MD and Health forum: Yoga for Gardeners

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Jan 25, 2015 7:34 AM CST
Name: starlight1153 Zone 8a/b
It's winter time and you may have spent the past several months just hanging around the house watching Tv, searching and chatting on the internet, but now Spring is coming and soon it will be time to get out into the garden and start preparing beds and starting seed plantings.

While you have had an enjoyable time relaxing in your home during the winter, your muscles have had a good time relaxing too. Areas that were tight are now loose. Parts that were firm are now turning flabby. Let's also not forget posture and the spine and back. All those hours of sitting any old which a way, may have seemed comfortable at the time, but with the potential weeding, digging, shoveling and hauling that comes from planting, your back is now going to start complaining.

Before you get out there and start the enjoyable, yet physically hard work of gardening, you really should prepare the body first. One of the simple ways to strengthen your body is by practicing Yoga. Below you will find a very good tutorial by Maridell, explaining in deep some simple Yoga gardening practices you can do to get into shape.

As gardeners, timing of a lot of crops is essential. Trying to keep ahead of the weeds is a very physical chore and one that can be "back-breaking." Hauling mulches and soil around is not a lightweight job. Digging all those little holes to place your transplants is hard on the arm muscles.

If you just go outside and start to work in your gardens without preparing your bodies, you risk the possibility of an injury that could last days , weeks or even months. Having a sore or hurt body can potential put you behind in your growing season and cause you double work as those weeds start growing taller and thicker.

With advancing years in age, I find myself, that my body no longer wants to do what I want it too. Where as a few years ago it was nothing to be slinging huge 3cu.ft. bags of potting soil and mulches around, I now find it a chore to even lift an 8 quart bag some days without the back screaming and the arm muscles cramping.

Hands that were flexible and nimble and could grab a whole fistful of weeds, yank, pull them out, and be done weeding in a few hours are now stiff and cramped at the end of the day. Weeding with sore hands now may take days to complete instead of just a few hours. While I wait for my hands to un-cramp, the weeds have just multiplied six fold.

Even with scooting around on a small chair or a crate can cause the back to hurt as you reach out and stretch unused muscles.

I know most of us think that we just don't have time to stop and spend a few minutes exercising, but those few minutes can save you endless hours of pain and delay.

I, myself, always thought I was too busy to try the Yoga exercises. I was ready to get out there and get that garden weeded and planted. I would dash outside, work long hours and come in and collapse on the couch moaning and groaning at all the parts of my body that hurt. Some days the pain would be so bad that I would have to resort to taking an aspirin or Tylenol or some such product to help relieve the symptoms. My neglect to warm the body up and over work generally than caused me to lose several days of gardening while the body healed and repaired itself.

Garden one day, having to rest two, than going back out and re-injuring the same body part to have to rest again, can put a gardener way behind. Getting behind does not make gardening the fun and relaxing and beautiful experience we want. Pain causes us to become frustrated as we can't get out there and work. Our love of gardening and playing in the dirt now becomes a chore.

To keep gardening fun and enjoyable for myself, I now do it the smart way. I spend maybe 10 or 15 minutes doing the Gardening Yoga warm-up exercises. I have less body pain. Don't lose as many gardening days due to being laid up and repairing torn muscles.

I don't know of too many athletes that will just go cold turkey out and run a marathon or race without warming up first. For us gardeners, we need to warm-up our bodies too. Let's face it, gardening is a physical endeavor. We're bending, twisting, stretching and whether we realize it or not moving our bodies in many different directions a day as we grow and maintain our plants.

One thing I also like to do, to help strengthen the back muscles is garden on my knees. Yes, my knees are old and creak when I get down on them, but a nice thick cushion helps that out. What I will do, instead of going down row by row to remove weeds is find one spot and stretch my body out as far as I can without causing pain to pull weeds. Getting on the knees as reaching forward, not only strengths the back, but helps to pull and tighten up those tummy muscles, which beats doing crunches.

Gardening itself is a challenge. Preparing your body is not. Take time to look over the following gardening exercises. Give them a try. Let them become part of your daily routine. You may just discover that gardening has become fun instead of a painful chore.

Below, with permission, I have copied Maridell's article for you to read.

If you have any gardening exercises or routines that you do, please feel free to share. Your simple little practices may just be the things to save another gardener sore muscles and back pain.

