Every day, more and more studies are popping up proving the immune benefits of forest walks, or the anti-depressant effects of activities like kneading bread and working in the soil. Working in the ground is literally grounding, and meditative gardening is one of the best antidotes for anxiety that I have found. Even if you don’t have a garden spot, you can still derive healing benefits from tending to potted plants indoors, and from doing any of the following yoga stretches.
Making these poses part of your routine can help enhance your growth as a gardener and as someone seeking to improve their core physical and emotional stability. The stretches and meditations we’ll explore today will help build lasting strength and endurance “from the ground up”.
In Ayurvedic medicine, the Earth element is the seat of the immune system and governs downward movement in the body. Downward movement includes elimination of both physical and emotional waste. Those of us with weakness in the earth element may experience any number of different symptoms, and I’ll list just a few. On a physical level, we may struggle with obesity, constipation, insomnia, chronic back pain or general weakness of the core muscles. We might find it difficult to let things go, feel emotionally present with others, or feel safe in the world at a very core level. When we garden, we work with the physical Earth element, so it makes sense that gardening can help us reconnect with the Great Composter of the earth, who is willing and able to digest all that we eliminate. It also makes sense that the poses we naturally fall into while gardening help to strengthen and balance the earth element in ourselves. A balance in the earth element encourages feelings of competence, calm, safety, and the beauty of confidence in ourselves and the world. So let’s get started!
Note: The instructions for these stretches are extremely basic. Feel very free to wiggle around and experiment with each pose until you find the stretch that you need. The only “wrong” way to stretch is if you can’t breathe deeply or are in pain while stretching. It is also highly recommended to try these poses outside on the lawn.
Simple Grounding Exercise
For this exercise, find a comfortable sitting position in a quiet place. Anywhere and any position will do, as long as you’re comfortable. Close your eyes and simply notice your breathing. Inhale and exhale at a rate that’s relaxing to you. When you are ready, start to focus on how you are physically connected to the ground. Perhaps your feet are resting on the ground. If you are on a chair or bed, think about the legs of the furniture and how they are connected to the floor. Allow yourself to notice how this meditation affects your physical and emotional state. If you like, imagine your breath going all the way down to the center of your waist, pelvis, and all the way down to your feet.
This is the most grounding asana of them all. Corpse pose gives us an opportunity to relax all our muscles completely and find out where our tension and blockages lie.
- Lie flat on the floor with your spine straight.
- Breathe and relax.
Variation: Bend your knees, resting feet flat on the ground, and twist from side to side.
Unsupported Cobra Pose Variations
- Wonderful shoulder, neck, and abdomen stretch.
- Encourages thoracic circulation, discourages blockages and build-ups of all kinds.
- Try to keep buttocks and legs relaxed, only using core muscles to lift up.
Wall Push & Variation
- Place hands on the wall shoulder length apart and at waist level.
- Press your hands against the wall as you step back until your arms are parallel to the floor and your legs are vertical. If this is uncomfortable, try it with your hands higher up on the wall until it feels like a healthy stretch.
- Step forward to stand up, and roll your shoulders to release tension.
Upward Hand Pose Variation
- Stand with feet parallel and shoulder length apart.
- Stretch your arms up over your head, either straight up or putting one palm over the other.
- Keep your spine and head straight and your feet firmly planted while you stretch and breathe deeply.
- Gently twist to the left and then to the right. Experiment with rolling your wrists to release tension.
- Variation: Hold a garden rake over your head, as seen in the photo, and gently twist left and right.
- Variation: Try this pose on your knees and experiment with placing your knees at varying widths apart from each other.
Wide Leg Forward Bend
- Stand on the lawn with your legs spread wide and your feet facing forward.
- Gently bend at the hips to touch the grass with your hands.
- Allow your own downward weight to gently stretch your shoulders, back and legs.
- Allow your breath to travel through your pelvis, keeping your core muscles as open as possible.
- Slowly bend back upright and disengage when comfortable.
Table Pose & Cat Tilt
- Get on your hands and knees, outside on the lawn if you can.
- Place your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips to form a “table” with your back.
- As you inhale, gently lift your tailbone and chin.
- As you exhale, gently round your spine.
- From Table pose, bring your big toes together and sit back on your heels. It may be more comfortable for your knees to farther apart- do what feels best.
- Extend your arms forward, palms on the floor.
- Breathe down the spine and feel the stretch in your shoulder, back, and buttocks.
- You can walk your hands to the right of the left for additional side stretching.
Seated Shoulder Circles
- Sit on your heels with your spine straight and relaxed. You can also sit in a chair.
- Bring your fingertips to your shoulders and use your elbows to draw circles in the air, switching from clockwise to counterclockwise as needed.
As you work in the garden, do these yoga stretches, or go about your day, focus your thoughts on keeping your core region and pelvic floor muscles relaxed at all times-this includes your waist, pelvis, lower back, and the “Kegel” muscles that help us eliminate. You might be surprised at how difficult this can be or how much more slowly you have to move to keep from tensing these muscle groups while you work. Moving slowly is worth it and won’t last forever! Keeping the core relaxed and flexible ensures that the downward motion of the earth element can flow freely and that your movements will build strength from the inside out. A stable core is necessary for any kind of lasting physical or mental strength. Visualize yourself with a strong, flexible center, and keep this image in your mind while you work. So much can be accomplished by simply focusing your thoughts on various parts of the body.
And last but certainly not least, take frequent water breaks and praise the work that you’ve done.
- Overcoming Trauma through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body by David Emerson & Elizabeth Hopper, PhD
- Yoga for your Type: An Ayurvedic Approach to Your Asana Practice by Dr. David Frawley & Sandra Summerfield Kozak M.S.