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Grateful for My Garden

February, 2018

When I first came to this country in 1975, I had gardening on my mind. My family in India had just moved from Mumbai to Pune, where it became possible to plant a garden, and my mother was full of plans for this new adventure. Her excitement was infectious and I also became keen on gardening. As an exchange student, I started a garden in my host family’s plot. Later, when my husband and I moved to Stanford, I cultivated a communal plot at Escondido Village. In our first condominium/home, I spent several years working the very clay soil that is the legacy of every Bay Area homeowner. My efforts came to a standstill when I herniated my L5-S1 disc in the ninth month of my first pregnancy. Not only could I not think about gardening, I was also unable to pick up a cooking pot, sleep, or, worst of all, pick up my baby.

It took me several years to figure out what had caused my problem, how to solve it, and develop enough confidence to have two more children. With the additions of Nathan and Monisha to the family, we were attracted to buying a larger house. I was glad that when we sold our condominium, the music faculty buyer deeply appreciated the improved soil I had worked on.

 


Early efforts at soil improvement in our current home. I’m carrying Monisha on my back African-style.

 

Improving the soil remains an obsession of mine, and with the Bay Area’s clay-dense soil, it takes an obsession to turn the soil around! At my current home, I have developed a thriving edible garden, with many fruit trees, vegetables, mushroom beds and logs, lettuce lawns, and a vertical garden packed into my family’s land. To do so, I fed the soil many things, some of them quite unconventional: sawdust (no glue, no redwood, no walnut) from a friend, wood chips (not redwood or eucalyptus), city compost, manure from one of the many Augean-style stables in the area), coffee grounds (thank you, Peet’s!), and kitchen waste.

 


Hip-hinging to harvest artichokes (that magically have no choke!)

 

I was thankful for the new posture that allowed me to do the requisite digging, hauling, and turning to develop a fruitful garden. Over the years, it has become clear to me that each of these activities supports my posture project. Posture cannot live in a vacuum. It’s a set of principles and patterns that needs to be manifest in activity.

Today, I maintain my garden year-round and work in my garden most days. Lately I’ve been picking arugula, herbs, avocados, and nasturtium for salad, grapefruit and berries for dessert, persimmons for fruit leather, eggs for breakfast, and greens for stir fries.

 

  
Left: Hip-hinging in my fave Yao tribal jacket from Thailand to collect greens that Brian cooks into Indian saag. Right: Soil improvement does pay off in wonderful produce!

 

Have you had a similar experience? What activities support your posture project?

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Comments

Thank you for sharing your story and photographs Esther...and what perfect timing as planting season is coming upon us!  As a teacher for The Gokhale Method many of my students look to using the techniques they learn for their gardening so I know your story will be very inspirational!  

Thank you so much for this post, Esther. We see so much hype about eating organic and pasture-raised animal products, but no where do we see encouragement to grow our own food! I hope these images inspire people.

I only started learning gardening in the past couple years (I'm still young) and am really excited to get my own garden going. I just moved to the countryside in France so I only get one season. Gardening is such a great exercise for posture. I worked on a farm and tried to talk to people about your work while we were pulling weeds, but they didn't seem thrilled. One young lady later told me that it was hard to be told that one was effectively doing something wrong all the time. I certainly didn't say it like that to them. I was just trying to help them, but unfortunately most people are close-minded to such things. It takes humility, in my opinion...

People in farming suffer the most from poor posture (whether they have pain or not). They try to make up for it by doing things like raised beds, but they miss out on the wonderful feeling of hip-hinging!

It's very difficult to give unsolicited advice, even if it's valid and will do the person much good. I recommend finding within yourself to share your experience with enthusiasm after having weeded out any attachment to the person changing. "I took a course that taught an interesting way to bend. She claims that traditionally people bend with a flat back. I'm trying to practice it now. It's not easy to remember all the details." Or, if it flows, you could ask the person to spot you "Does my back look flat or rounded? I'm trying to do a bending technique I just learned called hip-hinging." 

How wonderful that you are gardening in France - you'll certianly find delicious things in the market to go with your garden produce...

Wonderful post about your own gardening experience! And what a lovely garden you've created!

Gardening is one of the things that brought me to your program 7 years ago. I was working hard on a landscaping project that required several hours a week of mostly weed-pulling, initially. After each 3-hour session of work, my back was so stiff and painful I could barely put myself into an upright position to hobble to my car. Thank the gods I found your program! The first time I did my gardening "gig" after learning how to hip-hinge, no pain and no efforts to "straighten up" after hours of work! The improvement was immediate. I was so impressed with your program -- and I continue to be! Thank you, Esther, for putting this life-changing information out into the world, and for making it so accessable to so many people. I tell everyone it's the best thing I've ever done for myself. And so far, I have two cousins and a nephew who have either completed your program or are on the brink -- haha, spreading the benefits!

Yay! Yay!

 

-"I recommend finding within yourself to share your experience with enthusiasm after having weeded out any attachment to the person changing"-

 

There are persons that appear in my life like guides, mentors, they spread light one moment after the other reminding me my purpose.

That phrase is enough mumbo jumbo... i wanted just say thank you another time, another time for that good inspiration!

 

You are very welcome! I have also benefited from many mentors and guides in my life...

Oh dear Esther, thank you so much for this post! And the work you put into your garden is nothing short of amazing. This is such an important reminder for me, as I love gardening (and nature in general), but unfortunately had given up most of it because of the back pain, which definitely has not much to do with age (I am in my 30s). I see there is a lot of hope that one day I will be able to build a small piece of paradise of my own, without hurting myself. Thank you, as always! 

I hope you will discover not only how to not harm yourself while gardening, but also how to benefit from this most-enjoyable activity!

Thank you so much for sharing your gardening story!

For a very long time I thought myself to be a city girl who would never give in to gardening. My parents used to have a community garden plot and I was helping them there in whatever was needed, but I truly didn't like it. 

Well, guess what? Things started changing some years ago when I reconnected with nature during long camping trips to National Parks and other beautiful natural places. A year ago my husband and I bought a house on a beautiful piece of land (mostly woods) and a lot of gardening needs. I found out that I actually love gardening, plus it's such a meditative experience of being here and now, which is an additional benefit. However, hours of weeding done sitting on a little stool caused me a lot of pain in my back and hips. I understand certain gardening activities can be done hip-hinging but what about weeding? Any advice? Thank you!

Hip-hinging works just fine for weeding, but it does take some hamstring and external hip rotater flexibility as well as some back strength. There are other ways to work on the ground in a helathy way. Depending on the state of your knees, you can try kneeling (with knee pads?), a partial or B-squat, or sitting on a low stool (again needs flexibility).

Great to hear about your coming full circle to the land...