Benefits of Owning a Bonsai: Mental, Physical and Emotional

We all know that bonsai are beautiful but did you also know that having one in the room with you can benefit your health. In the early days of bonsai culture the only people who owned them were either Zen masters or important figures in Chinese and Japanese government and military. They were revered as spiritual items and status symbols. Even today numerous people hold on to that belief. However, there is more to the bonsai than meets the eye.


I can attest to the many benefits of owning a bonsai. Being a bonsai enthusiast for many years I have experienced many positive effects simply having a bonsai in the same area as me. These effects are varied and influence all aspects of a person's health; mental, emotional and physical. After doing some research on this phenomenon I began to understand why I feel the way I do around my bonsai.  By sharing my knowledge and passion for the bonsai, my hope is that you too will join me in these bonsai benefits and bring one (or more) into your life as well.


Let's begin with the botanical nature of the bonsai. As a living plant the bonsai can clean and help purify the air in the area it is displayed; be it a room in a house, office, etc. Like a sponge, plants naturally remove toxic compounds from the air trapping them in it's own tissues to be broken down and released as harmless by-products of respiration.  A study was conducted at Washington State University examining the potential of plants ability to filter airborne microbes that can infect or irritate your airways and found that 20 percent of dust was reduced with plants in the room. Dry air and dust can irritate your senses; fortunately the micro-climate around bonsai increases air humidity, but not excessively. This is most likely due to the water from the bonsai's soil and any excesses that has accumulated in the dip tray (place a link the Dip Tray page from the store). While a bonsai can't cure the common cold there has been evidence it can help you get over one faster. Having a bonsai indoors can also help fight fatigue and sore throats. With benefits like these who needs an air filter? It's also relevant to note that people also identify rooms with more plants as rooms with cleaner air.


Now that I have explained how the presence of a bonsai in your immediate area can be beneficial I want to move onto how the relationship between the person and their bonsai can help bolster physical well-being. You don't have to be a bonsai artist or growers to benefit from these qualities, simply owning and caring for a bonsai is enough to reap these rewards. It is safe to say that basic maintenance (watering, pruning, etc.) to bonsai is a great hobby and a wonderful stress reliever. Caring for a bonsai can be seen as a form of meditation or HT (Horticulture Therapy). HT is a practice that uses caring for plants, or gardening, as a form of therapy. It's been applied and found effective in rehabilitative, vocational, and community use. Some studies have found that HT offers substantial improvements for several behavioral and health issues, such as: dementia, schizophrenia, depression, and people with late-stage cancer. Bonsai make excellent gifts for the elderly and infirmed. Taking up bonsai as a hobby it has been found that these individuals felt less fatigue and anxiety; experience faster recovery time and shorter hospitalization and in era of the opioid epidemic, felt less dependent on painkillers.


Now our health isn't just about our bodies and how well it functions.  Bonsai can also help improve our mental and emotional state(s):
Working with, training or maintaining, your bonsai can help you become a more peaceful and patient individual. Plants (bonsai in particular) can teach us a thing or two about empathy. According to a study conducted by Texas Agriculture & Medicine University, people who spend their time caring for nature are more likely to care about others. Caring for your bonsai can help you increase compassion and improve your relationships.


Understanding that bonsai are not just plants but an experience to be appreciated allows us to take them in entirely with all your senses. Whether we realize it or not our senses are linked directly to our emotions. When selecting a bonsai to own or gift one of the obvious qualifying factors in our decision making is how it looks; in particular it's color. The colors we prefer may depend on our culture and upbringing. For example, white is often associated with purity and harmony, but in China the color is associated with death. Not all bonsai are brown and green, many species produce flowers and in some cases fruit as well. Flowers are associated with positive events and can act as a mood enhancer. One study found that flowers have an immediate impact on happiness and improve memory, specifically for an event. While many of us see with our eyes there are those of use who require a more tactile "view" of things. For these people the feel of the leaves, flowers or fruit (something soft and smooth) may make them feel calmer; according to the book Holistic Solutions for Anxiety & Depression.


A lot of research has gone into the benefits of plants and human health. Studies have mixed results about the benefits, ranging from increased productivity in the workplace to only benefits for men or women. But none of these studies have found evidence of negative outcomes to having indoor bonsai. After all, we can only stare at a spreadsheet for so long before productivity decreases. Having a piece of Mother Nature to look at at our desk could regenerate our attention and keep our senses and brain going. When it comes to sprucing up your house and health, spending a little green on greens can go a long way. It’s not just about improving your indoor aesthetic. Even if you don’t normally notice a bonsai's presence, seeing one can subconsciously make you feel calm and relaxed.

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