Updated: March 2018
At some point in our childhood we were all probably told to “stand up straight” by a grown up.
And what did we do in response? Tighten all the muscles in our torso and back momentarily as though we just received an electric shock, and promptly went back to slumping once the authoritative grown up was no longer looking!
Our spine is NOT straight, nor should it be. We have evolved as humans to possess a beautiful, functionally curved spine. Maintaining the natural curves of your spine while working is a key way to mitigate back pain.
Unfortunately, many of us do not have good examples of what a healthy, naturally curved spine looks like, so I have included pictures to help illustrate, both while standing and sitting, as well as while working in the garden.
There are benefits to maintaining healthy posture aside from simply avoiding pain. From a yogic perspective, a fluid, flexible spine provides a pathway for vital energy to flow through the rest of the body. Because the spine is so integral to our nervous system, any distortion long the spine will affect corresponding organ systems and circulation.
Poor posture can cause a myriad of symptoms including but not limited to : constipation, sciatica, shallow breathing (which can lead to anxiety and panic attacks), tension headaches and memory problems.
Establishing a healthy spine can naturally alleviate many of these symptoms, as well as make you stronger and healthier throughout your entire body.
Lastly, working with a healthy posture is ENJOYABLE! When my body feels good and my bones are working in harmony with my muscles, I am much more productive, not to mention more pleasant to be around.
In light of another permaculture concept, I am constantly stacking functions, stretching and strengthen my body as I weed my carrots and push the wheel barrow.
There is no need to go to the gym when you are gardening with good body mechanics. Gaia offers us the best work out we can get!
Here are five key tips to help you maintain a healthy posture in the garden
1. Hinge from Your Hips
Rather than rounding your spine or over extending your arms, hinge from your hips to move your torso forward.
Use this technique when you are bending over, reaching across a garden bed, pruning trees, etc.
As you hinge from your hips, think about staying long in your spine. Practice lengthening your torso out from your pelvis, rather than bending forward.
2. Bend Your Knees to Lift Heavy Loads
As you lift, engage your core muscles to support your low back, and lift straight up with the strength of your legs, rather than rounding your spine to bring your load away from the ground.
3. Equalize Your Sides
Both when carrying loads, especially buckets, and also by alternating between your dominate and less dominate sides when doing repetitive motions.
I like to count as I am using the cultivating hoe, doing 50 strokes on my left, and then my right, and continue this rhythm back and forth as I go.
This can help to even out muscular and skeletal imbalances.
4. Move from Your Center
This may sound vague, but it can have a huge impact on the wear and tear of your body.
A much as possible, move from your center while using the tool, and feel that the tool is being moved by your center, rather than just your arms, for example.
Lean the weight of your whole body into your shovel ( and other applicable tools), rather than just your foot.
5. Find a Posture Buddy
Enlist a friend to help you stay aware of your posture throughout the day.
They can use simple verbal reminders like “hip hinge ” “legs for lifting” and “long spine” at times when you fall out of healthy posture.
When I was recovering from my injury, I used post it notes with similar sayings throughout the garden to remind me in lieu of an actual person.