I recently sat down via Zoom for a conversation with Anne Weinberger, a long-time yoga student, landscape designer and avid gardener who had some questions and ideas about yoga and gardening.
Anne: I spend a lot of time in my garden, and since I’ve been doing yoga I’ve become more aware of my body when gardening. I find myself incorporating yoga moves when I’m down low to the ground, such as spider slides to relax my inner thighs and drop-knee lunges to stretch my hips. I’m taking better care of my body while I’m gardening so I don’t end up with aches later on.
Baxter: Sounds like you are trying not to create more pain when gardening. Any other goals?
Anne: I want to be able to garden for longer periods of time—gardening is never done!— without negative effects. So I’d like to learn more about prepping for gardening with yoga as well as applying yoga while weeding, digging and pruning. Gardening is interesting because you’re almost always in an unnatural position, or doing a lot of repetitive actions, like pruning with its demands on the hands. I find myself sometimes doing your “hypnotist hands” to give them a break!
Baxter: Is your breath affected or challenged while you are gardening?
Anne: Actually, I find that gardening very naturally puts me into a meditative state without my even trying, and so I think it’s a good complement to yoga and actually slows my breathing down.
Baxter: You have also mentioned to me things you already do to support yourself in gardening: you stretch your ankles and quads, as you will need both flexibility and strength in those areas; you are trying to do things that engage the “core,” such as maintaining a neutral spine when working and avoiding rounding the back with a soft belly. In hearing you describe what you are already doing, you may be answering your own question: you do some prep yoga by taking class a few times a week, you find yourself doing some yoga-informed movements and positions while gardening to keep you strong and balanced, and you are acknowledging the meditative benefits of gardening for you!
Anne: That last part is a good affirmation for me to say to myself. I haven’t been much of a meditator from a more traditional perspective, but I have been gardening my whole life and now I can see that I have given myself the gift of meditating in this way.
Baxter: This is a great observation and insight, as different forms of meditation work better for different people, and yours is a kind of moving meditation that seems to suit your unique personality. How wonderful!
Anne: For me, every moment of gardening is instant gratification. With every dead branch you remove, you reveal a shrub’s natural beauty. With every new plant you tuck into the soil, you’re adding color and texture that’s pleasing to your eye. It’s endlessly satisfying.
Baxter: Why aren’t we all gardening all the time?!
Anne: Probably due to the other realities of gardening, like it can be hard work and your fingernails are always dirty.
Baxter: The aspect of hard work, for a lot of people, probably results in the “yuck” reaction that I talk about in my Yoga for Healthy Aging Immersions. Turns out that “super-agers,” older adults who maintain amazing physical, mental and emotional health into older age, often acknowledge the “yuck” reaction, and then decide to try things anyway! They would acknowledge the very real challenges of gardening that require energy, effort, and patience, for example, and decide to mindfully give it a try anyway. And in doing so, they can emerge on the other side of the experience and appreciate all the benefits you pointed out—the meditative quality, the beauty of the garden in the evening after the work is done without having to fix anything else. I know that is tough for some gardeners, that last part!
Anne: Yep, that is really the hardest work of all, to not constantly be doing something to the garden.
Baxter: That might require a commitment to regularly simply sit in the garden in a nice chair and simply be with the environment the way it is. Perhaps the gratitude one feels for the beauty at hand can be even more consciously acknowledged than when you are in the midst of active gardening?
Anne: Maybe, although I do get very regular glimmers of gratitude every few minutes while I am gardening, for example when a hummingbird zips past my ear, or I discover a ripe fig on the tree.
Baxter: You’ve just given me the title of a new yoga class theme: “Glimmers of Gratitude.” You inspired that!
Anne: Did I really say that? Wow. But going back to something you mentioned earlier, that people might be afraid that gardening is too hard, I’d like to say two things. The first is that gardening can be very easy if you choose to just do a few simple things at a time, like deadheading some flowering plants or putting a couple of herbs into a raised bed, or you can choose to make it harder by planting a tree or weeding for an hour. Secondly, like anything else, with practice you will get better at it.
Baxter: Well, thanks for this fascinating conversation, and I will share some ideas with you in the coming blog posts for pre- and post-gardening yoga practices and some things you can be doing while gardening to support your love of the activity! Today, I will address Yoga Before Gardening:
Pre-Gardening Preparation Practice
This practice would be a great one to do in the morning on a day you plan to do some gardening, or on off days between gardening days. Do as much or as little of the practice as you are inspired to do.
Reclining Vinyasa 1-2-3
Easy Sitting Series:
Dynamic Side Bend
Dynamic Forward Bend with flat back: no video, but only tip from the hips, x6 each side
Dynamic High Cobra with good knee cushioning
Dynamic Gate Latch
Dynamic DKL with blocks, hams and quads (easy or harder version)
- Easy Version
- Harder Version:
Mindful Transition to standing, then reverse to kneeling
Dynamic Fig Leaf Forward Fold
Dynamic Arms Overhead with Bound Hands
- as in this video, but with fingers interlaced
Dynamic Crescent Moon
Dynamic Balance Sequence from Mountain
Dynamic X’s and O’s
Mountain Pose: visualize gardening with good postural awareness, 1-2 minutes