There are few activities more conducive to a meditative experience than an afternoon of gardening. But unfortunately, there are also a few activities that leave us with more full-body aches and pains as well. As always, prior practice prevents poor performance. So before you find yourself knee-deep in the hostas, give some Qigong for gardeners a try.
Qigong for Gardeners Exercise #1 - Wrist rotation
When it comes to gardening, there is a ton of gripping, grabbing, pulling, and twisting going on, and all of those movements require grip strength. Lucky for us our forearms are just loaded with muscles that are up to the task, or rather we should have, and they should be lol!
But for many people, other than chronic texting or typing, we are not moving our wrist joints through large ranges of motion and therefore the muscles acting on them are often unbalanced and weak and the wrist joints are achy and unhealthy.
To make matters worse, when a joint doesn’t move through large ranges on a regular basis the lubricating fluid called synovial fluid gets….well, dirty. Tiny bits of cartilage and other biological debris slowly create a turbid environment that leads to friction, irritation, and inflammation.
This is where circumductive movements are so helpful. By simply rotating the wrists through their full range of motion, you can help the joint to squeeze out the turbid fluid and promote new fluid to move in. In effect, it’s like changing the oil in the joint.
Qigong for Gardeners Exercise #2 - Fanning
Next, we move to those wrist muscles I mentioned. Every area of our body has paired muscle groups that work in opposition to one another. When one group flexes to pull a bone in one direction, the other group stretches. Our forearms are set up in the very same fashion.
The muscles on the top of the forearm extend the wrist up, and the muscles on the bottom flex the wrist down. Once again if we don’t work both parts equally, one side gets too strong and tight while the other gets loose and weak, and then…. You guessed it, pain ensues!
This is where fanning motions are fantastic to condition both compartments and reeducate them on how to work happily together to get physical tasks done.
Qigong for Gardeners Exercise #3 - Raking
Now that our grip has been taken care of, it’s on to the physicalities of gardening. The actions of gardening can provide wonderful exercise for both the mind and body. However, it also can cause damage and pain if the body isn’t conditioned and prepared for the task at hand.
Raking the leaves or grass provides a great full-body exercise that you can use to train your body to move in a unified fashion. It incorporates important lateral shifting movement of your weight. These types of motions are wonderful to strengthen your lateral stabilizers of your hips which help prevent falls. They also provide a great challenge to your internal and external obliques muscles of your core.
Qigong for Gardeners Exercise #4 - Gathering leaves
Now that the leaves and grass are piled, it’s time to bag it up. This is the most common activity that people injure themselves during a day of gardening. It may sound simple, but within the task of squatting to pick up a pile of leaves, there is a ton of complex biomechanics going on.
A lot of the injury has to do with the fact that …. Well…. leaves are light! So we tend to not be very mindful of how we go about picking them up from the ground and throwing them in the bag.
The motion tends to include squatting and bending over to grab the pile, often with some rotation in the torso. Then lifting back up to a standing position while rotating the upper body. Then finally throwing the pile into a bag of some sort.
However you aren’t doing it once, or even a few times. Even a mid-size lawn covered in leaves could result in ten or fifteen bags full of leaves. This could mean hundreds of repetitions of that same action.
This movement needs to be done mindfully and practicing the movement before “game day” so to speak, will help to condition the body to work efficiently when the time comes. This practice will go a long way to prevent that aching back the day after a day in the garden.
Qigong for Gardeners Exercise #5 - Picking Weeds
Nobody likes weeds, never mind picking them. Those poor little plants get such a bad wrap. They really need a new PR agent. The funny thing is, they tend to be the most nutritious things growing in our gardens.
Whether it's dandelion, common mallow, ground ivy, bull thistle, or stinging nettle, these plants are packed with vitamins and minerals and actually taste fantastic.
But once again when it comes to the physicalities of picking those little nutritional powerhouses, the action can build you up or break you down.
I think the problem here lies in the randomness of their placement. You take a few steps in the garden when you suddenly spot the unwanted lawn intruder. You drop down on one knee and pull it out of the ground with the opposite hand.
Now if you saw this action happening in my backyard, the next thing you would see is me popping it in my mouth and enjoying nature's snack. I actually love to eat the ground ivy and common mallow that grows in my garden. Let's not forget the perfect bits size snack that can be found in white micro clover (which I seeded my lawn with for just that reason).
As with all movements in life, if they are done with mindful purpose they can be transformed into a wonderful strength-building exercise for the mind and body (and in my case…the belly lol)
Qigong for Gardeners Exercise #6 - Neck Extension
Finally, after a day of looking toward the earth our personal pumpkin stand, we call a neck can end up a bit on the cranky side. This is where the mindful understanding of the yin and yang opposites of all muscles in the body can once again come to the rescue.
When one muscle has been flexing for hours it needs a good stretch, and when another has fallen asleep from lack of use, it needs to be woken up with some tension. It's amazing how just spending a few minutes reeducating specific groups of muscle to do the job they were designed for can make a world of difference when it comes to function, fitness, and health.
My Master has reminded me many times over the years that everything we do in life is Qigong. How we cook, how we clean, how we exercise, and yes even how we garden. So this is when a Qigong program for gardeners can help to turn a day in the sun into an activity that not only builds a beautiful garden but a beautiful mind and body as well... Give it a try!
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