Garden Resources

Free Your Mind & Your Back Will Follow

Erin Presley, Horticulturist
Mar 6, 2023


Focus on Mindful Movement this Winter for a Comfortable Return to Spring Gardening

Although our gardens may be down for a long winter’s nap, that doesn’t mean gardeners should go dormant themselves. Admittedly, outdoor winter gardening activities can be limited, but maintaining strength and flexibility is crucial to returning to spring gardening in a healthy way.

We asked Sarah Peters, occupational therapist and yoga instructor at Perennial Yoga in the Garver Feed Mill, and Aaron Wilkie, Olbrich’s very own Garden Facilitator and resident Yogi, to recommend and demonstrate some low-impact stretches for gardeners. Each one focuses on moving thoughtfully and staying in shape over the winter. Make conscious movement a habit to take outside with you in the spring for a comfortable and injury-free entry into the gardening season!

1. Squat Variation

The ability to rise from a squatting or seated position is correlated with longevity, Peters emphasizes, since loss of this function has major impacts on our independence and activity levels. In the garden, rising from squatting to standing is necessary whenever you’ve been on the ground planting or weeding. If squatting at ground level is too low, feel free to modify this activity by starting from a chair or low cushion, lifting your seat 1-3” off the chair level and then hovering for a few breaths before slowly releasing back down onto the chair.

In a standing position, place feet shoulder width apart, with feet pointed slightly outwards.

Hinge slightly at the hip to draw your seat down while bending at the knees into a low squat, reaching your seat all the way down towards your heels. Keep knees pointed slightly outwards to match feet, preventing knees from collapsing inwards.

Concentrate on keeping length in your spine from your lower back up through the crown of your head, and your breastbone elevated. Hold in position for 5 to 10 breaths, with hands clasped at heart or resting lightly on the ground for balance.

Add dynamic motion for further practice with balance and strength: with hands clasped at heart or resting lightly on the ground for balance, keep your weight in your heels while lifting your seat straight up 1-3” above your heels and hover for 5 breaths. Then slowly release your seat back down to your heels.

Click here for a video of Sarah demonstrating this movement.

2. Dynamic Tabletop

Scrambling around on the ground on hands and knees is a position every gardener can relate to. This exercise mimics working from your hands and knees and reaching forward to grab a tool or weed or put a plant in the ground. A folded blanket or garden kneeler can be used to provide cushioning for knees.

Enter a tabletop position with wrists lined up squarely under shoulders and knees under hips.

Concentrate on keeping length in your spine from your lower back up through the crown of your head.

Draw your belly in to activate muscles in your torso, and imagine pushing the floor away from you to keep shoulders strong and active.

Concentrate on keeping support in your shoulders while lightly gliding one hand forward along the floor in front of your body, fingers forward, then bring hand back underneath you in tabletop. Repeat with opposite hand.

Add dynamic motion for further strength and flexibility: While one hand is in front of you, resting lightly on the floor, add motion in the hip joints. Curl toes under and rock your hips back to your heels while gliding your outstretched hand back to its original position in tabletop. Then rock hips forward again into the tabletop position while gliding the other hand forward. Repeat 3 to five times on each side of your body.

Click here for a video of Sarah demonstrating this movement.

3. Seated Twist

Our first forays into the garden after snowmelt frequently include raking, and we’ve all suffered the sore back and upper arms that follow a day of raking leaves and garden debris out of the lawn and garden beds. The torso-twisting motion accompanying raking is also an element of vigorous shoveling. Protect and strengthen your lower back with mindful movement in this seated twist. If sitting on the floor is difficult, practice this motion while seated on a folded blanket or firm chair.

On the ground, find a comfortable cross-legged seat. Sit upright, lining up the back of your pelvis with the back of your head.

Keep both of your sit bones firmly connected to the ground and gently twist from your midsection to the right side. Draw your right ribcage and shoulder back towards your spine, and feel your left shoulder moving away from your spine.

Let your left hand come to your knee and place your right hand on the ground behind you as a gentle support. Concentrate on keeping the movement in your spine – your hands are just to add steadiness, not to pull or overexaggerate the twist.

Hold this position for 5 breaths – deepen the twist with each exhale as air exiting your lungs leaves space in your ribcage.

Peters says her work as an occupational therapist is all about helping people to continue doing their favorite activities for as long as possible. When we stay strong and flexible over the winter, we avoid springtime injury and reap all of the other rewards of gardening like fresh air, a sense of accomplishment and connection to the natural world around us, maybe even garden-fresh produce. Fight the Midwestern winter doldrums and focus on developing healthy movement habits for springtime 2020. Free your mind and your back will follow!!

Note: Sarah Peters can be reached via her website at