An Asian Inspired Relaxation Garden

When my wife and I were house hunting, for myself, it was not the great neighborhood, yard or even the house itself that had me sold.  They were all wonderful, but it was the courtyard in the center of the home that sealed the deal.  When we bought the house the courtyard held a fish pond, but I knew it would only be a matter of time before the pond became a garden.  It was the perfect space to bring the outdoors in and was destined to become a place to enjoy a moment of peace and quiet.  In fact, I am enjoying the courtyard as I write this.

Koi in pond

Japanese koi in pond

The most important point to take away from this article is not how to create a garden with an Asian theme, but rather to inspire you to build your own relaxation space.  Japanese gardens speak to me the most, so our space would incorporate those aesthetics.  Your relaxation garden should also be personal and may be completely different – a shady spot in the backyard, an ivy covered alcove between buildings or a rustic bench by a lazy river.  What matters most is that it is a space where you can get away to enjoy some personal time.  We all need to recharge and what better place than in your own garden.

Designing Your Relaxation Garden

Since our goal is to create a space to relax in, the following are suggestions to keep it that way.

Create a Simple Garden

Regardless of the type of garden you design, my first suggestion is to keep it simple.  The Asian garden would draw from nature and use subtle tones for a calming feel.  Incorporate a natural color palette and pay attention to the textures you plan to include.  You do not want it to be too busy.  For example, I love variegated plants, but an entire garden of them would be distracting.  Instead, use them sparingly as accent plantings.

Keep it Low Maintenance

Cat on mossy stepping stones

Pets need quiet space too!

While I find gardening therapeutic, this space is meant for relaxation.  Select plants that are hardy, easy to grow and that do not require a lot of special attention.  Our garden is shady, so we included hosta, ferns and Solomon’s Seal.  You may prefer grasses for sunny spots or cacti for areas where water is an issue.  I recommend perennials that return year after year, but it helps to “grow what you know.”  You do not want to be worrying about whether your plants will do well.  Plan the garden and consult a nursery if you have questions.

Since this article touches on Asian gardens, I feel compelled to steer you away from planting bamboo.  And that is coming from a self-confessed bamboo addict!  Unless you keep it in pots or really understand what you are planting, it is best to use the canes as decoration or to stay away from it entirely.   Other potentially invasive plants to avoid would include aggressive vines and groundcovers like Vinca.

Mulch and rocks are useful in low maintenance gardens.  Mulch helps control weeds, keeps the soil moist and adds nutrients.  This means you will be spending less time weeding, watering, and your plants will be healthier.  Rocks are virtually maintenance-free, so think about incorporating a nice specimen or decorative gravel.

Develop the Mood

Consider all your senses to help enhance the mood of your garden.  Ours has a stone lantern that is nice during the day, but adds something special to the garden at night when lit.  We also have a moss-covered pathway in our courtyard that we use to get from our living room to the kitchen.  Moss between rocks feels great on bare feet, or substitute with Corsican mint that gives off a minty fragrance when you walk on it.  Flowering plants offer an unlimited variety of smells to work with.  Plant something that only blooms during a particular time of the day, like a Moonflower, for a special treat during your time off.  Water features are great as well.  Even a simple fountain, like a boulder or pot that recirculates water, can add a very soothing touch.  If you want something really unique, build a suikinkutsu.   Choose bells or chimes if you prefer those sounds.

Think Seasonally

Snow in Japanese garden

Our courtyard in winter

My final suggestion is to remember that your garden will change throughout the seasons, so keep that in mind when you are planning it.  Pay attention to which plants will be seen during each season and their colors, as they may change.  Use evergreens for consistent color and texture.  Flowers, trees and shrubs can all be used for seasonal color.  Select plants that bloom at different intervals to have something blooming throughout the season.  Also, try to think past blooms and foliage – specimens with interesting bark can add color and interest even in the dead of winter.

