Aaaaah, spring! There’s nothing like it – especially here in Tennessee, where nature virtually explodes in a sea of color.
If you’re like me, you can’t wait to get outdoors to enjoy all that lushness … and get your hands dirty. After all, gardening is one of the best ways to connect with the soil, the land and your soul. This is true whether you’ve got organic gardening down to a science, love sprucing up the yard with some beautiful blooms or just want to grow a few tomatoes and herbs.
Unfortunately, our bodies are not always on board with this newfound enthusiasm, especially after a long winter. For all its benefits, gardening is one of the leading causes of lower back pain.
Luckily, it’s easy to stack the odds of surviving the season unscathed in your favor.
Here’s how you to tackle all your gardening chores:
Warming up for gardening? What?!
Think about it: You warm up for your workout for good reason. The same applies to working outdoors: Jumping straight into gardening without warming up is asking for trouble. Try a few of these simple, gentle Pilates- and Yoga-inspired movements:
- Pelvic curl/pelvic clock
- Bent knee openings
- Swan prep
- Spine twist
- Child’s pose
Before I get into all the details, there is one rule I want you to follow: If your back starts to ache at any time, LISTEN. Stop. Stretch.
Maybe you need to lay off it for an hour or two or for the day. That’s fine. Your garden will still be there when you return.
Here are a few dos and don’ts for the most common moves.
Shoveling, Hoeing and Raking
- Keep your back as neutral as possible.
- Bend at the hips rather than at the back.
- Use your legs!
- Excessively round your back.
- Overload the shovel.
- Reach excessively far.
- Twist or round the back excessively with a load.
Picking up and carrying
Whether you’re picking up a heavy bag of organic soil or lugging that huge planter around the deck, do yourself a favor and use this technique:
- Stand in front of the object you want to pick up.
- Squat down as deeply as you can next to it.
- Grasp and hold it as close to your body as possible.
- Use the strength of your legs to push up into a standing position (this is where all the squatting you did this winter at the gym and all the Pilates footwork comes in handy).
- Walk over to the spot you need it to go.
- Now reverse the motion: Keep holding the object close, squat down as low as you can and gently place it on the ground. (If you don’t mind the bag of soil being split open, you can also just drop it on the garden bed, of course!)
Planting … and weeding
You may have heard this advice before … and disregarded it like I have. Not a good idea. (Right?! Been there, done that, suffered the consquences!)
Make a pact with yourself to follow through this time and your back will thank you for it: Instead of stooping down with a rounded back and straight legs, do one of these two things:
- Squat deeply and STAY THERE (butt down!) while weeding. Yes, that is hard on the legs – you can probably skip the heavy squats at the gym today! Good work! – To move to another area, simply stand up and repeat. (Advanced movement people can also “duck-walk” over, but that requires some serious leg strength, hip/ankle mobility and coordination! Try it sometime!)
- Sit or kneel to plant/weed. Since that can be uncomfortable, help your body out by sitting or kneeling on something. There are lots of benches, knee pads and what have you available for purchase. You can also use a low box or an old yoga block to sit on. And try using an old yoga/pilates mat (fold to make it thicker!) or a kitchen or standing desk mat to kneel on more comfortably.
When the work is done
Behold your gorgeous garden! Congratulations, that was a LOT of work!
Your soul is full of joy and your body is … probably a bit achy. A few targeted moves before you let your exhausted self sink into that couch are in order. Don’t worry, we’re not talking exertion here, just some nice, relaxing yoga poses.
- Slow cat/cow stretches
- Knees to chest pose (Apanasana) – while you’re here, draw some circles on the floor with your back. Aaaah!
- “Windshield wipers” – resting on your back, arms at a T, feet planted wider than hip width, let both knees drop to one side, turning the head to the other, reverse
- Child’s pose (Balasana)
- Thread the needle (Parsva balasana)
- Legs up the wall pose (Viparita karani)
Happy gardening! Let me know how it goes!
If you want to receive more helpful posts like this one, go ahead and subscribe to the blog – I update about once or twice a month. And if all that movement has you motivated to do more, schedule a Pilates session to keep your back healthy and yourself happy all season long!