Quoting:Revisiting Yoga for Gardening
By Maridell Standish (Maridell) on April 12, 2013

Bending, twisting, kneeling. Digging, pulling, pushing. It's garden time! Whether you are landscaping, planting, weeding or watering, activities in the garden can wear and tear at the body. One wrong move can lead to a pulled muscle. Ouch!

This is a previously posted article but timely now that gardening weather is here again. If you prefer not to read all of it, just skip down to the actual warm ups.

Gardening can be, and should be, a relaxing pleasure. But often there is so much work to be done that it can become a chore that has to be done. On days when it starts feeling like a chore try to remember the blessings of gardening by enjoying the time with nature, the thrill of the new blooms, the variety of lush greens, the different colors and textures you encounter, and lets not forget the all important fruits-of-your-labor; both visual and physical (edible!). Regardless of your attitude a busy day in the garden can lead to pain and stiffness the next day...or even to injury. Preventative measures can be taken! Regardless if you plan a pleasant meandering through the garden as you work, or if you plan to dig in deep - take the time to warm and stretch key areas of the body that you will be using while you garden. You may not be able to get rid of all discomfort, but you can reduce it!

Before we discuss some ideas that you might use as good "gardening" exercises lets take a moment to take a second look at the statement I made about attitude. I said that "regardless of your attitude gardening can lead to pain and stiffness". The truth is, attitude can be the cause of physical discomfort. If you are stressed - this alone can cause physical symptoms. Stress causes us to tighten up our muscles and that is all it takes to invite fatigue and soreness: tensing the shoulders and neck can lead to headache, tensing in the rest of the body can lead to sore or pulled muscles.

So how can you deal with the need to get your work done, maybe in an allotted time, and reduce the possible effects on your body? By making a choice to prepare the body for the work you are going to ask it to do. And, to slow both the mind and your breathing. Slow your mind in order to take the time to "listen" to your body while you are gardening. Take time to think about how your body feels and how you are breathing. At my yoga site I talk a lot about proper yoga breath. While there are a variety of yoga breathing practices, the one I'm talking about is the breathing technique you use when doing yoga movements - slow long inhales in which you expand both the lungs and the stomach while lengthening and opening the body - and slow long exhales in which you gently pull in the stomach when folding/closing, or relaxing the body. This type of breathing should allow you to get plenty of air into your lungs and also help you to relax. Think about it, if you take several fast inhales and exhales the heart rate feels like it has gone up, the reverse is true when you slow it down. Yes, you need to fill those lungs with be more relaxed and thoughtful of how you are breathing, and how your body feels, and see if for you notice a difference.

Relaxing is an important part of letting go of stress and allowing your muscles to rest. You do need strength for much of the garden work...but be mindful to keep the body parts that are not needed for any specific task relaxed. It is possible to have strength and be relaxed at the same time. This is the goal. This can be especially important on a hot day, conserving energy by only tensing the area that HAS TO BE strong to get the job done will be of great benefit. Breathing is an important component of all of this. Remember to feel the lengthening and strength of your body on inhales, and to relax the "non-working" body parts on your exhales. Note: if this type of breathing causes you to feel light-headed or dizzy STOP. Gradually practice this change in breathing if needed.

Now that you have some suggestions/tips on mind set - here are some ideas for pre-gardening exercises:

Fingers and Hands:

1. Make tight fists with both your hands and then open the fist and spread the fingers out as far as you can - do this 5 times.

2. Start with hands and fingers open and spread out and roll the fingers into a fist one finger at a time starting at the pinkie. Then spread the fingers out and do it again - 5 times.


1. Do gentle shrugs. Bring the shoulders up towards the ears and then allow them to completely relax downwards 5-10 times.

2. Continue warming the shoulders by rolling them forward, up, and back 5 times and then reverse to roll the shoulders back, up, and forward 5 times.


1. Stand or sit erect - shoulders relaxed down - and slowly allow the chin to drop toward the collar bone. Do not allow the shoulders to curve forward in this position. Breath in this position 5 complete times (a complete breath is an inhale and exhale) allowing the neck to comfortably relax (no pain!).

2. Continue in the above position and slowly move the head toward one shoulder and then the other - do this 5 times.


1. Warm the back with gentle back bends. In standing position (Mountain Pose would be great) clasp the hands behind your back below the hips. Keep the shoulders relaxed down and lift the chest upward. You will feel a gentle pinch between your shoulders in the spine. Slowly bend backwards to a comfortable position that you can take 5 relaxing, slow breaths in. Do not hang the head backwards - a gentle curve in the neck is fine.

