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Gardening With Dermot O'Neill
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Gardening can have very therapeutic aspects. But knowing how to lift and move heavy objects, and how to be responsible about how we garden, can make a big difference to the fun and pleasure we gain. Our gardening expert, Dermot O'Neill met up with Shane Murnaghan, Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine, to get a few tips on how you should approach heavier work in the garden.
Keep the body warm
The human body, much like that of warm blooded animals, needs to be kept away from the wind chill. Much like animals hiding in the hedgerows for shelter, we must keep the wrists, ankles, neck and lower back properly covered when working in the garden during these windy Autumnal days. The wind can 'invade' the body causing stiffness, muscle spasm and 'fogginess' in the head. A kidney belt as used by motorcyclists, widely available from motorcycle accessory stores is an invaluable addition to the gardeners 'outdoor kit'. A headcover or scarf is vital too, try sewing a few stitches from the scarf to the collar of your gardening jacket as a reminder to use it and a way of keeping your kit together. Another clever addition is neoprene wrist warmers. They are waterproof and very comfy to wear too and also act as a wrist support. These small additions can keep you more refreshed, warmer, safer, and help your time in the elements as the days get damper.
It is key to evaluate the weight you are about to lift. There are too many heroics in the garden. As we are chatting away to ourselves and pondering life in general we can often get a false sense of security, way outside the realms of reality, which allows us to strain dangerously with the lift that has been left to last. Ask yourself these questions: would I lift this for someone else, or would I make them assist me? Am I being unreasonable to myself by not asking for help? And finally: what's the hurry? Why am I taking short cuts?
Your grip is essential when it comes to lifting. A change in your grip, even the tightness of the grip can massively adapt the spine away from stability to gambling that the soft tissues (muscles) can do the work instead of the form (the body) as a whole. Make sure your grip is solid, 'locked' and dry. Use good fitting gloves that increase grip.
And now for the rules!
Anchor your feet
Make sure your feet are anchored firmly. Feel the three foot anchors: the small ball behind the little toe, the big ball behind the big toe and the heel ball. It is this triangular structure that transfers massive support; without it, we rely on muscle ability, and that is a recipe for an accident as muscles tire quickly through out the day and this is when we get injured. They must all be in contact firmly with the ground taking strain away from the ankles. Now lift your big toes in your shoes and feel the feet engage solidly. This aids the whole of the structure.
Bend your knees
Make sure to bend your knees and honestly feel within yourself whether you can take the strain, there are no purple hearts in gardening.
Do not hold your breath
Do not hold your breath, as this can cause huge spasms around the lumbar spinal column. The structures for walking are attached to your last rib, by holding the breath you are preventing the spine from rotating normally. This can be disastrous for lifting.
Raise your head
Raise your head and see where you want to lift to, elevating the head and neck - the head angle switches on the upper torso muscles allow good transference of power from pelvis to shoulders. How many of you have raised weight up to find that beyond hip level there is no power? The method I am talking of here can help you and keep you safe. I have heard many stories of the last wheel barrow lifted badly, leaving a person in pain for weeks.
Can you do this lift - honestly? Stay warm, lift your toes, bend your knees. Do not hold your breath, look where you are going and raise your head. The body follows the head, and the head follows the eyes.
When working in the garden, internalise every now and then, to check with how you feel. Literally internalise and feel for tension, in your back or knees or lungs or neck, etc… The human spine gets longer when you move to stretch arms and legs. Allow yourself to perceive this subtle movement. Do all things with flow, not vigour. See your success from the future, see future memories: 'I'm going to love looking out on this garden later when I have finished this piece'. Compliment yourself on your effort. Use the meditation mantra of 'I am', letting all other words fall away, is a great way of realising your presence and connection with your garden and your passion. Your gardening then melds with freeing off the 'forever thinking mind', let the drama fall away, feel your body relaxing, releasing tension, smile inwardly towards your own heart. This then allows your gardening become spiritual practice. Do this and I guarantee you will feel very well internally!
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