This month I’d like to give you some more tips for gardening pain-free. I’m a beginning gardener, and I’m trying to learn more by taking a Permaculture training at the Regenerative Design Institute ( So far, there are SO many gophers in my yard that I’ve lost almost everything I planted there! Luckily, I started a container garden at the same time, which is doing much better!

In "Pain-Free Gardening, Part 1" I talked about Bending following the guidelines of the Balance Posture Method. I’ve read some recommendations for gardeners that say to minimize your bending in the garden. While bending certainly can cause problems if done out of Balance, if you start to raise your garden beds up higher so you don’t have to bend, then you are restricting your movement. Movement is healthy for the body, and it helps us to maintain a healthy range of motion.

The Arthritis Foundation states that “…gardening is a great activity for maintaining joint flexibility, bone density, range of motion and quality of life.” Now, I’ve seen students who have incredibly tight hamstrings, and they are usually bending from their waist. By restricting their movement at the hip joints, their hamstrings just get tighter and tighter.

But, if you bend in Balance, then you are getting a hamstring stretch every time you bend!

What about Lifting?

Now let’s talk about Lifting. This is a common cause of back injuries. One thing we know from studying people with Balanced posture is that they get help when lifting heavy objects. Don’t let the desire to finish a project quickly cause you to forget your alignment or insist on doing it alone (like I mentioned in the previous article). The pain afterwards isn’t worth it!

If you’ve learned how to bend in Balance, I recommend that you start practicing lifting with light objects first, and when you feel secure with your bending, then attempt to lift heavier objects.

When carrying heavy things, remember to stand and walk in Balance, which means not leaning backwards like most Americans do. When you stand out of Balance while carrying, you are adding extra weight to an already vulnerable spine. Carry objects close to your body and “brace” with your abdominal muscles. This is NOT sucking in your stomach, but instead firming the belly in place, as if you were blowing up a balloon.

Take Your Time

It’s important to pace yourself while working in the garden. We’ve observed that people in Balance take their time, especially if they have a job like carrying rocks on their head all day. Remember, you can make multiple trips rather than trying to carry it all at once. You can use a wheelbarrow to help you transport compost or mulch close to where you are working.

To avoid aches & pains as well as repetitive strain injuries (RSI), it’s helpful to warm up your body before doing strenuous work outdoors. A short brisk walk can be good for this. Take breaks periodically and switch tasks, so that you’re not pruning overhead for 3 hours in a row (ouch!). You can also do some stretches afterwards, to help relax those hard-working muscles.

A common cause of soreness is overdoing it in your garden on the weekend, but leading a sedentary life during the week. So it’s helpful to exercise some during the week as well. If you move and exercise in Balance, such as doing Yoga in Balance, you’ll be strengthening the right muscles that you’ll need to use for healthy movement.

Listen to Your Body

Awareness is a really valuable tool to help you here. When you take a break, notice how your body is feeling. You’ll be more likely to avoid problems (to “nip them in the bud”!) if you pause and really feel your body. If you’re in pain, it’s a good time to stop for the day, rather than driving yourself until you’re in agony.

There are so many benefits to gardening: being out in the fresh air, relaxing into the slower pace of nature, and the satisfaction of the harvest. Bring your body into harmony with nature as well, by aligning yourself in Balance, and you’ll enjoy your time outdoors much more.

© 2009 Dana K. Davis

Author's Bio: 

Dana Davis, MA, CYT, is a Certified Balance Posture Teacher by the Balance Center in Palo Alto, California. She has practiced yoga since 1984 and is a graduate of the 3-year Advanced Studies Program at the Yoga Room in Berkeley. She is the owner of Sonoma Body Balance, a posture and yoga studio in Petaluma, CA (, 707-658-2599).