1 Mar 2005
Body-Mind in the Rose Garden
by Brenda Landers-Smith, HHP
“I don’t know whether nice people tend to grow roses
or growing roses makes people nice.”
–Roland A. Browne, B. 1939 American professor.
There you are, eyes squinting determined and ready with your arsenal of clippers, muck bucket and a loaded hose end sprayer ready to tackle the rose garden. It is an interesting dichotomy of being. Being a warrior defending that which preys upon your roses and being in bliss, nurturing and becoming one with your garden….in a tranquil space.
The rewards of rose gardening are many. While gazing into the wonder of a beloved bloom roses take our breath away. It is in that moment where beauty resides. Knowing you helped the process makes it that much sweeter. Maybe it is in that moment we become nicer, gentler people.
While rose gardening is great for the soul it can be hard on the body. Rose gardeners have many choices for tending the garden. When it comes to equipment, talented designers create ergonomic handles, gloves and the like to make life easier and healthier for us.
But the greatest tool you have for rose gardening is YOU. Being nice to you is essential for a happy, healthy rose gardener.
Much like taking care of your best garden tools, let’s look at ways to take care of you and your body mechanics in the garden and get the most out of your labor of love.
The Exercise of Rose Gardening
Truly a “Work Out”
Picture yourself gardening, take away the garden and your tools and image just you and your movements against a black screen. The process of rose gardening is exercise. You can make it healthful or hurtful.
Good body mechanics, warming the muscles, stretching and awareness are the keys in avoiding injury and pain while maintaining a healthy workout while tending your roses.
The Flexible Warrior
Warm Up and Stretch
In my practice, I teach Yoga and stretch exercises to my clients. Warming up and stretching before gardening, (exercise) is important because cold, stiff muscles can get strained. Static stretching is a very safe and effective form of basic stretching. Static stretching is performed by placing the body into a position whereby the muscle or group of muscles to be stretched is under tension. For instance, sit on the ground with your feet stretched out in front of you, reach as far as you can toward your toes and hold the position where you feel comfortable tension. Both the opposing muscle group (the muscles behind or in front of the stretched muscle) and the muscles to be stretched are relaxed. Then slowly and carefully the body is moved to increase the tension of the muscle, or group of muscles to be stretched (now reaching even more toward or touching your toes). At this point the position is held or maintained to allow the muscles and tendons to lengthen. BREATHE and imagine breathing into the tension and letting it go.
Yoga is extremely effective in increasing flexibility, lubricating the joints, ligaments and tendons and massaging all organs of the body while toning muscles. Detoxification occurs while gently stretching muscles and joints and massaging various organs by bringing optimum blood supply to various parts of the body thus flushing out toxins. Incorporating Yoga as a warm up to rose gardening would be a worthwhile preventative step.
We use the whole body while rose gardening. Try to incorporate some gentle whole body stretching or Yoga before heading outdoors. Begin your gardening with the easier tasks and save the more strenuous ones for later after you have warmed up your body. During prolonged bending remember to counteract the posture by reaching for the sky, stretching upward elongating the entire spine. Lean on a fence and gently exaggerate the arch of your back.
Sore muscles come with exercise. Muscles work in a very simple way -- they contract and relax. There are over 639 named muscles in your body, and they act in groups. Muscles get sore when you exercise harder than usual. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is felt about 24 to 48 hours after you work out. When you exercise, your muscles get small tears that fill up with fluid. Your muscles will repair those tears by themselves. And every time your muscles "tear and repair," they get a little stronger. If you experience pain or swelling for more than 3 days to a week, see your physician.
Drink plenty of water to hydrate yourself before, during and after your work day.
The Grounded Gardener
Tai Chi is a graceful, fluid and ancient therapeutic Chinese tradition. As Holistic Health Practitioner students, we were taught Tai Chi for proper body mechanics as the basis for giving various therapies to our clients. Tai Chi insures the therapists are not hurting themselves while healing others. Now I apply Tai Chi principles to all physical activities in my life – one of the most important is in the rose garden.
Tai Chi is actually a philosophy. It's the philosophy of yin and yang. Literally, it means "supreme ultimate." Representing an expression of living life to it's fullest, bending like bamboo in the face of even the strongest winds, while continuing to grow supple and strong.
The American Medical Association has endorsed this discipline for the elderly with balance problems and osteoporosis prevention. Because of the relaxation aspect, it can help with stress-related problems like high blood pressure. It can help lubricate your joints and strengthen your body, improving muscular strength in your small, stabilizing muscles, such as your adductors and your abductors (they support your knees), which are often overworked and prone to injury. Through slow movements, Tai Chi helps you to focus on your body and to release tension as you move.
To apply these principles to rose gardening, first consider each movement you make. Think and feel how you are moving. If you find yourself unstable under your feet, this is the best place to begin. Similar to Tai Chi, imagine your feet grounded into the earth, stand with your feet parallel, shoulder width apart, weight equally distributed, knees slightly bent with your torso strong. When performing tasks like lifting or moving pots, start from the ground up, root your feet, stabilize your legs, and bend your knees. Your legs will do the work (and get a “work out”) without stressing your back. SAVE YOUR BACK – Use the big muscles in your legs to perform lifting, bending, shoveling. Use an erect posture when working at ground level or when using long handled tools like hoes, spades, rakes.
Movement with your arms and shoulders should be equally as focused. Use a step ladder for reaching tall canes. Avoid jolting maneuvers and overreaching. Work below shoulder level when possible. While pulling weeds or pruning, make certain your wrists are not stressed at an awkward angle, and you are stable when pulling to avoid falling backward. Remember to practice “Gentle Strength”. Treat yourself to a kneeling pad or a lightweight stool with side handles to assist rising from a seated position.
The Mindful Master
Awareness is essential. The body mind connection helps correct body posture and improve your mechanics in the garden. My personal experience is that I enjoy gardening more since I have increased my awareness of what I was doing while performing the numerous chores in the garden. The process of deadheading found me hunched over my roses, much like bad posture while typing at a computer keyboard. Awareness tells you to lift up your chest, change your position often, and sit when you can. If you find yourself out of alignment – try to imagine a string pulling upward from the top of your head attached to your spine. This will pull your head, neck and rib cage upward and avoid collapsing upon your self.
More than simply exercise for the body, rose gardening is an emotional experience. Planting and nurturing provides a spiritual element as we participate in the wonder of nature. Watching the progress and tending to our roses provides a sense of accomplishment.
Quiet, reflective meditative time in the garden is a wonderful stress break. There is something to be said about being totally present in the moment – especially in a rose garden.
Take care of yourself – even more than you take care of your garden and both will reap happy rewards.
Brenda Landers-Smith is an America Rose Society member and Lifetime Member of the California Coastal Rose Society in Carlsbad, CA. She is an active rose exhibitor, ARS Consulting Rosarian and ARS Horticulture Judge with husband Joe Smith in Southern California. She is also an avid photographer and writer. Brenda operates a private holistic health practice. She specializes in several diverse modalities of clinical therapy, from body psychology to MyoSkeletal principles. Joe and Brenda reside in Vista, Ca with her 15 year old daughter Chelsea and two Yorkshire Terriers, Ludwig and Gunnar.
Brenda Landers-Smith, HHP