Stretch Your Gardening Potential

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Stretch Your Gardening Potential

Listening to your body, responding to its needs before injuries develop, and simply knowing how to stretch will empower you to garden longer, experience fewer aches when you’re done for the day, and maintain a pain-free body ready and able to garden in the days and years ahead.

One of the simplest methods for avoiding injury is to start the gardening workday by stretching before you even reach for your tools. Spending 10-20 minutes focusing on your body before concentrating on the garden should permit you to extend your work time in the garden as the day progresses, and it is likely to keep you mindful of your body as you yank, shovel, plant and saw. These early stretches may include doing a few lunges to open hips, forward bending in a seated position with legs spread wide, or even raising arms above the head to elongate side, hand and arm muscles.

As we work in the garden, it’s important we stay focused on preempting any pain and be mindful of any twinges or over-exertion messages our body sends us. If we administer care as we work rather than just at the beginning or end of the day, it’s more likely we’ll keep major injuries and lingering aches at bay.

  • First, remember to breathe! Maintaining deep breathing keeps your blood oxygenated and helps relieve tension.
  • As you are working, make a conscious effort to engage your core muscles. Be sure to actively pull in your low abdomen when you are bending forward. The lumbar spine is not supported by the rib cage, which makes it easy to develop low back pain. By engaging your abs as you do any physical activity, you reduce the likelihood of developing lower back pain.
  • Gardeners do a lot of what I call “the squat and waddle”. We squat down with bent knees to pull weeds, cut back perennials, pick away grubs, and install plants. This is a great exercise in strength building, but it can also be exhausting and lead to cramps. To stay limber and release squatting positions, take breaks. Stand with straight legs, engage your core and bend forward letting your head become heavy and relaxed. Bend your arms at the elbows and let your body hang forward. Keep your legs straight, but do not lock your knees. Not only will this restore your legs after periods of being bent, but it may also help gently stretch your entire spine. Plus, forward bends are relaxing!

Even though we may do lots of warm up stretching and take breaks throughout our day of toddling through the garden in a crouch, there are a number of simple restorative poses and stretches that help give us some final relaxation and relief. After cleaning up and calling it a day, take a moment to relax quietly.

  • Legs-at-the-wall is a restorative, inverted forward bend done at a wall (or even up a tree or fence if the garden allows). To start, lay on your back parallel to the wall. Walk your legs up the wall as you slide your hips perpendicular to the wall. Relax with your arms a bit away from your body flat on the ground, with your hands open upward, which will help your shoulders relax. As you do this, your low back will be gently but firmly pushed into the floor. While you relax in this pose, blood will drain from your tired feet and legs to re-circulate throughout your body. And, your low back should release as it flattens against the floor.
  • Legs-at-the-wall option: Hold your hands upward in the air, palms facing toward one another with fingers spread for a few minutes. Keep your shoulders on the ground. This will help drain blood from your tired hands and aid in your recirculation restoration.
  • Restorative backbend is a fantastic way to balance out all the forward bending you do while gardening. Plus, it will open your chest, invigorate you and relax you all at once. Yoga instructor Karen Percelle suggests you use a small, folded blanket or towel to create a bolster. Place your bolster on the ground and lay down with it below your chest’s heart center. Relax backward with your arms spread wide on the ground and palms facing upward. Rest the back of your head on the ground; do not try to hold it up. If it is uncomfortable or you cannot rest your head on the floor, adjust the size or position of your bolster until you can relax and breathe. When you are done with this pose, roll to your side in a fetal position for several breaths to let your spine adjust to being unbent before you get up.
  • Knees to chest is another lovely relaxing forward bend that has the added bonus of opening tired hips, releasing lower back pain, and massaging our entire back all at once. Begin by laying flat on your back. Gently pull your knees toward your chest and wrap your arms around your shins, pulling your knees down toward your chest with care. Do not force them. As you do so, rock gently side-to-side and in a circular motion, massaging out kinks in your back as your gentle tug helps release your low back.

Before you begin any new exercise program be sure to check with your doctor. If any pose is painful or uncomfortable, don’t do it. Breathe deeply. Never force or over-exert yourself in any pose. The point is to relax and restore your body with these stretches, not to push it further. And, consider signing up for a local beginner yoga program to learn the finer points of building a yoga practice that fits your body’s specific needs. Many studios offer series classes designed for beginners, and some even offer programs focused on the unique needs of avid gardeners.