Studies show that Americans have less free time than ever before in history. Our jam-packed schedules of constantly conflicting engagements put our minds in a terrible race. In fact, the absence of leisure time is shooting stress-related illnesses through the roof and plummeting the percentage of people who describe their life as “happy and comfortable.”
So, how do you avoid this plight? Experts have shown that meditation can aid in the recovery and prevention of both mental and physical ailments. Deep breathing, relaxation, and reflection time are all critical to our overall health. Perhaps this spring is the season you turn it all around by creating an outdoor meditation area to keep your spirits bright all year ‘round!
Separate the area from your home and yard: To achieve true relaxation, you have to remove yourself from your daily stressors. Seeing a kitchen sink full of dishes will not help put your mind at ease. There are several ways to do this; you could start simply by placing privacy screens around a sectioned off area. Using a pergola or an open-air gazebo are other options for completely outdoor spaces. But, if you live in a cooler climate and want to use this space in the winter months, using a pool house or a cabana may suit your needs better.
The most important thing is to create an area where cares and worries are “not allowed.” Another way to do this is to install some kind of garden bridge; this way you can decide that when you cross over the bridge you are crossing over into a peaceful place. Ancient Japanese and Chinese gardens used zig-zag garden bridges to cross into their gardens, because folk lore suggested that evil spirits could only travel in straight lines and, therefore, would not be able to cross into the space if the garden bridge was constructed in a zig-zag pattern. However you choose to separate your meditation area from the rest of your home, it is most important that you can feel some kind of physical transition from daily stressors to daily calming.
Keep connection with nature: Though you want to create an area separated from the rest of your home, you don’t want to lose your connection with nature. If using privacy screens, a pergola, or gazebo, simply make sure that trees, flowers, or foliage still surround your area. If using an enclosed garden structure, like a cabana, pool house, or even a gazebo with walls, be sure to install lots of large windows (preferably ones with screens that can be opened). Many backyard structures support sky lights to let the sun shine into your meditation space as well. If you garden, you know that nature is calming. And, if you don’t garden, many expert studies have confirmed that a connection with nature nurtures peaceful thoughts and calm minds. You can also bring the outdoors inside, by placing bonsai trees, green potted plants, and flowers on accent tables around your garden structure to achieve that connection.
Use a water feature for soothing sounds: You may not realize it, but the sounds we hear contribute greatly to our stress levels. Imagine your commute to work without any car horns, sirens, or construction sounds. Picture a trip to the grocery store without people yelling into their cell phones about what kind of milk to get, the constant beeping of the check out lines, and children screaming for ice cream. Sounds a lot better, right? Create the right kinds of sounds in your meditation area by installing a small water feature. If you live seaside, certainly try to situate your peaceful place near the water. But, if you’re not so lucky, you can get an inexpensive small water fall that plugs right into the wall or operates by battery. Or, you can go a little deeper by creating a koi pond or small dew pond. Of course, if you must, you can always get a small noise machine that many people use in their bedrooms for sleeping that has ocean wave or running stream sound settings. This way, your eyes will be away from the sink of dirty dishes and your ears will be hidden from the sounds of rush hour or telephones ringing. When your eyes close, you can always just imagine you’re withdrawing to your beach retreat!
Use minimal decorations and simple furniture: The last thing you need to do when creating this space is stress out! Don’t fret about the décor, because the simpler, the better. Use small side tables or outdoor accent tables for flowers, candles, or your water feature. You can create a bit of interest by using outdoor tables of different heights and sizes to allow your eyes to gently survey all parts of your meditation area. But, this is not the place for your expansive outdoor dining set or deep seating collection. Allow yourself a space to focus inward, instead of on the perfection of your décor (save that for your porch or patio!)
Allow a place for true, escaped repose: Though purists would only allow a yoga mat in the center of the room for true, concentrated meditation… I think it’s important to make your peaceful area work for you. Doing yoga poses and various stretching is an excellent way to re-center yourself—no question! But, sometimes, you just need a place to rest undisturbed. Try installing a hammock, porch swing, or just a simple and comfy chaise lounge or rocking chair in your new space. There is true value in curling up with a novel, simply staring into space and thinking about nothing for an hour or so, and (of course) guiltlessly drifting off into an afternoon nap.
Sometimes, our American media tries to make you feel guilty for taking time for yourself. But, you’ll run yourself into the ground if you don’t take some time out to relax. Creating a space away from your daily stressors that is solely for the purpose of inward reflection will have a positive effect on all the different parts of your life. And, remember, it doesn’t just have to be for you! A son or daughter after a long and stressful day at school would absolutely benefit from an hour or so of “quiet time” away from the computer, their toys, and loud siblings. In fact, this meditation area could improve the entire family!