The Meditative Aspect and More Mindful Poses
It's that time of year again, and as I've been working in my new yard to get my garden and flower beds ready, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the topic of Mindful Gardening. If you missed my first blog post on this topic, click here to read about some initial poses you may find yourself in while gardening and for some tips to help you maintain safe body posture while working in the garden.
Connecting with Nature is a natural thing for humans to do, and for that reason, I wanted to explore the meditative aspect of gardening. If meditation isn't why you're here right now, click here to jump ahead to the part of this post about the physical aspects of gardening and relevant Yoga poses. Or click here for some ideas of ways to experience Nature from home, even if you live in a space without a yard!
Being out in Nature gives one a calming sense of peace. Our senses come alive outdoors. Feeling the sunshine on our skin along with the wind blowing through our hair while carrying with it the scent of flowers or herbs in full bloom, is just the right encouragement to slow down. The soothing sounds of birds chirping, bumble bees buzzing slowly by, or wind blowing through the trees catch our attention and aid us in the ability be present where we are.
Being lucky enough to witness a graceful butterfly flutter past and alight on a flower, pausing to open and close its wings, is a nice reminder for us to pause and look around at the beauty all around us, encouraging us not to take Nature for granted.
Another incredibly meditative aspect of gardening is the methodical nature of pulling weeds, or planting seeds. Working the earth is incredibly grounding, and doing something that you enjoy without any distractions allows you to clear your mind. As surprising as it may sound, you can practice Meditation without sitting still and closing your eyes. Gardening, or spending time in Nature in general, can be a meditative practice for you. For me, the act of building fairy houses is incredibly meditative and grounding. I spend time in Nature gathering supplies to build my little houses, and then I carefully craft them while usually spending most of a day outside. While building fairy houses, I focus on what I'm doing, I'm present in the moment, I notice the soothing sounds of Nature around me, and I let my mind be clear or wander, accepting what comes.
Try it! A useful meditation technique is paying attention to what you become aware of with your other senses when your eyes are closed. This might be more engaging out in Nature than inside your home or office, or depending on roommates/pets/noisy neighbors/street sounds, it might be much more peaceful and quite outside in someplace like a park. Either way, it's fun to sit, try to be still, and "notice what you notice", as I like to say. First, notice what you hear externally, outside of your body. You can even see if it's helpful to try Naming the things you hear. (Birds chirping, twigs snapping, leaves rustling, cars going by, roommates walking, dogs barking...) Notice these things, but don't focus on them or worry about them. Acknowledge them, and then move inward. Maybe you notice the sound of your breath, moving through your body with sounds similar to wind through trees.
Then beginning to really notice your breath, and maybe by counting, try to extend your exhales so they are a little longer than your inhales. Continue doing this, focusing on your breath, or a favorite mantra, and you should notice your heart rate begin to slow as your Parasympathetic Nervous System is engaged and you begin to fully relax.
The Physical Aspect
When working in the garden, the most important thing to remember is not to stand straight up and bend over at the waist for long periods of time. Please please, bend your knees! Our quads and glutes are made to support our low back, but when we bend at the waist without utilizing our support muscles, we put intense strain on our backs that translates to major pain later.
Other postures to consider while working in the garden:
A Squat, with the option for a stool to sit on for support. (A squat is hard to maintain for long periods of time. Using a prop like a stool or stacked yoga blocks makes this more of a Yin posture and still lends to hip opening.)
Kneeling in something like Hero's Pose, perhaps using a foam knee pad or other support, with the option of a yoga block or rolled blanket underneath you as a seat to elevate your hips a bit.
Similarly, try sitting in Deer Pose with your knees bent and both legs out to one side.
If knees are an issue or bending them too much is a source of pain, instead of bending straight over in constant forward folds, consider finding something like Half Moon Pose and consider extending your back leg as you lean or reach forward so that your back is extended instead of folded.
or consider trying something like the the Side Angle Pose photographed below. If you will be standing for a while, try a lunge instead to stretch your legs in different ways, and let your elbow rest on your knee to give yourself some extra support.
Whatever you're doing, remember to take frequent stretch breaks after being in one position for too long. Another nice thing to do for your body after all that hard work is to lay in some restorative heart-opening poses to counteract all the forward-folding and bending you were doing in the garden. Generally, are bodies are made to move forward, not backward, so any back-bending you do will help to reset from that daily strain. This can be as simple as stretching your arms overhead or in Goddess/Cactus arms and arching your back slightly while gazing upward. Or, nice restful alternative pose would be a Supported Fish or Supported Star Pose using something like a throw pillow under your heartspace while reclined. (Hot Tip: use a heated rice pack as your support instead of a throw pillow to give comfort to achy muscles!)
Ways to Experience Nature from an Apartment/Living Space without a Yard:
Plant flower or vegetable seeds in pots and place them by a well-lit window or on a balcony if you have one.
Place a suction-cup bird feeder on the outside of your window so you can watch Nature come to you!
If good light is hard to come by, try getting some little air plants; they grow without soil and don't need much light! They can even decorate your fridge as magnets.
Make a fairyscape using things you find outside (moss, succulents, twigs, stones).
Visit a local park or Nature Trail!
Try opening your window for a breath of fresh air!