Yoga for Gardening

It’s spring in the Northwest. Time to plant, till, weed, and dig. Time to haul barrows full of compost to the garden. Time to wake up with back pain and shoulders aches and neck cricks of unknown origin.

Gardening is hard work. Even this body that gets daily yoga and Pilates gets sore from digging and hauling compost. Monday’s classes relieved most of the back pain that landscaping the front yard induced, so now I’m ready to do it again… Here’s some yoga tips for gardeners to help avert the aches and pains:

1) Don’t work too long uninterrupted. Ideally, spread your gardening tasks through the week. Work for an hour a day or so. Weed in small increments. I know, most of our lives don’t allow this pace. So when you do your long weekend gardening binges, make sure you get up and walk around every 30 minutes or so. Those extended periods of time spent bent over weeding are nearly guaranteed to give you a backache. Stretch often. Change your position frequently. Move about.

2) Backbend and side bend to counter stretch your spine. We do almost all our garden tasks in flexion: forward bending the spine. When you come up from your work, stand up very tall. Take you hands behind your back and lace your fingers together. Extend the arms and lift them away from your back while letting your heart rise and stretching the front of your spine. Then sweep your arms overhead, again interlace your fingers and turn your palms to face the sky while extending your arms. Arch side-to-side stretching from your hips through your shoulders.

3) Keep engaging your core muscles: transverse abdominus and pelvic floor. To engage transverse abdominus narrow your middle by taking your belly button toward your spine. Lift your pelvic floor muscles by first narrowing the diamond shaped region between the sitting bones, tailbone, and pubic bone and then lifting this diamond up to support the abdominal organs. Engage these two sets of muscles as often as you remember.

4) Half Dog Pose: Come to stand in front of a bench or garden chair. Sweep your arms up along side your ears, engage your core muscles and then fold forward to place your hands on the chair seat. Step back to find a position where your both arms and legs are extended, your back is easy, your spine near horizontal and your head is in line with your arms. Slightly bend your knees and rotate your pelvis forward and back to find ‘neutral.’ Engage your deep abdominal muscles to support the low back. Keep pressing your hands into the bench and shift your weight back into your feet to stretch your armpits and shoulders. Breath deeply. You can gently bend one knee at a time ‘walking’ the legs in place to enhance the stretch in the hamstrings. You can also rotate the pelvis left and right to stretch the sides of the low back. To come out of this pose bend your knees, take your hands to your knees, extend your spine lead with your heart to rise.

5) Last but not least: Roll down. Stand up very tall. Engage your core muscles. Drop your head to look at your feet. SLOWLY allow one vertebrae at a time to roll forward off the spine, strongly work your core muscles to keep the rest of the body aligned as the spine slowly releases forward. Roll forward into your full forward bend and rest in a long stretch, with passive arms and head, breathing all the while. To come up, first reengage the pelvic floor muscles and feel your tail bone curl underneath the pelvis. Then on an exhale engage transverse abdominus and begin to unfurl the spine, one vertebrae at a time, all the way back up to standing. Repeat roll down a few times.