Minimising the Pain of Gardening

This is the fifth in a series about how I established a Gardening Habit. You might like to start at the beginning.

  1. Why I needed to establish a Gardening Habit

  2. Clarifying my Gardening Habit

  3. Knowing what motivates me to Garden

  4. Distinctively my Gardening Habit

One of the keys to the success of my Gardening Habit strategy involves making gardening as pleasant and painless as possible to do on a regular basis. A major reason why I lost my gardening mojo for a while was because I had got into a bad habit of pushing myself through physical discomfort, which left me aching and exhausted for hours or days afterwards.

I'm reasonably fit and healthy, but I do have a long history of back, neck and shoulder problems - the kind of repetitive strain injuries familiar to many people who do a lot of computer work. The aches and pains I suffered after many gardening sessions really seemed to be getting in the way of pursuing my other interests, and my other interests are just as important to me as my garden. So I started gardening less frequently, but then when I did go in the garden I felt like I had to work harder and longer, which caused more pain, and further sapped my motivation.

The very first thing I did, when I decided to replace this vicious cycle with a positive Gardening Habit, was to really pay attention to the things that were uncomfortable or irritating while I was gardening. Noting down all my feelings, no matter how mundane or trivial, after each session in the garden helped me to quickly identify some ways I could improve my gardening experience.  I was also attentive to what was pleasurable about working in my garden, both so I could really enjoy those pleasures mindfully and deeply; and so that I could try to create more opportunities for gardening pleasure.

Here's my personalised routine I've developed to minimise my physical discomfort both during and after gardening. It seems embarrassingly obvious when I write it out, but it was only by making a deliberate commitment to this routine that I became reliably sensible about my gardening behaviour!

  • I go to bed early the night before, to try and get a good night’s sleep.
  • Then I try to get up early to do a yoga routine specifically for limbering up the lower back and shoulders, since that where I’m most likely to get sore.
  • I have a larger-than-usual breakfast on gardening mornings by adding in extra protein and carbohydrates.
  • I try to remember to drink lots of water before I go in the garden and to carry a water bottle around with me.  
  • I carry around a kneeling pad, to help myself remember not to bend over so much.
  • Perhaps most importantly, I set a timer to make sure I stop and take a break after one hour, and don't work longer than two hours in one session.

I don't always remember to carry out the entire routine every time, but when I do most of it I am rewarded with little or no physical discomfort, even when I spend a morning shovelling compost! 

What do you do, or could you do, to minimise discomfort from gardening? Let me know in the comments.