Spring brings renewal. All around us the earth is alive with the sounds and smells of new life. As the weather grows more inviting, your yard and garden may be calling. For many people, gardening and outdoor work are favorite pastimes, yet the fear of back pain can be inhibiting. Let the Gokhale Method help you to thrive alongside your plants!
When planting flowers and digging in the dirt, use hip hinging to save your knees and lower back. Maintain your spinal shape as you bend from the hips. Take a wider stance to reach the ground more easily. When you feel your hamstrings pulling, bend your knees to keep from tucking. Check to see that your knees track over your feet and that your shoulders remain back for good blood flow to your arms and hands. Try resting one elbow or forearm on your thigh as the other hand performs your gardening tasks to reduce the demand on the muscles in your back.
Hip-hinging stretches the hamstring muscles, increasing their flexibility over time.
Bend your knees as needed to accommodate tight hamstrings.
For pulling weeds or lifting anything heavy, engage your inner corset and take time to orient your body well. Stay close to the tool, flowerpot or stubborn weeds you are moving. When a task is within easy reach, you are more likely to use the deeper muscles in your back and abs and less likely to twist or distort your spine. For lifting very heavy items, bend your knees more and engage your gluteal and leg muscles.
Pushing a heavy load is a great way to strengthen your gluteal muscles and improve your glidewalking form. When using a lawnmower or heavy wheelbarrow, squeeze your glutes extra hard to push your back leg into the ground and propel yourself forward. Earth is much more forgiving than pavement, giving you a chance to work on kidney bean shaping your feet and rolling the back foot from heel to toe as you push off.
This man maintains a J-spine shape and engages his gluteus muscles while pushing a heavy wheelbarrow. By doing so, he protects his spine and strengthens these key muscles.
If your knees are healthy, the “B” squat allows you to garden close to the ground while preserving a healthy back shape. Lift one heel off the ground, open your legs to help your pelvis antevert properly, and pivot from side to side so as not to fatigue the muscles of either leg. As with hiphinging, take care that your knees track over your feet.
Gokhale Method teacher Charlene Hannibal keeps her shoulders back and her neck long as she practices a "B" squat, a healthy way of getting close to the ground.
If you are working on a stationary project, it may be useful to stacksit cross-legged with a wedge. Fold a blanket or mat to create the height that you need. Sit on the edge of this “wedge” to maintain pelvic anteversion and stay upright and relaxed. Roll yours shoulder back, lengthen your neck and hip-hinge forward to tend to garden tasks.
In people who have tucked their pelvis for years, the surrounding tissues have adapted to this architecture. The muscles and ligaments in the groin, as well as the hamstrings, tend to be short and tight. A wedge compensates for this distorted baseline position and allows you to stack your spine effortlessly and comfortably on its base, and you can sit for extended periods in one position.
Check in periodically with your body. Often when we get involved with consuming activities, our bodies slip back into old habits. Remember to open your chest and breathe deeply, so earth smells and oxygen flow freely into your system. Take time to enjoy your surroundings. After a day’s work you will feel renewed, refreshed and left with a “good” sore rather than laid up with an aching back!