I am one half of team Bindweed, a small cut flower farm in southeast Idaho. In charge of sales and service, I process every stem, put orders together and make deliveries. Our farm lies between two mountain resorts, each 125 miles away in opposite directions, so when I’m not running around the farm I’m driving long hours over mountainous terrain—gorgeous, but not so kind on the body.
Practicing yoga has been my lifesaver, my fountain of youth, so much so that a year ago I flew to India to study and become a yoga teacher. In the summer the farm takes all my attention and I practice yoga just to keep going, but during the winter I teach several times a week.
The sad fact is my husband and I have joined the ranks of “older growers”, an esteemed but far from elite group of folk. We have finally caught up to success, and have the aging bodies to prove it. Mentally and financially we are not ready to retire, but physically we are beginning to wear out.
Even if you have not reached fogey-hood, lifting and carrying buckets of water and flowers, bending over and reaching into flower beds, and continuous use of flower cutters can all lead to aches and pains for even the fittest farmers.
A few years ago when the usual aches and stiffness did not disappear a few weeks into the off season, I turned to yoga for site-specific relief. I am not a doctor or a physical therapist but I would like to share a few simple things you can do to restore your farm-abused bodies.
Let’s start with hands, our number one tool, the first to be used and the first to be abused. We use our hands for tiny precise and often repetitive skills, and we abuse our hands by using them too often like heavy equipment. They are miraculously engineered to accommodate so much, but it’s time to treat them with a little more respect.
The following exercises are known in yoga as joint openers, used to open and relieve joints and to stretch and restore muscles and ligaments. You can do these exercises standing or sitting down, you can practice them in line at the grocery store, or even while waiting for a client. Just do them. Keep in mind that you are looking for sensation—the sensation of a good stretch. If at any point you feel pain, that is the signal to back up or stop, and listen to your body. It will probably take you longer to read the exercises than to do them but give them a try. Once you have a feel for them and begin to practice regularly you may notice greater mobility, and real relief from joint and muscle stiffness and pain. Again, I am not a doctor, just a humble yogini sharing what works for me.
Extend your arms directly out from your shoulders with your palms facing down. Open hands wide, stretching fingers outward, then make a fist with the thumb inside. Spring your hands open, fingers outstretched, and make a fist with the thumb outside. Repeat ten times, springing the hand open and closed, alternating your thumbs inside and outside.
With the arms at shoulder height, bend the hand backward from the wrists as if pressing the palms against a wall, with the fingers pointing toward the ceiling. Now exhale and bend the hand forward from the wrists so that the fingers point toward the floor. Following your respiration bend the wrist, fingers up, fingers down. Keep elbows, palms, and fingers straight throughout the entire exercise. Repeat ten times; do not bend the knuckle joints or fingers, if possible.
Any popping or creaking noises heard during the exercises is not due to old age, it is the champagne cork of joy as your body releases tension.
Wrist joint rotation
With arms extended in front of the body at shoulder height, make your hands into loose fists and begin to make circles with your wrists in opposite directions. Make ten revolutions and switch directions so that the wrists are rotating toward each other. Make another ten revolutions. To open the chest and shoulders at the same time, while rotating the wrists away from each other, circle the arms up overhead and back behind the body. Inhale the arms up, circling behind and exhaling down. Continue the circle, bringing the arms to shoulder height and repeat four more times. Reverse the direction of the wrists, rotating them toward each other, reversing the arm circles as well, inhaling up and exhaling down. I do this exercise several times a day to loosen up the muscles in my hands and forearms and to relieve my wrists and shoulders.
Shoulder socket rotation
Raise the right arm to shoulder height, bend the elbow, and place the right fingertips on the right shoulder. Rotate the arm to make large clockwise circles with the elbow, inhaling up and exhaling down. Repeat four more times and switch directions, making circles counter-clockwise. Repeat with the left arm.
Extend right arm at shoulder level, fingers up, palm open as if pressing against a wall. With the fingers of the left hand, gently stretch the fingers of the right hand back towards the shoulder. Pull back only enough to create a good stretching sensation. You will feel a stretch in your fingers, palm, and wrist. Release and repeat four more times. Repeat on the left side.
Fascia forearm stretch
Extend right arm up to shoulder height to the side of your body, with the fingers extended and the palm out, again as if your hand were up against the wall. Turn your head to the left and move your arm slightly up and down, forward and backwards until you feel a tingling or almost numbing sensation. Once you find the “sweet spot” hold there, breathe into the sensation for a few moments. Release and repeat as much as is comfortable. The tingling/numbing sensation is the stretching of your muscle fascia, the tissue that lines the muscles. Repeat the exercise on the left side. This exercise relieves the hands and works against carpal tunnel issues.
These exercises can be repeated as often as you wish. Any popping or creaking noises heard during the exercises is not due to old age, it is the champagne cork of joy as your body releases tension.