By Margot Schaal, GCFP CM
The gardening habit is a healthy one: tending the soil, cultivating patience, nurturing seedlings as they appear and plants as they develop stems, leaves, flowers and seeds, and acknowledging their decay. We are inspired to keep coming back to the garden each year, to care for the earth, to refresh the special places on Earth that we tend.
How do we care for ourselves while caring for the earth? Because, unlike doing Awareness Through Movement® classes or Functional Integration® sessions, in gardening you have a job to get done; it is goal oriented. Once on a trajectory, it takes a lot of force (or powerful intention) to move you off of it. In Feldenkrais you gift yourself time to experiment with your sensations and movement; learning about yourself is the objective.
Skills from Feldenkrais teachings often transfer without trying to think about them. Here are a few ways to support your gardening habit with specific Feldenkrais practices.
Prepare with a recorded lesson.
An Awareness Through Movement® lesson or a few subtle, slow movements can keep your spine and back happy. (When I led a landscape crew I used to guide them in physical warm-ups to prepare for the eight-hour day). Sit or stand in your garden before getting to work and sense a few movements of your pelvis forward and back, allowing it to influence your entire spine…Try lifting your right hip, then the left, taking you into a side bending action…Then, maintaining length through your spine, circle the pelvis. How does your head respond?
Do you realize that when you follow an instruction in a Feldenkrais lesson that involves your eyes, you are strengthening them? You may even see better after a lesson than you have in some time. (After one lesson the flavors of my lunch were more pronounced!). For every sighted person who gardens, seeing is a significant, if not important aspect of being in the garden and tending it. Even visually scanning the area to determine what you will do, with which materials and tools, and if you’ve collected them all when you clean up requires movement of your eyes, and some turning or twisting, all necessitating your awareness and a sense of safety.
Periodically rest your eyes – close them…See what is there with eyes closed. Sense your breathing, your feet, your buttocks, the internal feeling of resting.
We may agree that there’s no better place to breathe than in a healthy garden. The ribs unconsciously expand to deepen inhalation. Taking in the scents of blossoms and greenery inspire the gardener as s/he respires. It’s hard to know how the many breathing practices in Feldenkrais lessons influence this aspect of being in the garden or other natural settings.
Breathing – exhale as you bend/effort, inhale as you release/become upright.
Sensing differences and sameness are a continual part of Feldenkrais lessons, as we ask ourselves questions about our sensations. Choosing plants you want, recognizing the strength or weakness of plants, distinguishing species and nearly every gardening task incorporates this skill. Notice how young children continually seek to understand things by making comparisons.
- Feel your feet as you walk, whether you are barefoot or in footwear. Notice where your contact is, where it is not. Do you hold your breath to notice? Does it change depending on your pace?
What is your sense of uprightness? Notice how you alter it as you do garden tasks.
When a task is difficult, bring the skills of awareness from Feldenkrais lessons into the action. You will sense what is safe and what is do-able and proceed accordingly. What are some of the actions that you do in the garden such as bending, reaching, twisting, which Feldenkrais lessons support? Some of these actions can get one in trouble.
6. Think of keeping your spine long. Recall or use some of the movements you did to prepare to garden.
Just as other-trained safety experts tell you, bending your legs (toward a squat) to get to a place or thing, is preferable to unconsciously folding over your front to pick something up. Both these actions are incorporated into Feldenkrais lessons, as well as the wisdom to sense when each is appropriate.
7. If you are looking up a lot – please support your skinny neck with a pelvic movement forward, supporting with the largest muscles of the body!
8. Use props to give you endurance or make a task possible.
In my 60’s, I still prune fruit trees. The day I stopped climbing 40 feet up in trees I was in a tremendous apple tree reaching higher with long, strong, heavy loppers; the wind was blowing a lot. I climbed high, reached where I could. Large limbs fell, and it did not feel safe. I still use a ladder at times, and do low climbing, but not that high anymore.
9. When you reach in the garden, notice from where you reach. How much of yourself is included in the action? Does it help the act to include more of yourself?
MARGOT SCHAAL, Guild Certified Feldenkrais PractitionerCM graduated from the Marin II Feldenkrais® Professional Training Program in 2003 and is a Certified Assistant Trainer of the Feldenkrais Method. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts, and is a Reiki Master and Qigong teacher. Margot now offers classes and private sessions online and sees individual clients at her office in Union Square, NYC. She teaches Feldenkrais and Qigong together to bring forth the deeper levels of the Feldenkrais Method that engage each person’s inner teacher and capacity to heal. Her extensive movement background includes martial arts, dance, playing violin, horse-back riding and sports for pleasure. Her website is http://www.margotschaal.com