The Yoga Of Gardening
June 20, 2008
I have temporarily stopped teaching my vinyassa-style yoga classes for the summer, and in answer to my student's questions "but what do we do?" I have written this article on a form of outdoor yoga that also serves as 'practice'.
Summer brings for many of us, longer days to spend more time outdoors doing what we enjoy. For those of us with a love of plants, whether walking in the wilds or at home in the garden, our personal practice becomes being in and amongst them. I call this the yoga of gardening, since yoga is a practice that unites the body-mind and spirit and in that process, introduces you to your true nature.
Even if your garden is a collection of potted plants on a patio, most of us can relate to the simple joy and peace that putzing in the garden can bring. If you have a large garden with a list of projects attached, you might enjoy the physical workout of hauling materials, weeding and mulching, which brings a good tired body and a satisfied mind at the end of the day. The magic of the process, however, comes from spending time relating to the natural world and allowing its wisdom and harmony to infiltrate your being. These are some of the asanas of garden yoga that benefit me most.
The get-down-and weed asana: This requires being on your hands and knees, but keeping your lower back as straight as possible by squatting or half-squatting and some attention to not straining your neck. Getting down in the dirt and examining the environment of plant communities up-close and personal is an opportunity to stop in awe to watch some cool insect, spider and other critters. It also affords you an understanding of how weeds interact with your chosen herbs (sometimes weeds benefit your plants by protecting them during various stages of growth), and gives you the opportunity to harvest some of those 'weeds' for your medicine! When I'm weeding, I receive a 'download' of natural intelligence and understanding of relationships as I let my body release any frustration caused by mental misunderstandings.
The watering-your-plants standing pose: This is the opposite of the last position and a lot more physically relaxing. Make sure your legs are securely connected to the planet and use your lower belly to power your arms as you move the hose around from plant to plant. I find this pose opens the mind to the bigger picture of things, like what is going on in the community of your garden. What does the over all energy feel like to you - does it inspire a song, chant or poem? How do the color combinations fill your need for beauty? Beauty for breakfast, I always say! Bird life is typically a part of this yoga position and I have had hummingbirds fly in to drink from the spray.
The feed and mulch salutation: The above poses help warm you up for this active series of maneuvers, which requires plenty of attention to your lower back and shoulders as you shovel, lift, throw and spread - be sure to adjust the position of your legs in reference to your arms so you don't torque your spine. I like this one for the cleansing sweat it produces, but even more so for the chance to bestow heart-felt reverence to individual plants. Feeding and mulching are acts of nurturing your plants, thus a good time to have a word of encouragement for each of them. It is a chance to communicate your appreciation for their part in your life and they always extend the same right back (and even more so a week later!).
So go ahead, don't be shy about showing your devotion to the green ones that give us so much more than just the food and medicine we ingest from them. Plants grow and blossom as much through your tender loving care and appreciation as through the basic physical requirements you provide them. And honestly - are people any different?
Practicing these yoga asanas on a daily or weekly basis will keep you balanced, centered, connected, grounded and physically fit. If you don't have a garden, walking in nature or spending time in community gardens or the gardens of friends will do the same. Enjoy!
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