Downward Dog December
Starting in December, the gardening season is truly over (I’m ashamed to say I got my garlic in just last week!) and Downward Dog season begins. Or at least that’s the plan. For me, December means a dramatic transition to less physical movement – instead of being outside working in the fields all day, I’m sitting in front of the computer or spinning wheel – and I get stiff and slow unless I get disciplined about scheduling time to exercise. Luckily, I LOVE yoga, and adding practice back into my daily life is one of the things I most enjoy about winter. It helps that I’ve got room in front of the woodstove to roll out my mat!
Most of the year I don’t even consider making time for yoga. From April to October, the work outside starts pretty early and ends when the sun goes down. Much of that time is spent hustling from one end of the farm to the other, with lots of harvesting and hoeing in between. I am thankful for all the walking, bending, squatting and lifting that makes up my days and my body feels pretty great most of the time. (The exception is an awful portion of the spring when weeding is never-ending and I get a palpable knot between my shoulders. ) For someone like me with rheumatoid arthritis, tending to a farm is great medicine. For months, the discipline I require is to make myself come and get in front of the computer every few days to update my CSA harvest lists and recipes.
But as soon as the weather forces us to start heating the animals’ water troughs, we wisely and joyfully move them to our closest-to-the-house paddocks. We appreciate being able to see all the animals from the house and we really really appreciate not having to walk far for their daily feeding and watering when the snow is deep. But consolidation of the paddock layout means that we don’t have to walk much now on a regular basis.
In the meantime, my winter inside work is all that sort of repetitive, hunching and tense activity that can wreck havoc on flexibility and back health: when I’m not sitting at a desk typing or catching up on all the administrative paperwork I ignored all for three seasons, I’m drafting fiber into a spinning wheel or curled over a felting project on the dining room table. The most exercise I get is while cooking or washing wool. In addition, with less sunlight available, and less time outside, I’m also deprived of the Vitamin D I so rely on for my energy.
The result is that I find it harder and harder to find the stamina to be productive in the house for a full day. By August, my tired body is craving the rest of the cold months, but by December it is in danger of slowing down to a crawl. And running a diversified farm can’t stop in the winter! These few months between the final cleanup of the gardens and the start of seeding in the greenhouse (late January) are when all of the planning, purchasing of supplies, promoting of the CSA and creating of new income ideas and promotional materials has to happen. I’ve got to clean, dye, card and produce all of the wool products that I will sell in the following year. This is also my best time of year to teach woolcraft classes and the only time to tackle any inside house-improvement projects like painting the unfinished trim.
Even though these tasks require a lot less physical stamina than my growing-season schedule, they require mental clarity and stamina that also seem to decrease as my physical activity tapers off. They also require a certain cheerfulness and optimism that definitely ebbs away as winter progresses. Two years ago I fell into a rather mild but noticeable depression in January. In retrospect I realized it was a time in which I was rarely outside through winter – an adult son had returned to live at home for a few months and was doing all the farm chores in exchange for room and board.
So winter hibernation isn’t an option for many reasons, and for me yoga is the answer. Yoga, preferably for an hour daily, keeps me flexible, strong and challenged. After just a few practice times, I become more in tune with my body and find that I eat better and am better able to answer when my body urges me to get out and walk in the sun. My mind is able to focus better and concentrate for longer during the work day. My posture improves and that keeps my back from getting crunchy and my shoulders from tightening. Do I sound like I’m trying to sell this to myself? I partly am! Today was my first day of practicing at home alone, and I hope to hold to my daily resolution by looking at all the benefits.
Good teachers help a ton. At home, practicing with a video, I pop in Suzanne Deason when I want to be nurtured and Rodney Yee when I want to be challenged. Once a week I like to practice with other people, and I’m lucky to have one class available in the next town over and several classes in Monroe, which is a modest 1/2 hour commute. The teacher for both is “Cathy Hauck”:http://www.abcyogamonroe.com/ who is great at offering a push but also allowing students to take the gentle route if they want. While we’re in relaxation pose at the end of each class, she plays a singing bowl which I find a most amazing massage for my spine!
Someday I hope to continue yoga practice through the gardening months. I’m sure I’ll have to at some point when my body starts to refuse the all-out pace I try to sustain now. I’d love to create a Farmer’s Yoga Cycle with a teacher that would address some of the most common body issues gardeners and small-acreage farmers (those who aren’t on a tractor!) face in a brief, easy-to-memorize, outside daily practice. But for now, I’m thankful for the time I do get to invest each winter. Namaste…