2. Next do a supported Cobra Pose. Lie on the floor, tops of feet flat on the floor, your face is down - forehead on floor. Place palms of hands on the floor in the shoulder area with your forearms flat on the floor on the sides of your ribcage. Gently push your chest upward - keeping the forearms on the floor and allow your upper back to gently lift and bend backward . You should still be looking downward. In this position allow all of your body to relax into the floor - especially the stomach and pelvic area and continue to breath. When you inhale lengthen the spine, when you exhale allow the body to relax deeper into the back bend. Take a few breaths. You can stop here or go the next step and gently lift your head so you are looking forward. Take a few more breaths in this position. When you are done lower chest to the floor and relax completely for a few breaths.

3. Seated Twist. Thumb of 2015-01-26/starlight1153/eb2f28

Sit with legs together and knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Fold the right leg down so that the knee is pointing straight ahead and the heel is near the outer-side of the buttock of the opposite leg. Place your right hand on the left knee. Inhale and lift the ribcage upwards. Exhale as you gently twist towards your left leg. Place the fingertips of your left hand on the floor towards your hip. Continue to inhale and exhale. As you inhale continue to extend the spine upward. As you exhale relax further into the twist. Do about 5 complete breaths (inhale and exhale). Do not force the twist, relax into it on each exhale. Move to the other side and repeat the twist.

Feet, Arches, and Ankles:

1. Warm the feet, arches, and ankles, by gently rising up on your toes and back down 10 times. This is also a balance exercise, but if needed hold onto a chair.

2. Then rise up on toes and hold for 2 complete breaths - do this 5 times. Again if you need to hold onto something to maintain your balance please do so.

Calves and Achilles Tendon:

1. Stand 3 feet from a wall (or tree!). Place hands shoulder width apart on the wall. Bend the elbows and lower your chest toward the wall. You should feel a gentle pull in the back of the legs.

2. If you are not getting enough of a stretch in the previous position place the forearms on the wall instead of the hands. Hold this for 30 - 60 seconds. Keep your spine straight - do not allow the lower back to cave in (use a pelvic tilt).

Knees and Thighs: Thumb of 2015-01-26/starlight1153/660fd9

1. Bound Angle Pose. In a seated position bend your knees and bring your heels towards your pelvis to the point that is comfortable for you. Do not pull on the ankles or toes to force your heels closer to your pelvis. The outer sides of your ankles will be on the floor, your knees up in the air, the bottoms of your feet touching. Inhale and lengthen your torso and spine upward. Roll the shoulders upward and back to relax them into position. Place your hands on your toes or ankles and hold this position for several breaths. When you inhale expand the stomach and lungs. When you exhale allow the legs and knees to relax downward, do not force the knees down. To get more stretch in this pose you may bend forward. When bending forward maintain your posture, your back should not be rounded. Be gentle, go the place of resistance. Be mindful of how your body feels - your back, your inner thighs, and your knees.

2. Chair Pose. Start in Mountain Pose and then follow the rest of the instructions. Your feet should remain flat on the floor and parallel to each other in this pose. Your calves should remain relaxed. Inhale and stretch upward with the arms - your arms will remain upward in this pose - keep the shoulders relaxed downward. Exhale and bend your knees so that your thighs are as close to parallel to the floor as possible. Your low back and spine should retain a natural slight inward curve. Tuck your tailbone under and keep a pelvis-tilt upward so that your low back is protected. Your chest and back maybe at a slight angle to your thighs. Allow the weight of you upper body to sink down into the tailbone area. Sink down only as far as the strengthen in your thighs will comfortably allow. Breath a few times in this pose. Lengthen the spine on the inhales and relax the body on the exhales. To come out of the pose straighten the knees. Lift up into Mountain Pose and relax the arms down. Thumb of 2015-01-26/starlight1153/b48ae4

You may find the above exercises of further benefit after you have finished your gardening for the day. Last but not least, make sure to stay hydrated with plenty of water or an electrolyte based beverage. Taking good care of yourself will make the fruits of your labor all that more enjoyable.

Happy, Healthy Gardening to You!

As with any exercise program you should consult with a doctor prior to starting any new activity.

