Healthy Beginnings

Try these Feldenkrais secrets to avoid injury in the garden

With gardening season right around the corner, now is the time to get your posture in order.

Gorgeous, ripe, mouthwatering tomatoes, multicolored squash, cucumbers, beans, corn, glorious greens, fragrant herbs, and best of all, no pesticides! Instead, I grow flowers and companion plants to keep pests away and attract friendly bugs and fungi.

I ADORE my garden! Even with our short growing season in Northern Nevada, the primal desire to garden overwhelms me. It kicks me out of winter doldrums and catapults me into a vision of future garden bounty strong enough to make me start planning the hard work that is the backbone of every garden.

And it IS hard work. Backbreaking, blister-making, muscle-straining work, which I do willingly, sometimes lovingly — the bending, lifting, pulling, digging, raking, hoeing hard work. However, this year I have a plan to work more intelligently and avoid garden-related injuries, large and small. How, you ask? Read on.

Generally, gardening injuries happen for two reasons: (1) We don’t pay attention to what we’re doing with our body, and (2) we don’t pay attention to what we feel in our body. That is, until it hurts, right?

So before rushing outside with a rake or shovel, here’s a totally new approach.

  • First, lie on the floor and do a brief body scan like the one I reviewed in January’s Healthy Beginnings Feldenkrais article. If it’s warm, go outside and lie on the ground. Spend some blissful moments connecting to the earth, the sky, and feel yourself as part of the life on our planet.
  • Sense the weight and shape of your skeleton; feel your head and shoulders; elbows, wrists and hands; find your spine and low back; your pelvis, legs, feet and ankles. Can you feel differences right and left? (Remember, this updates your brain-map!) Follow your breath, your sense of wellbeing, and check your alignment.
  • Then when you’re ready, get up mindfully and head to the garden. Don’t do anything painful or unsafe. Practice hearing and trusting what your body and intuition tell you.

8 steps to better alignent

Now onto specific movement strategies to align your body and avoid injury:

  1. Spine straight and long. Your spine runs from your head to your tailbone. Keep it flat, long, comfortable. Don’t bend from it.
  2. When you need to bend, bend in the hinge of your hips, not your back. Fold forward at the crease of the hip joints. Push your butt out behind you while you bend. This protects your back admirably, and no one will notice but you.
  3. When bending or lifting, bend your knees and ankles too. Slowly feel what kind of squat you can manage, and how your joints respond.
  4. Keep your feet flat, and feel the connection between your feet and hips. Foot and ankle mobility means good balance and support from below.
  5. When using your arms, keep your wrists straight. Feel the connection up to your shoulders, or down to your hip joints. This reduces carpal tunnel symptoms. Use the stronger central parts of your body to help, so the whole body supports the work you are doing.
  6. Lifting: hold the lifted object as close to the center of your body as possible. Keep your legs and feet under your pelvis, bending through the hips, knees and ankles, keeping your spine erect. Also, know when to get help. Herniated discs are a high price to pay for not asking. They are debilitating and take a long time to heal.
  7. Adjust yourself to keep your center of gravity low during most tasks; keep your spine long and your body aligned.
  8. Vary your tasks and have fun. Dig awhile, then sweep; pull some weeds; look at seed catalogs; come back to digging. And check in with your body periodically, from head to toes.

Try different ways of doing the same task. Be playful. Enjoy the process of gardening, not just the end result.

By being in your body actively and attentively, you protect yourself from injury. You experience a sensory connection with nature, absorbing sights, sounds, smells and textures of life all around you. Add in the bounty from your garden … and how much better can life get?!

If you want a more detailed, personal experience of the Feldenkrais Method, you can start Awareness Through Movement classes at any time or see me privately.

Carole Bucher, BA, is a Guild-Certified Feldenkrais practitioner/teacher and owner of Reno Feldenkrais Integrative Movement. Visit renofeldenkrais.blogspot.com to learn more.