By Ellen Gibson
“Some say that a garden just grows from seeds, but we think it grows from trying and failing and trying again. A garden is hard work, but so is most of the good, important stuff in life.” – Joanna Gaines, We Are the Gardeners
The earth is warming in the April sun and rain. Restless gardeners eye the awakening ground with visions of asparagus shoots, plum blossoms, and red maple flowers brightening the landscape. Every gardener greets this time of year with joy and ambitious plans to … grow more vegetables and flowers … make the world a more beautiful place … and create a habitat for native pollinators.
Too much ambition, maybe? How can you keep the workload manageable and within your energy budget?
10 yogic guidelines to stay healthy this gardening season:
1. Exercise to prepare for the day. Stretching and moving will warm up the muscles and oil the joints. Remember how Dorothy had to oil the Tin Man when he became rusty? Stretching will do the same thing for you. A gentle morning yoga practice will increase balance, strength, endurance, flexibility, and range of motion.
Six basic postures warm up the muscles around the spine and the lower back. These can be done sitting or standing.
- Extension and flexion of the spine, such as in cat / cow and barrel roll.
- With arms up overhead, a side stretch to the right and to the left.
- A gentle twist left and right.
2. Be aware of your body. Moving freely and gentle stretching allows you to identify any sore places. Once you are aware of any pain, the next step is figuring out what to do about it.
- Does a gentle yoga practice address the pain?
- Do you have persistent pain that doesn’t go away?
If your pain is persistent or negatively impacting your day-to-day activities, including gardening, reach out to your health care provider. Physical Therapists specialize in assessing and treating musculoskeletal injuries that may contribute to pain.
I’ve had several injuries that have required physical therapy (PT). I take yoga classes at Posabilities. Owner Katey Hawes is also a physical therapist. For me, Katey’s knowledge of yoga postures combined with the science of physical therapy is very effective.
3. Pace yourself. There’s only so much time in a day. What do you really have to get done? Write it down. Break large jobs into smaller, bite-sized tasks that you can complete in 20-30 minutes. You may not get the entire yard raked, but you can feel a sense of accomplishment when you tick “rake for half an hour” off your list.
4. Wear sturdy shoes. Good foot support provides good back support and helps with balance when walking on uneven terrain.
5. Keep your tools organized. Organization saves time, energy, and frustration. Keep long-handled tools hung up on the wall. You can find them when you need them, and they won’t be a tripping hazard. Gather your tools together in a cart or a 5-gallon bucket before you head off to the garden.
6. Change tasks frequently—every 20-30 minutes is a good rule of thumb. Change from standing to sitting to kneeling. This way, you won’t overtax any one set of muscles.
- Telescoping tools allow you to work from a standing or sitting position.
- Five-gallon buckets turned upside down become sturdy seats that won’t tip over. Remember to bend forward from the hip hinge.
- The “garden bench” is a handy, lightweight seat for gardening chores. Turn it over, and it becomes a garden kneeler. The legs will support you when you come back to standing. These are not expensive and are available at any garden supply store.
- Construction workers’ knee pads also work well to protect the knees when kneeling. Use that 5-gallon bucket as a prop to help you get back onto your feet.
7. Protect your hands.
- Use gloves to protect the soft tissues of the hands from cuts and scrapes.
- Protect the cartilage in your fingers. You can pad the handles of your tools with pipe insulation and duct tape. This simple modification makes a cushiony grip that’s easier on your hands.
8. Be mindful of how you’re feeling throughout the day. Is your back getting sore? Head aching from too much sun? Thirsty? Tired?
- Rest. Pause. Breathe. Drink water. I bring my yoga mat out into the garden with me. A short break in a constructive rest position relieves tension in my back. Looking up at the sky gives you a whole new perspective on the world around you.
- A pause is a great time to stretch to counteract muscle fatigue. Extend and flex the spine. Rotate the shoulders, wrists, and ankles.
9. Be mindful of lifting. Check out this video for proper technique from Maine AgrAbility, gardening, and ergonomics: safe lifting techniques.
10. Make time for yoga before going to bed. The session can be short and sweet. This practice is a great way to prepare the mind and body for a good sound sleep.
I wish you sweet dreams, ease of motion, and beautiful gardens.
Ellen S. Gibson is a writer, educator, student, part-time farmer, cheesemaker, mother. She really does enjoy wearing different hats. Her day job is with Maine AgrAbility, a program that supports farmers with physical and mental limitations (and doesn’t that describe everyone?) to continue their work in agriculture. She has introduced yoga and mindfulness to her clients to address arthritis and musculoskeletal injuries from farming and gardening. She writes the Maine AgrAbility blog, Gotta Lotta Livin’ To Do.
She lives and writes from her farm on Stearns Hill in West Paris, raising Nubian goats and managing this historic farm.
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