Recap: Your Body as a Tool
This event was a continuation of an event that Women in Hort put on last September called Protect Our Bodies. At that event, there was a demonstration on ergonomic tools designed specifically for women, and two speakers who taught exercises and movements to protect our bodies while gardening. Carol Long, Curator of Gardens at Winterthur, was one of those speakers, and she helped get the ball rolling for this event by enlisting the expertise of our guest instructor, Kris Benarcik.
Kris is a personal trainer at Empowered Yoga, and was a horticulturist in her former life. She worked in the horticulture field for 20 years at public gardens like Mount Cuba, the Scott Arboretum, and DCH (Delaware Center for Horticulture). And then she changed careers to pursue fitness, which she's also been active in for the last 20 years. She teaches people how to mindfully move their bodies in a safe and more integrated manner using functional fitness in a class called Balanced Athlete. Although it was originally designed for recovering athletes, Kris mostly sees "people who hurt." And while she's not technically a physical therapist, she often functions as one. The class she prepared for Women in Hort was eye-opening.
The class started by each of us grabbing a stretchy band that we used throughout the class to engage various small muscle groups in our bodies. We started with our toes, and then fingers, shoulders, knees, and glutes. With the bands between our big toes, we stretched the little-used muscles in our feet, and then did other silly-looking exercises that (rather strenuously) engaged our abductors and adductors. Kris reminded us how much we neglect our feet on a daily basis, by the simple act of putting on shoes. So, we got to massage them by rolling pvc pipes under the bottoms of our feet to massage the fascia and stimulate nerve endings.
Next we moved onto our wrists and hands, as many of us overuse them while gardening, pruning, typing, and using our computers. We spread our fingers and hands while perched on all fours, rocking back and forth and in circular motions to wake up our wrists and associated muscles.
We learned about such terms as protraction & retraction and elevation & depression, as they related to small movements whose purpose is to stabilize our knees, backs, and the more overused parts of our bodies. We all had to laugh when she told us about "gluteal amnesia." But this is no laughing matter. As we age, we forget to use these important stabilizing muscles, and they begin to atrophy. Kris used the analogy of old men and their saggy jeans to describe the phenomenon. So, we worked our glutes and woke them back up. We practiced lunges in a way that protected our knees by using garden stakes as a prop.
While practicing lifting and twisting with heavy objects, Kris told us that the range that our hips are meant to pivot is 12%, while our thoracic region has the ability to pivot 40%. So, when we're mulching in the garden, we should be turning with our thoracic region (chests) and not our hips in order to protect our backs.
In this class, Kris Benarcik taught us simple methods that can be easily replicated at home. The takeaway messages for me were: Use your booty, engage your core, "knit" your ribs together, and always breathe (exhale on the work). This was much needed advice as we head into the spring season.