Under the Asian Influence

If you are truly interested in designing an Asian garden, I suggest starting your research with the image search on Google.  Save images you like in a folder to refer to later.  Keep an eye out for features that make a garden distinctly Asian and learn more about them.  A few of my favorites include:

  • Asymmetry – Asymmetrical balance is a core tenet of Japanese art and culture.
  • Shakkei – Concept of “borrowing” scenery to make your garden appear larger than it really is.
  • Wabi-sabi – Incorporate weathered objects to give your garden an ancient feel.  Paint moss on lanterns and rocks to simulate aging.
  • Yūgen – Partially obscuring objects to suggest their beauty. This leaves something for the imagination.

Regardless of the type of relaxation garden you design, keep it simple and personal.  The most important thing to remember is to enjoy it.  Visit your garden often and experience the changes throughout the year.

Happy gardening relaxing!

The Smell Test

How our homes smell is vital to creating a homespace that exudes good feelings, or what I call “warm fuzzies”.

This is important for you and all that dwell in your homespace.  It is also important for those that enter your home to get these same “warm fuzzies” from the smell of your home.

The Science of Smell

The olfactory nerves in the nose send information about the smell (scent) to the primary cortex of the brain.  The cortex is linked to the amygdala and the hippocampus of the limbic system.  The amygdala processes emotion.  The hippocampus is responsible for associative learning.  So, your brain forges a link between smell and memory.

When you first smell a new scent, you connect it to something such as a person, place or thing like an event.  Thus, the perception of smell consists of not only the sensation of the odors themselves but also of the experiences and emotions associated with these sensations.

Feel Good Memories of Smell

Think back to your childhood.  Do you have certain smells that bring back memories of childhood or days gone by?

Here’s an example.  My grandmother had holly bushes that grew outside her home.  I loved my grandmother dearly and looked forward to visiting her every summer.  Every visit began with the smell of those holly bushes as they were at the steps to her front door.  To this day whenever I smell hollies, I smile in memory of my dear grandmother, Nana.  Always.

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

Take the Smell Test

Here is how you can test your homespace.

Leave your home for a while, preferably several hours.  Upon re-entering your home, stand in the foyer or entryway of your home with your eyes closed.  Breathe in.  Do you smell anything?  Does it smell good, bad, or indifferent?  Continue this test in other areas of your home.  Obviously, you hope for good test results.  If you have something that smells distasteful, you know what to do- find it and remove it!

Do this test regularly.  If you are comfortable with asking a close friend to take the smell test in your home for you, do that as well.   Just make sure to ask them to do it with their eyes closed- it makes all the difference. Just be prepared for their response, as you might be surprised!

Creating wondrous smells in your homespace

Smell can bring a flood of memories, influence people’s moods, and even affect productivity.  This is why you want your homespace to have a pleasing smell.

If your homespace can use some help in the good smell department, there are numerous ways to achieve this.  Here are a few:

  • Open your windows regularly to let out stale odors.
  • Clean more often.
  • Remove trash and animal litter regularly.
  • Bring fragrant flowers indoors and place them all over the house.
  • Make bundles of dried lavender to use in your home.
  • Keep herbs such as fresh rosemary in your kitchen/home.
  • Use candles (safely of course) that are earth friendly.  I love having one lit in my kitchen at all times as even the flicker is soothing to the atmosphere.
  • Use diffusers with 100% essential oils.
  • Use odor eliminators (again, earth friendly).  My all time favorite is Fresh Wave.

Remember:  The smell of your homespace is the first thing that greets you (besides the family pet) and all that enter.  It sets the tone immediately.

Begin now to understand the importance of your homespace’s smell.  It doesn’t just affect the day-to-day living.  Your homespace’s smell has the power to create memories for you, the members of your family and all who enter.  Make sure they are warm fuzzy memories.

Also, look for upcoming articles on aromatherapy for the homespace!

One thought…

Beauty is not just viewed with the eyes.

