Zen Gardening

Ok, it’s after the full moon in June, the garden centres are booming and blooming, and now there’s proof that gardening is good for you! Not only is it good physical exercise, but gardening is also good for your mental health too, as it improves mood and cognitive functioning As a green thumb zen gardener, this is welcome news! In terms of my work, it’s also great because it gives me one more tool in my toolbox of suggestions for clients on ways to feel better.


Anyone who has ever taken up gardening knows you just feel better while interacting with nature. And while I’m on the topic of nature, between increased societal fears (i.e. letting children play outside) and technology, we now have an unofficial condition called “nature deficit disorder.” The term was coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, where he describes a set of symptoms similar to ADHD and depression, primarily attributed to a lack of physical activity and exposure to the outdoors.

But back to gardening; The benefits of gardening are so definitive they created a therapy for it – “horticulture therapy.” Horticulture therapy is being used in hospitals to expedite the healing process of patients as wells as in jail to calm the inmates (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-193859/Proof-gardening-healthy.html).

In addition to being good exercise, research has proven the following benefits of gardening:

Even the dirt is good for us!! Seriously, Mycobacterium vaccae is a harmless bacteria found in soil and has been shown to have similar anti-depressant affects as medication in mice (http://gardeninggonewild.com/?p=27941).


You don’t have to have a big garden to reap the benefits of this do-it-yourself therapy…just a couple of potted plants can make a difference. Try house plants, or a couple of potted summer flowering plants, or maybe herbs that are easy to grow like basil and oregano. I have a container garden (see photos) and just today I made hummus and added chives and lemon balm from my garden. Tomorrow, I’m making pesto with my garden-fresh basil, and soon will be munching on lettuce I grew myself.  Dead-heading flowers is the real zen for me though 🙂

So get outside, get your hands dirty, and improve your health, your heart, and your mood. As an added bonus, do your gardening mindfully – really focus on your senses, really seeing the plants, feeling the dirt, smelling the aromas.

Happy gardening! For more information on horticulture therapy, see these links:



To find pout more about my health and wellness philosophy, my counselling or workshops, please visit my web site at http://www.dbcounsellingpei.ca/workshops.php

Yes to Yoga

The Sanskrit word “yoga” means to yoke, or to harness/unite (the self with the supreme being – Collins Canadian English Dictionary). The practice of yoga is an ancient Hindu spiritual discipline that free-outdoor-yoga-westchesterintegrates body, mind and spirit through various breathing techniques, postures (asanas), and meditation. Yoga postures provide an excellent means for improving fitness and vitality, while the breathing and meditation provide the overall calming effect on the human organism. Of course there is much more to yoga, but for the purposes of this blog, I will focus on how yoga is being used to treat trauma (including PTSD), and other forms of anxiety, and how the practice itself  is a great teaching tool and resource in the field of mental health.

For some time now, Western medicine has mostly treated the mind and body as separate entities in terms of mental and physical illness. We know now, of course, this is not the case. 75-90% of visits to doctors’ offices are for stress -related ailments (Mood Disorder Society of Canada, 2009). The same study found that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in Canada. Anxiety disorders refer to general anxiety, phobias, PTSD/trauma, OCD, and panic disorder. The most common treatments are a combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and medication. However, more and more, the word about the benefits of yoga to treat mental illness is getting out, as indicated by this news report below from January:


How does yoga work to help people with anxiety-related disorders such as PTSD? According to Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk, internationally renowned speaker, author, trauma expert, and founder of The Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts, yoga – specifically the out breaths, facilitates a more balanced heart-rate variablity, thereby calming the mind and body. A calm body and mind promotes self-awareness and mindfulness, a necessary component in the healing process. You can’t heal without awareness, and you can’t have awareness without mindfulness, and focusing on breath facilitates mindfulness (National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine; Webinar Series, 2014). It’s like a really, really good chain reaction. Van der Kolk also reports that in his study published in the Journal if Clinical Psychiatry (2014), “Yoga significantly reduced PTSD symptomatology, with effect sizes comparable to well-researched psychotherapeutic and psychopharmacologic approaches. Yoga may improve the functioning of traumatized individuals by helping them to tolerate physical and sensory experiences associated with fear and helplessness and to increase emotional awareness and affect tolerance.”


