Yoga instructor finds ways to use practice in gardening
The practice of yoga has become a way of life for Carlotta Hayes since this ancient system of meditation first caught her attention in the 1970s.
More recently, she has begun incorporating the principles of yoga into her gardening. She is also a yoga instructor.
Yoga is an ancient system of meditation, breathing practices and physical exercises, and postures intended to “integrate” the body, spirit, and mind. “People who love being outside come alive when they are outside, and people who love yoga come alive when they are practicing yoga,” said Hayes, a self-professed amateur gardener.
When Hayes started her first garden a year ago - and it was just a weedy, malnourished lot at the time she bought the property - Hayes noticed that her home yoga practice, which she usually does in the evening, started changing.
“I was getting my cardiovascular workout outside, and by the time I came in at night I was stiff and aching. Gardening and landscaping are so energizing and invigorating that I didn’t need more of that afterwards,” said Hayes, who is a yoga instructor. “I needed to crank down and compensate for muscles that had been overworked or even pulled. I needed to soften the edges of my exhaustion so I could relax and get a good night’s sleep.” As a result, Hayes began developing an after-gardening “meditative, restorative practice.”
At the same time, Hayes realized that she needed to develop a new set of strengthening practices to prepare her physically and mentally for the rigors of gardening - lifting, pulling, squatting, kneeling, and reaching. “For amateur gardeners who work at a day job and have a limited slice of time in the evening, it’s easy to just change your clothes after work and run out into the garden instead of taking a few minutes to focus, slow down, shed the frustrations of work, and eat something first,” said Hayes. “I started applying yoga techniques to gardening because it started cutting into my yoga time. This is yoga - getting your hands into the ground and nurturing life.”
As time went on, Hayes realized that the yoga she needed to do during gardening season was not just different in physical ways from other forms of yoga. “It also involved cultivating a new attitude,” she said. “There are some fundamental lifestyle guidelines in yoga that can enhance your time in the garden.”
For instance, the “Aparigraha” principle of not wasting or hoarding more than one needs is an example of “voluntary simplicity,” Hayes said. “Practicing Aparigraha will make you a happier person, according to the ancient texts. Applying it in the garden might mean not blowing your budget by buying more annuals at a plant sale than you can actually take care of; recycling your kitchen waste into compost; or donating a row of vegetables to a food bank.”
Hayes, a resident of neighboring Weymouth, will be teaching a “Yoga for Gardeners” class at Hingham Public Library, 66 Leavitt St., on Tues., Aug. 28, from 7 to 9 p.m. For more information, call (781) 741-1405. The class is free.
“Everyone is welcome,” Hayes said. “There won’t be any checkpoint asking to see your gardening or yoga credentials! The point is simply to learn something new, enjoy each other’s company, and have fun.”
Yoga was developed over centuries by people who lived close to the land and simply, took shelter in caves, and spent most of their time outside, attuned to nature, Hayes said. “Taking the practice of yoga back outside where it started centuries ago, into a landscape that’s green and cultivated, is just putting it back where it originally came from. You can feel the difference. That’s why more teachers are offering classes outside this summer.”
Aside from lifestyle practices that develop character and make life more enjoyable, there are yogic breathing techniques that can be applied in the garden to work more “ergonomically (preventing or avoiding potential hazards to your well-being) and efficiently,” Hayes said. “This way you are working with the forces of nature – the weather, time of day, or the tenaciousness of a particular weed – instead of fighting them.”
Hayes puts what she teaches others into practice in her own life. For instance, when faced with the invasive Japanese knotweed in her garden recently, Hayes found herself “getting into an aggressive frenzy.” So she took a step back, realizing that this was not the way practicing yoga had taught her to deal with life’s stresses. “I wanted to eradicate the weed, but I didn’t want to be Tasmanian devil about it,” she said with a smile. “My motivation became one of protecting the plants in my garden versus killing the knot weed before it spread further. When we become frustrated, it colors everything we do. Yoga teaches you how to be much more efficient with your energy so you can do more, with less fatigue.” The practice of yoga can also help develop intuition and patience, which are helpful when gardening or landscaping.
“Since becoming interested in yoga in the 1970s, I have been searching for the approach (and there are many out there) that seemed most inclusive, accessible, and interesting to me,” Hayes said. “I was looking for something anyone could enjoy and benefit from - people of all ages, including pregnant women, athletes, people with injuries or who are out of shape, and those who are new to yoga as well as experienced yoga students.”
The Hale and Serene style of yoga that Hayes embraces teaches students techniques for self-healing, stress reduction, and peace of mind. “Individuals can ratchet it up or down according to their preference and modify postures, taking into account their unique health history, bone structure, current emotional state, and other factors.”
Hayes’ original certification was from Kali Ray TriYoga Academy in 1992. She recertified with a Viniyoga teacher in 2001 and is currently working toward a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy certification. Over the past few years, she has been experimenting with a deep relaxation and self-inquiry technique known as “Yoga Nidra.”
“I love teaching Viniyoga with its rhythmic movements synchronized with the breath and compassionate modifications which free students from competing to be perfect,” Hayes said. “Yoga helps you feel at peace with the world so you’re in harmony with what you are doing. You’re sailing, and the wind is hitting the sail.”