Summer is here and that means gardening season is fully upon us! While gardening can be a meditative practice that relaxes the mind and feeds the spirit, it can also do a number on our backs. Below are some tips and yoga poses for both keeping yourself safe while gardening and loosening up if you are feeling sore after a long day working outside.
Most people spend many hours weeding in a forward bent position. While this position can be good for brief periods of time, many hours in a forward bent position will place many times your body weight on your spine, potentially injuring the muscles and ligaments. In addition, the forward bending position will compress the front of the vertebrae together, pushing the spinal discs towards your back. Although the spinal disc is designed to react to different forces, holding a forward bent position for too long can overcome the disc’s natural elasticity, leading to disc bulge or herniation. Standing and using a variety of positions can help avoid injury.
Cat/Camel:
The hands and knees position offers many benefits for your body.  Unlike forward bending, working on all fours reduces the forces generated on your spine. While weeding or planting, try moving through the garden on your hands and knees. It will reduce the load on your spine and hamstrings. An added bonus- you can give your back a break by periodically stretching in the cat and camel positions throughout your day!
In order to do this, place your knees under your hips and wrists under your shoulders. Pause to feel your breath and connect with the ground. Move with your breath- on the inhale round your spine, as you exhale allow your low back to arch and chest to drop towards the ground. Repeat 5-10 times throughout the day.
Chair pose:
Gardening inevitably involves some lifting.  Most people have heard about lifting with their legs, but this  takes some training to perform correctly.  Working in Utkatasana, or chair pose, can help strengthen your legs for lifting and re-train how you move into a squat.  Practicing this pose on a regular basis can help keep your back injury free through gardening season.
Stand with your feet hip width apart, your back muscles relaxed and pelvis in a neutral position. Move into a deep squat by hinging from your hips, keeping your spine in neutral.  You should feel the majority of the work in the legs, with the spinal muscles staying relaxed.  Activate the legs more by pushing your feet into the ground.  As you return to standing, continue to press your feet into the ground.  Intentionally activating your legs during your yoga practice will train your body to use them more while you are bending and lifting in the garden.
After a long day of gardening, it is typical for your body to be sore. Here are a few ideas to speed your recovery –
Bridge: With this pose, you can reverse the negative effects bending forward can have on your lumbar spine and hips. Lie on your back with your feet under your knees. Squeeze your buttocks and push your feet into the ground, lifting your pelvis. Keep your arms at your side or deepen the stretch by clasping your hands behind your back. Draw the shoulder blades together to lift the chest away from the feet.
Cobra:  After spending so much time in a bent over position, it is helpful to open up the chest and upper back in a gentle cobra pose. Lie on your stomach with your arms at chest height. With an inhale, gently draw your shoulder blades on your back, press your hands into the ground and lift your chest. With an exhale, relax your chest back to the ground.
Child’s pose:  This pose can stretch out the shoulders and gently open up the back. After performing backward bends, it will be beneficial to complete your practice with a gentle forward bend. From a hands and knees position, push back to sit on your heels, reaching your arms overhead. Allow your body to relax into this position for 5-10 breaths.
– Michelle Downing, DPT

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