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Yoga for gardeners: reverse gardeners back with these backbends from Karen M. Thomson, RYT.

As the weather gets warmer and days longer, the outdoors beckon many of us to come outside and plant anything from tomatoes and green beans to impatiens and roses in hopes of harvesting fresh vegetables and beautiful, colorful flowers. Often that much bending and squatting results in hurt backs, and so yoga stretches which complement the continuous bending over by gardeners' digging, planting, and weeding become important to relieve pain and balance the body. Of the thousands of yoga postures, I'd like to recommend three that are good for backs and spines. When I shared with my yoga class last night that I was writing an article on "Yoga for Gardeners," one of my students new to yoga this year said she and her husband had spent the weekend gardening and she was especially looking forward to this yoga class to "iron out the kinks" in her back. By the end of the class, which included practice on two of these three yoga postures, she said her back felt fine.

Whether or not one has done yoga before doesn't matter in doing these three positions, though there are a couple of things to keep in mind in doing yoga. If you have never done yoga before, keep in mind your age, your lifestyle regarding fitness and flexibility, and your body type, for these are factors that affect one's ability to do yoga with ease. Yoga teaches us to be gentle and patient with ourselves, and though we can begin yoga at any point in our lives, we need to be mindful of these three aforementioned points. Also, a major factor to keep in mind is that nothing hurts in yoga because nothing is forced. Yoga is not into the "no pain, no gain" philosophy. Yoga teaches us, too, to listen to our body and its messages regarding our health and well being, including honoring when and where the body needs to stop, and pain is usually an indication we've gone too far. Thus, if there is any discomfort, stop, for you have discovered the body's limitations at this particular time. Then, gently, over time and with practice, you will actually enjoy and observe the process of expanding the limitations through the practice of yoga. Further, in doing yoga, keep in mind that you are working only with the self and there is no competition with yoga. Yoga is an ancient system of breathing and stretching--at least 5,000 years old--and is still being practiced today because of its wonderful benefits, which the medical and scientific communities are now being able to document, benefits which the yoga masters have always known.

The first position (or "asana" as the postures are called in yoga's original language Sanskrit) recommended here for gardeners is really any back bending position, which is the complementary position for bending froward, thus the antidote for excessive forward bending. One such back bending position is the Cobra, or Bhujungasana in Sanskrit.

This is done on the floor on one's stomach with legs relaxed and together and hands under the shoulders, forehead to the floor. On a slow, deep inhalation, very slowly bring the head all the way back. Continuing to inhale slowly, begin lifting the chest off the floor with the back and abdominal muscles while trying not to use your arms and hands to lift the chest until you can't lift yourself any higher. At that point, if you would like to to arch the back more fully into a concave position for the spine, use your hands and arms to continue to lift your chest and shoulders higher until the arms and elbows are completely straight--or feel free to stop at any point along the way. The head is still all the way back and the eyes are looking at the ceiling directly above you. Hold as long as you like. In the peak of this position--as in most other yoga postures--breathe and relax in the position, and that includes relaxing and lowering the shoulders away from the head. When you're ready to come down, do so on a very long, slow exhalation. When the chest is back on the floor, the head is the last thing you tuck under, bringing the forehead back to the floor. To repeat is fine, but most important is to move into and come out of the asana as slowly as possible and to breathe as deeply and as slowly as you can for its duration.

A more advanced back bending posture is the Wheel or Upward Facing Bow, Urdhva Dhanurasana.

Lie down on your back, bend your knees with feet to the floor close to your hips, and place your hands under your shoulders with the fingers pointing toward your feet. Then, push your hands into the floor and bring the top of your head to the floor. Finally, again push your hands and also your feet into the floor bringing your body into a backbend, lifting from the floor up. Legs should be fairly close together and feet close and parallel to each other. Breathe and hold as long as you like.

A third yoga position I'd like to recommend here for gardeners is the Triangle, or Trikonasana.

This is a side stretch and also a chest opener, as well as an elongation for the spine. Have your feet about four feet apart, arms straight out from the shoulders. Pivot the right foot ninety degrees to the right and shift your left heel back slightly so that a line from the right heel would intersect the ball of the left foot. Look at your right hand and reach straightforward with the right hand. Then, tilt toward the floor with the right hand and bring the back of your right hand to the inside of the right calf; the left hand meanwhile has moved toward the ceiling so that the arms are in a vertical line from floor to ceiling. Finally, turn and look beyond the left fingers to the ceiling. It is important to keep the chest open and the shoulders also in a vertical line (floor to ceiling), so that the chest is directly facing the opposite wall. To check your posture, do this position keeping the back flat against a wall as you reach and then tilt. Using the wall is a good way to practice occasionally for it reminds us how to keep the chest open in doing Trikonasana. Slow, deep breathing is a part of this as well as most yoga postures.

Doing these two or three asanas daily will help not only the backs, but also the entire body including the digestive system and internal organs, in addition to increasing one's flexibility, toning, strengthening, and balancing of the body, mind, emotions, and spirit. With yoga, as well as gardening, one begins to enjoy a greater sense of peace and well being. What wonderful ways to spend spring and summer days! One is sure to feel great as a result, for the benefits of gardening and of practicing yoga are numerous and life enhancing in many ways.

A Teacher of Yoga and Meditation since 1975, Karen is a Certified Yoga Instructor and a Registered Yoga Alliance Teacher who in 2002 opened the Buckhead Yoga Room in Atlanta and began her classes taught in 6-week sessions on Tuesdays offered from 11:00 am-12:30 pm and 6:30-8:00 pm at a cost of $90, or $18 per class for drop-ins. All levels are welcome, private classes are available, including Restorative Yoga and Yoga for Pregnancy: 404-995-0756.
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Article Details
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Author:Thomson, Karen M.
Publication:New Life Journal
Date:Jun 1, 2002
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