Keep decorating…

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

Our Bodies are the Homes to our Souls

“Watch this!” Steve exclaimed with sheer delight, “I haven’t been able to do this in years!”

I had met Steve less than an hour before when I offered him assistance with a treadmill in the fitness center that my husband owns and operates. As a head custodian in a local public school, Steve was participating in a program geared towards helping at-risk students, faculty, and staff make healthy lifestyle changes. He had told me upon our initial greetings that he was so thankful for what my husband, Ché, was doing for him and the other participants. Now, after having completed his work on the treadmill, he was bubbling with the joy of meeting a couple of his top goals. His first: to walk a mile “without stopping”. He quickly let me know that not only had he achieved this, but was now jogging a little “here and there” throughout his mile so that he could eventually run the whole thing. His second, which he proudly and promptly demonstrated: to bend over to pick something up off the floor. “Two weeks ago I would have had to put a knee on the ground and then do some work to stand myself back upright, but now, look, I can do this all day long,” he went on, beaming with pleasure, as he repeatedly squatted to pick up some imaginary object from the floor. “It might not seem like much to some people, but believe me, it makes a big difference in my line of work!”

The Ultimate Homespace

With the newfound abilities and functionalities of his body, Steve had experienced a sense of accomplishment that is incomparable. Our bodies are the homes to our souls. Throughout our time on this Earth they are our primary and permanent homespaces, if you will. It is disheartening that in this age of obesity and innumerable other life-threatening illnesses we focus so little on the cultivation and maintenance of our health. Don’t get me wrong, we are overly concerned, some even obsessed, with the outward appearance of fitness and wellness. How many people do we know whose goal every New Year is to get back in shape to look good in a bathing suit for the upcoming warm season? I admit, the thought of prancing around half-naked in front of family, friends, and strangers alike is enough to motivate anyone to cut out some sweets and give the gym a few visits! The disappointing part is that we are often setting ourselves up for failure. When we focus on the superficial aspects of fitness… looking good in a bathing suit, losing just 5 more lbs., we inevitably set immeasurable goals and choose methods to reach them that we know we can’t maintain for any substantial length of time. Are we really going to eliminate all carbs for the rest of our lives? Never again eat sugar? Is it reasonable to commit to several hours a day in the gym? Forever? Not likely. So why do we continue to do this to ourselves? What if we begin to see the maintenance of our ultimate homespace, our body, as an outward expression of our soul?

walking on trail

Photo credit: Lindsay Torry

When we focus on the spiritual and profound implications of a healthy body, we experience changes that are indescribable. If we approach nutrition and exercise from our inner selves and focus on the functions of our bodies, health and fitness become authentically integrated into our lifestyles. Ask the 80-yr-old man who just walked up a flight of steps for the first time in ten years, the 50-yr-old physician whose exercise halted her menopausal symptoms, or the 25-yr-old who was just taken off of medication for high blood pressure. Setting and reaching fitness goals will inevitably change your physique for the better, but the real change in your appearance will be in your spirit. It will light up your face with joy, you will radiate positive energy, you will approach life with determination, you will exude confidence. And you won’t quit! How many people do you know who train for one 5k and then never do another one again? Not many, because when the motivation is from the inside, it grows and multiplies. As you approach meeting one goal, like Steve, you will already be planning your next goal!

What’s your goal?

Young girl climber

Photo credit: Lindsay Torry

So the question is, where do you want to start? Swim 100 meters? Walk a mile? Run 3 miles? Bike 10 miles? Set a goal for yourself! Make nutritional changes to help fuel your body to reach it. What if you replace 1 soda a day with a glass of water? What if you add an extra fruit or vegetable to one meal a day? Yes, your body will change, but MOST importantly, your life will change!

Happy training!

