From pebbles to peace: Can mini Zen gardens really reduce anxiety? | Health - Hindustan Times

From pebbles to peace: Can mini Zen gardens really reduce anxiety?

ByZarafshan Shiraz, New Delhi
May 02, 2024 05:12 PM IST

Mini Zen gardens typically consist of sand, rocks and small decorative items to promote calmness and tranquility but how effective are they in reducing anxiety?

The constant stimulation of modern life can leave us yearning for tranquility and Zen in design has become an emerging trend in home interiors as it is a Japanese philosophy that emphasises simplicity, nature and mindfulness. While traditional Zen gardens are expansive landscapes, their core principles can be translated into home décor, creating pockets of peace within one’s everyday space.

From pebbles to peace: Can mini Zen gardens really reduce anxiety (Photo by Scotts Landscaping)
From pebbles to peace: Can mini Zen gardens really reduce anxiety (Photo by Scotts Landscaping)

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Rahul Chandhok, Head Consultant - Mental Health and Behavioural Science at Artemis Hospital in Gurugram, shared, “Our hectic lives keep us constantly engaged leaving no time for relaxation and rejuvenation. This allows stress and anxiety to take a toll on our overall health. Many people seek solace and relaxation through various methods, including meditation, yoga, and mindfulness practices. Mini Zen gardens have emerged as another tool in this quest for inner peace. These miniature landscapes, typically consisting of sand, rocks, and small decorative items, are said to promote calmness and tranquility. But the question that arises is how effective are they in reducing anxiety?”

He answered, “The concept of Zen gardens originated in Japan, where they are often found in Buddhist temples. They are designed to evoke a sense of harmony and balance, reflecting the principles of Zen philosophy. The act of raking the sand into patterns is believed to clear the mind and focus attention, leading to a state of meditation. Furthermore, arranging the rocks and other elements can provide a creative outlet and a sense of accomplishment. Research evidences on the therapeutic effects of mini-Zen gardens are limited, but there is some evidence to suggest that they may indeed help in reducing anxiety. It is believed that interacting with a Zen garden even for a brief period of time can significantly reduce levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in participants. Furthermore, it is believed that viewing natural scenes, like those found in Zen gardens, can have a calming effect on the brain.”

The act of creating and maintaining a mini–Zen Garden is also kind of a form of mindfulness practice, encouraging individuals to focus on the present moment and let go of worries about the past or future. Dr Rahul Chandhok explained, “This type of mindfulness-based stress reduction has proven to be effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. It's important to understand that the effectiveness of a mini–Zen Garden in reducing anxiety will vary from person to person. Some people may find the repetitive motions of raking the sand to be soothing, while others may find simply gazing at the arrangement of rocks and plants very calming. Also, the aesthetic appeal of the garden and its surroundings can play a role in its ability to promote relaxation. While more research is needed to completely understand the therapeutic effects of mini-Zen gardens, some evidences suggest that they can indeed help reduce anxiety. So, for those looking for a path from pebbles to peace, a mini–Zen Garden may be worth exploring.”

Bringing her expertise to the same, Dr Preetha RaviSree, Associate Dean - Interior Design Department at Pearl Academy, revealed, “In today’s fast-paced world, finding peace is more important than ever. Miniature Zen gardens offer a way to achieve inner calm. These gardens have been part of Japanese culture since the Muromachi Period (1336-1573). “Zen” comes from “Chan,” which translates to dhyāna, a Sanskrit word meaning “meditation.” Carefully crafted for meditation and relaxation, they provide sanctuary from modern stresses. Zen Gardens are miniature landscapes created with rocks, water features, moss, and pruned vegetation. Enclosed and small, they’re meant for introspection, not just viewing pleasure. They embody simplicity amidst complexity, symbolising profound Zen principles beyond visual aesthetics. Every element within a Zen Garden carries deep symbolic meaning, reflecting fundamental principles of Zen philosophy.”

She elaborated, “For example, the carefully arranged rocks, or “Ishi”, symbolise not only mountains but also embody the enduring strength of nature and the figure of Buddha. Similarly, water features, or “Mizu,” represent both physical purity and the passage of time, serving as poignant reminders of life’s impermanence. Plantings, or “Shokobutsu,” such as cherry trees and bamboo, are chosen not just for their aesthetic qualities but also for their symbolic significance, embodying principles of resilience and flexibility. Even seemingly mundane elements like lanterns and bridges, known as “Tenkeibutsu,” hold profound meaning, representing enlightenment and unity with the universe.”

Dr Preetha RaviSree highlighted, “A striking aspect of Zen Garden design is the principle of “shakkei,” or borrowing scenery, which emphasises the interconnectedness of all existence. By incorporating the surrounding landscape into the garden, designers create a harmonious dialogue between nature and human intervention, fostering contemplation of universal interconnectedness. Zen gardens offer more than aesthetics; they are havens for mindfulness. Tending to these landscapes cultivates a state of focused awareness, offering respite from the complexities of modern life. Whether through the rhythmic raking of sand or quiet reflection on symbolic elements, individuals find solace and harmony within these serene environments.”

So, whether you seek a momentary escape from the chaos of daily life or strive to nurture a deeper sense of inner peace, consider incorporating a miniature Zen Garden into your routine. After all, within the simple act of arranging pebbles lies the potential for profound transformation — from chaos to calm, and from pebbles to peace.

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