren’t just people or yourself. It’s about taking a moment in its entirety.”