 

Toddler on excercise equipment

Photo credit: Kelly Walsh

Creating Balance Through Exercise

My first experience with exercise outside of elementary school play period was a show on TV called “The Arty Levin Show”.  I loved it and I loved the feeling of stretching my body.  Then,  exercise in my early adult life included walking, hiking, tennis and all sorts of indoor aerobic classes.  As a mother of young children, my kids and I exercised by dancing to Marlo Thomas’s album, “Free to be you and me”.  Little did my children know that in dancing for fun they were also exercising both their bodies and minds through the lyrics of this wonderful album.  If you have young kids yourself, check it out!

Also, I was a runner for years (in fact, quite obsessively so for the first few painful years of separation and divorce) and ran so many miles some days that I felt like Forrest Gump- my legs just needed to run and run and run.  For years come rain, sleet, hail or snow my running partner Susie (and my dearest friend) and I ran every morning.  It is amazing how many problems of the world and most importantly, your own that can be worked through with each step you take. 

Trauma-drama looks very different when viewed through the haze of exhaustion from exercise.

(If you know Susie ask her about her fall and subsequent trip to the hospital after completing a few more miles!!!)

So, I believe it was no coincidence that after pounding the pavement for more miles than my body shape could probably handle I succumbed to health issues.  Running, tennis and a few other choice activities became a thing of the past.

I first met Hector while embarking on a fitness-training program for myself in answer to these changes.

I needed a trainer to put me on the right path of combining exercise with weight training to give myself a healthier routine.

Hector and his fellow staff met my needs.  Today, he works with many people I know that have very specific needs as well. He knows how to tailor each of their programs to meet these needs.  But, over and above that- Hector is passionate about teaching everyone the joy of being physically fit.  He is passionate about bringing exercise into every home he can.

Remember, “Everything begins in the home”.

I am honored to have him join my Blog as an expert in his field.  I hope his words, pictures and videos will empower you.

I sat down with Hector to do a Q&A to introduce him to you readers.

Please read on…

A Conversation with Hector Benitez

What was life like in your home of origin?

Born and raised in sunny south Florida, I grew up spending afternoons and weekends at the beach.  My family life was full of birthdays, cousins and friends.  I also grew up watching and participating with my mother in exercising, drinking protein shakes and hanging out at fitness clubs watching her wrap a leather belt around her hips because the vibration was supposed to induce fat loss!

How has it impacted your career choice today?

The impact that my upbringing had on me towards my career choice is empowerment.  The career path that my adolescence carved out for me wasn’t fitness or training.  The choice for me involved the path that would allow the best way for me to help people realize how much control they truly have over their emotions, thoughts and physical well being.

Explain the importance of physical fitness as you view it.

The importance of physical fitness as I view it has to do with feeling balanced. Physical fitness like painting, drawing, music, writing, or Interior Design is another way for people to express themselves through physical exertion, emotional accomplishment and imagination.

Are there ways to incorporate physical fitness in the home on a daily basis?

Examples of how people can incorporate exercise into their homes are as easy as rearranging furniture using proper lifting techniques, jumping jacks in the living room, push-ups in the bedroom before bed and in the morning before starting your day, and stretching in the shower under warm water.

What is the message you would like to give readers?

The message I would like to pass on to readers is EAT, LOVE, STAY ACTIVE!!!!  Participate in your life and don’t watch it pass you by while sitting down.  Embrace it and hang on to it through healthier-balanced choices.

What future topics will you discuss?

I’ll be discussing the 2 goals of EVERY Physical Conditioning Program to fine-tune the beach body.  I’ll also be discussing the Phases that every exercise program should include and when to incorporate them safely.  These 2 examples will assure that all will be ready for Summer of 2012.  Other topics will include everyday exercises to use at home, family fun exercises and exercises for senior living.

Welcome Aboard Hector!

One thought:

A healthy body makes for a healthy mind.

Get up on those feet…

Jamie's New Cruiser

Jamie’s new wheels for decorator sleuthing. Photo credit: David Solganik