Jan 25, 2015 9:10 AM CST
Name: Christine
Northeast Texas, Zone 7b
Great advise!!!

I have a yoga tape that I enjoy when possible, 20 minutes of stretching and relaxing. It's amazing how much better I feel when I can take just that small amount of time for myself! There often seems to be obstacles in the way of taking that 'time off' from everyday stuff and I'll eventually stop altogether. But, I'm so glad when I, again, make it a part of my morning routine. It's time to do that again!

p.s. the above link takes me to the home page.
FAITH over fear!

Jan 25, 2015 9:58 AM CST
Name: Critter (Jill)
Timely advice! Starting now will help us gain strength & flexibility before *planting season* is upon us!

For those of use with 2-story houses...

I seem to go up and down my stairs pretty often during the day. I take a minute to either turn around and go down & up an extra time, or I put down whatever I'm carrying and do a few "stair push-ups" (much easier than regular ones when you're out of shape -- feet at the base of the stairs, hands on whichever stair feels "right" -- and keep your back straight!). That's not aerobic, at least not for a long enough time to help your heart & lungs much, but doing one or the other (or both!) each time you take the stairs will definitely strengthen some gardening muscles.
Circles of Support for Breast Cancer
I'm learning to dance in the rain! Thank you, Sally & Chris & Sharon.
Jan 25, 2015 11:40 PM CST
Name: starlight1153 Zone 8a/b
Until Maridell's article I never realized how beneficial yoga could be to a person and what is even greater is that you don't tire yourself out to go gardening , nor do you end up all sweaty and feeling yucky afterwards.

Critter... Good advice. I do go up and down stairs when I see them, but never thought about doing stretches on them. That definitely would strengthen some muscles up. Now I'll just have to convince my neighbors that I have not fallen, but am using my porch steps as an exercise machine. Hilarious!
Jan 26, 2015 6:16 AM CST
Name: Michele Roth
N.E. Indiana
Timely reminder and good advice.

Thank you!

I pulled something deep within my hip joint fighting a recalcitrant sack of feed the other day, just because I'd gotten away from my usual stretching routine. It's definitely time to get back into the practice.
Jan 26, 2015 8:12 AM CST
Name: Promise
Zone 7a Tennessee
Ella you read my mind! I've been going to the gym because I know this year will be the garden of my life and I want to keep up. The stretching has left me cramping at night while I'm trying to sleep, but it's not a big deal.
Jan 26, 2015 7:33 PM CST
Name: aka GardenQuilts
Facebook, NGA
and the beloved Winston the pug
The yoga stretches make more sense than the buns of steel nonsense. My secretary used to drag herself into work sometimes when she overdid the steel buns and assorted body parts routines. I am out of touch with the gym crowd, maybe something else is en vogue these days. A neighbor is taking pole dancing at the Y. She calls it "stripper strutting." She is a plus sized grandmother. She said that she got tired of walking around in circles at the indoor track at the library all winter.

If you are cramping at night, try taking magnesium. It helps with monthly cramps also. Sometimes you get cramps when the sodium-calcium-magnesium balance in your body is out of balance. These minerals are involved in nerve and muscle function. Heavy exercise or muscle spasm depletes the magnesium levels. I had terrible muscle pains and spasms after an auto accident. My doctor recommended that I take Magnesium.

I take a regular slow release magnesium called Slo Mag with my morning meal. I take 500mg regular Magnesium each night. Your body repairs itself while you sleep. If I am having extreme pain or muscle spasms, I take another Magnesium in the middle of the day.

One thing to keep in mind. Too much magnesium could cause diarrhea, similar to the effect if you take too much Vitamin C. Don't overdo it until you find the level your body needs.
Jan 27, 2015 9:03 AM CST
Name: starlight1153 Zone 8a/b
Promise. .. I too with starting back up some exercises find I have muscle cramping, but it is good muscle cramping. It is low level pain and it because the muscles haven't been used, but after about a week or two or doing that stretch exercise I find the body is no longer in pain and more free mowing. I guess that saying is true about "without a little pain, no gain."

Anything that causes major pain, I don't do. I will try something and if I feel pain. I count to ten and release. I don't keep trying to hold that position. Than next time I try again and go to start of pain level and repeat. Eventually the pain level will take longer and longer and the muscles will become flexible.

Everything in moderation. I take it slow and easy.

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