Are you into gardening? Please say yes. It's a kind of miracle. Food you grow tastes better, costs less, has greater nutritional value AND it leaves a carbon footprint the size of a grape.
Gardening isn't an aerobic sport, and it won't grow your fitness the way running, walking and biking will, but it sure can produce lots of pleasure, not to mention kale, spinach and tomatoes.
Gardening also helps you cultivate a calm, focused mind while putting all the major muscles of your body to work -- digging, lifting and carrying. Besides burning calories, gardening connects us to the earth, and it's that mindful exchange of energy -- you plant; nature grows -- that is so joyful and satisfying.
Growing stuff in a garden is also a splendid way to plant ideas in your child's brain about what is real food, and how good it can taste. Next thing you know, your 10-year-old is snacking on cauliflower chunks instead of corn chips, and goes to sleep at night dreaming of broccoli stalks the size of baseball bats.
Well, not immediately, but over time. Tending to a little garden -- even a flowerpot on the windowsill -- can give your child a wondrous sense of being connected to nature. It's a good thing.
In the best of all worlds, gardening is a low-injury sport. But who lives there? If you rush into your garden chores carelessly, talking and texting, your mind a million miles away, you can wrench your back, destroy your knees, create excruciating tension in your shoulders and wind up with a neck stiffer than a newborn zucchini.
So before you start growing a list of gardening aches and pains, consider the following:
LEARN TO LIFT & CARRY. Prepare before you lift. Take a breath or two and make sure your body is aligned and ready. Relax your head and neck, drop your shoulders, and when you lift, engage your core muscles (your abs, glutes, torso muscles on both sides of your spine, front and back.) Lift slowly, pushing down through your feet, and drawing up through your legs. No grabbing and snatching, and no undue pressure or strain on your lower back.
Carry heavy items (bags of fertilizers, decorative stones) close to your body. Don't hold them out in front of you, arms outstretched.
And finally, think it through before you do. If you think something is too heavy to lift or carry by yourself, it probably is. Why be macho when you can be smart? Get help, and avoid a nasty injury.
SMALL BITES AVOID BIG PROBLEMS. When you shovel or dig, be content to take small bites with good tools that fit your hand.
And just like in the gym, don't overdo it. Big shovels loaded with heavy dirt can easily strain your back, shoulders and knees.
To avoid post-planting strains and sprains, keep your mind focused on the task at hand: smaller loads, no sudden twisting or torqueing, moving with awareness so you stay balanced and aligned.
A LITTLE PROTECTION GOES A LONG A LONG WAY. Start with your knees. Protect their delicate structure by kneeling on a foam pad or towels. Protect your eyes with sunglasses and a hat. Protect your skin from the burning sun with a proper cover-up -- clothes or non-toxic sunscreen -- and by moderating exposure.
Begin your gardening with a little warm-up, simple range-of-motion stretches that juice up your joints and energize your muscles for the work ahead. If you feel pain when you garden, back off, relax, and find an easier way to work. Drink enough water to stay hydrated, and don't stay in any one position too long.
CULTIVATE CALMNESS. To make all your gardening chores more effortless, move with the flow of your breath. It's true for all your activities, from the basketball court to the compost heap. Focusing on your breath gets you started, but then it's up to you to immerse yourself in the moment and not ponder the past or worry about the future. Let your time in the garden nourish your understanding of how important it is to let go of stress and anxiety.
ENERGY EXPRESS-O! DIGGING DEEPER
"Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace." -- May Sarton
Marilynn Prestons's weekly column, "Energy Express," can be found at creators.com.