By Wendy Kelly for Island Eye News
My sister is a hippotherapist (for those of you who just envisioned a teary-eyed hippo on Freud’s couch discussing its personal issues, you should know that the word ‘hippo’ is derived from the Greek word for ‘horse.’) She uses horses as the primary tool in her occupational therapy practice. Most of her clients are disabled children who learn to improve their balance and musculature with the help of the horse’s movement. And there’s another big benefit of using horses for therapy—getting outside. (For the record, I’ve never met a horse who ever enjoyed staying inside playing video games. Also, no thumbs.)
Likewise, the term ‘horticultural therapy’ doesn’t refer to treating a dysfunctional garden (although that would actually be awesome).
Instead, it refers to utilizing gardening techniques and designs to improve the lives of people suffering from an array of disabilities— both mental and physical. Horticultural therapy has been shown to improve memory, cognition, language, and socialization. On the physical side, horticulture therapy can strengthen muscles, enhance coordination, improve balance, and increase endurance. There are other important attributes as well, such as learning to work independently, problem solve, and follow directions. In a nutshell, gardening is just plain good for you.
Why? Some researchers believe it’s because early humans relied so completely on nature for survival—essentially imprinting on our genes the tendency to find nature both engrossing and restorative.
Thanks Cro-Magnon man! Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder have found that ordinary garden soil contains harmless bacteria (Mycobacterium vaccae) that, when injected into mice, actually increased serotonin levels in the very parts of the brain that control mood. No prescription necessary, Doc; why, just look at the dirt under these nails.
The healing power of gardening is powerful stuff. In fact, did you know that you can reap many of the benefits of gardening by just looking at one? Because human beings inherently find nature engrossing, the brain isn’t taxed by focusing on natural things.
Rather, viewing gardens actually reduces mental fatigue. More and more medical centers and hospitals are incorporating healing gardens into their buildings as a means of reducing anxiety and stress and as a way to facilitate healing in their patients.
As we find ourselves in an increasingly stressful world, what better time than now to dedicate a little extra time to enjoying our yards and gardens? Not only will your yard improve, but so will your body and your mind. Because who wants to end up just another teary-eyed hippo on Freud’s couch?
Wendy Sang Kelly is the owner of Garden Pixies, whose specialty is beautiful and whimsical container gardens, porch pots, window boxes and hayracks. Find her online at www.gardenpixies.com or @plantingmagic on Facebook.