This time of the year is a busy one for gardeners. There’s a lot to do in the garden, and when the weather is nice, it’s really pleasant to be outdoors digging in the earth. There are fragrant smells in the air from flowers, the warmth of the sun on your skin, and ripe vegetables enticing you to pick them. There’s nothing like a warm Sungold tomato right off the vine!

Unfortunately, all that activity in the garden can also lead to aches & pains. Digging, raking, pruning and carrying can leave you with pain in lots of places: your back, neck, shoulders, wrists, and knees. Using the postural techniques of the Balance Method when you move in the garden can make all the difference. I learned this through a very painful experience.

I had a living Christmas tree that was growing too big for my patio in San Francisco, so I decided to give it away to my sister, who had a bigger yard. Now, I had learned healthy bending (Bending in Balance) at that time, but I was in a hurry to get this tree in my car. After rushing to grab the tree, shove it in my car, drive to my sister’s house and pull the tree out of the car, I was relieved to get that task finished and join my family for a trip out of town.

That is, until I bent over to pick up something really light, and felt my back scream! I realized that my lack of awareness in lifting the tree had messed up my back. It was really painful to get in and out of the car, and if I tried to sit down in a chair in my old posture, I was in too much pain and had to stand up!

Through practicing Balance day and night I was able to get to a place of no pain very quickly. Sitting, standing and sleeping in Balance provided relief immediately.

So, Balance can help relieve those pains that you may get from overdoing it in the garden. But I’ve heard it said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I’d like to give you some tips so that you can hopefully avoid those aches & pains and keep enjoying your garden. If you want more hands on practice, I’m also available for private sessions in your garden to coach you on your posture, and see below for my "Pain-Free Gardening" workshop coming up later this month.

Healthy Bending in the Garden

The most important thing is to stand, bend and walk in Balance in your garden. If you bring some extra attention to your posture, it will definitely pay off. Let’s look at Bending.

When I threw my back out, what I had just done was bending and twisting, most likely from the waist. So, remember, whenever you bend, bend from your hip joints, not from your waist. This is the place where your legs join your torso, not belt level. If you stand and lift one knee up, you’ll see the place where your clothing will fold at the top of your leg. That’s where you should bend.

It’s really helpful to practice this slowly a few times to make sure you really are bending from your hip crease. Many people think they are doing this, but they are actually rounding their backs and bending from the waist.

Practicing slowly several times will help you to retrain yourself with new, healthy movement patterns. It’s also helpful to take one hand and feel your back when you are bending. What’s happening back there? Do you feel the bones poking way out? If so, you’ll need to relax your belly and bend more deeply at your hip crease. Make sure your knees are at least slightly bent, and that your feet are at least hip width from each other.

What if you touch your back and you feel a deep indentation instead? This is common in more flexible people. This means you are probably lifting your chest and over-arching your back. You’ll need to drop your front ribs, and you may even need to use your abdominal muscles to stabilize your torso while bending.

One more detail about bending: never twist when you are bending! This is really important! This is how I hurt my back. I’ve also heard this from many people – “I just bent over and twisted and then I felt this sharp pain in my back.” When you are bending, keep your entire body facing the same direction. When you need to turn, use your feet and turn your whole body at the same time, rather than twisting at the waist.

This doesn’t mean that you should never twist. Just don’t twist when bending or carrying weight - only twist a straight spine.

Watch for an upcoming article with more tips on pain-free Gardening. I’d also like to recommend the workshops and sustainability tours of Daily Acts (, if you want to learn more and get inspired about how your actions can make a difference. I wish you many enjoyable hours in your garden. Pay attention to your bending and you won’t have to “pay” for your time spent in your garden!

© 2009 Dana K. Davis

Author's Bio: 

Dana Davis, MA, CYT, is a Certified Balance 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).