In many locations across the country, yoga is also being used to treat Canadian Forces members diagnosed with PTSD (a simple google search will find many references for this), and the Ottawa Anxiety and Trauma Clinic also offers yoga classes specifically created to treat people struggling with the symptoms of traumatic stress.

An article in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice (Uebelacker et al. 2010), reports that “Yoga may be an attractive alternative to or a good way to augment current depression treatment strategies…”

For mental health practitioners, encouraging clients struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, yoga may be a way for them to enhance their recovery and better cope with symptoms by facilitating the awareness and mindfulness necessary for healing. Of course, as with any new exercise regimen, it is always a good idea to consult a physician beforehand, especially for those unaccustomed to physical exertion.

I could really go on and on about this, but I’ll sum up by saying whether it’s anxiety or depression, or anything all all that is having a negative impact on your health, say “Yes” to Yoga!


Dianne Birt – Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) 200


For more information and statistics on mental illness in Canada, see this report called  “Quick Facts: Mental Illness & Addiction in Canada” which can be viewed at this link.


To find out more about my private practice and counselling services, please visit my web site at http://www.dbcounsellingpei.ca/


Mind Your Health

In order to better work holistically with my clients and have a more formal foundation in mindfulness and meditation, I have been taking the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course through UPEI’s Office of Skills Development and Learning (awesome and I highly recommend it). How is mindfulness defined? “Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment. We feel more alive. We also gain immediate access to our own powerful inner resources for insight, transformation, and healing” (Jon Kabat-Zinn).

As I approach the eighth and final class, I want to share the seven “Attitudinal Foundations” of mindfulness: Non-judging; Patience; Beginner’s Mind; Trust; Non-striving; Acceptance; Letting go. There’s really too much to explain it all here, so I’ve summed it up as best I can in the following poem:

Mind Your Health

Mind your health with a healthy mind
Lean on a friend, be someone who is kind
Minds may wander, a fact through and through
Life happens in moments, that’s always been true
Take time for yourself to breathe and just be
Feel what you feel, the truth sets you free
Slow down, be still, be quiet, meditate
Please don’t strive, and do not concentrate
Nourish your body and feed your soul
Find patience and acceptance
Avoid the hole
Be one with nature in the rain and sunlight
Hear snowflakes fall and see autumn leaves bright
Let go of judgement of self and other
Without trust, a heart might smother
Be true to yourself in your heart and mind
And good health will be yours, I’m sure you will find


For more information about my private practice and counselling services, please visit my web site at http://www.dbcounsellingpei.ca/

Dianne 🙂

Healthier ways of being in 15 minutes or less!

Don’t have much time? Not sure how to incorporate healthier ways of being into your life?  Here are a few tips that are relatively small and easy to try, even if it’s one per day:

Reduce sugar and caffeine. Notice I said reduce, not eliminate (at least to start). People are attached to their Tim’s or Starbucks, and to satisfying their sweet tooths, but beginning to reduce consumption of these substances can improve your health, energy and quality of sleep. Caffeine is a stimulant, and aggravates symptoms of anxiety; sugar causes dips and spikes in your own blood sugar levels, affecting insulin (a hormone), which also impacts mood, energy and sleep. Try tea, or herbal tea, something with chicory is a good substitute for the flavour of coffee. Chamomile is a relaxing herbal tea as well – find one that tastes good to you. Go unsweetened, or use a small amount of honey, no artificial sweeteners (that’s a whole other blog!)

Reduce screen time. Computers, TVs, smart phones and such not only keep us sedentary, but they also emit light into our eyes keeping our brains awake long after the sun sets when we’re supposed to be unwinding. Try reducing the amount of time you look at screens and go outside for fresh air and natural light. Even a few minutes of walking outdoors can make a difference. The snow is finally gone so what’s stopping you? 🙂

Reframe your negative thoughts. How many times per day do you catch yourself beating yourself up inside your head, through your own self talk? Next time this happens, ask yourself “where is the evidence for ‘such and such’?” Or, try thinking to yourself the way you would talk to a loved one about a similar scenario – with compassion. Self-compassion is cool. Try it!

Relax. Simple right? Ok, so not everyone has time to meditate for 30 minutes, or go to a yoga class….but I bet everyone can find 3 minutes and 31 seconds. I frequently use this link below with clients in session, and it works every time.


Start with small, manageable changes like these four Rs. You don’t have to do it all at once; and have fun trying 🙂