fall cleanup: the yogic way

Fall has arrived: the leaves are falling, the days are crisp, pumpkin-spiced everything abounds, and your yard becomes your calling. Many will become yard-warriors and thus begins the sore backs, arms, and other stresses on the body. There is, however, a more yogic approach you can take with your yard to prevent injury, fatigue, and to make it a meditation.


The first approach with the fall cleanup, if you have a yard anything like mine, is to approach your yard with resolve.

For me, cleaning my yard is quite an event that takes some time. Different trees will drops leaves at different times. But I have found over the years that this task takes on a new life if I approach it with a Yogic mentality.

As you enter your yard and scope the amount of work, small or great, stop for a moment like you would at the beginning of a Yoga practice and make a few resolves:

  1. I will be compassionate on my body.
  2. I won’t complete the entire yard today.
  3. I will be mindful in working and use the breath.

Right? But ask yourself: how many times have you played weekend warrior and entered the week only to be sore and miserable? I am raising my hand. Yoga is on the mat, Yoga is in your yard. It is a lifestyle, even with a rake in your hand. There is a better way to do this.

compassion and your body

Compassion in the yard can mean many things. What comes to mind first is this idea that leaf raking involves many body movements: twisting, bending, lifting, gripping. All of these can take a toll on the body from sore shoulders, aching back, tired hands and wrists. The key to getting through your yard is to be mindful of these movements and how you are progressing through your work.

Before you even pick up that rake, find a place in your home where you can first warm up the body. On hands and knees in a comfortable spot, do a few cow/cat movements and then cobra pose. This will help to gently wake up the back before you become that yard warrior.

Cow/Cat Poses

Cobra Pose
In addition, here are some tips preventing some of these common body effects once you get out in the yard (don’t wait to do this exclusively after your yard work…sprinkle it throughout your yard work time):

Sore wrists/finger numbness: Notice how you are holding the rake. Use only the grip that is necessary, meaning lighten up on the hold on the rake. Take breaks every 15 minutes, put the rake aside, and try some of these hand movements:

 – Tuck thumbs in toward palm and wrap fingers around thumb, rolling wrists around. Start in one
direction and change direction after a few rounds.

– Extend arms in front of your body and let palms face forward (like a high-five). Pretend the hands are
windshield wipers and move them as such (just move the hands, not the arms).

– Place the palms together and have all fingers on the right hand touch the matching fingers on left hand.
Like an accordion, keep your fingertips touching at all times and open and close your hands, stretching
your fingers.

– Interlace your fingers and stretch out your palms in front of you, extending arms, as if you were doing a
yawning stretch.

Sore Shoulders, Stiff Neck: There is a lot going on with the rake movement with this part of the body. Set
the rake aside and try the following:

– Taking the tips of the fingers to the shoulders, inhale as you roll the elbows out to the side and exhale as
you draw your elbows together in front of you. Do this 5 or 6x and then reverse direction and do for 5-6x,
making sure the breath is an inhale as you expand outward and exhale as you draw arms close.
– Bring the arms behind the back and do a wrist clasp, or if you can, put your hands into reverse Namaste
hand position. Stay here for 10 breaths.
– Tip the head to the left, bringing the left ear close to shoulder and stay for 5 breaths. Do the same for the right
side. Don’t strain, be gentle.

Sore Back Muscles: There is a lot of movement in back muscles when we rake. Here are some ways that you can create balance in your rake-a-thon:

If you rake from left to right, find your favorite tree and stand next to it, the tree on your right side.
Since you are doing mostly left twisting, turn to your right and place both hands on the tree and twist
right. Stay here for 15 breaths. Say hi to the tree while you are at it.
If you rake from right to left, find your favorite tree and stand next to it, the tree on your left side.
Turn to your left and place both hands on the tree and twist right. Stay here for 15 breaths. Be grateful for
this tree.
– Bring hands to the lower back, with fingers pointing down and palms firmly resting on upper
buttocks/lower back, draw your shoulder blades together, and gently arch backwards. Look up to the
sky. Feel gratitude for your trees and enjoy the sky view. Stay for 8 breaths. Come out of this slowly.
Repeat if necessary.
– Remember with your back muscles that picking up leaves, though they are light, will eventually take their
toll on your back with repetitive forward-bending. Practice squatting when picking up leaves rather than bending over to pick up leaves. Not only will your back appreciate you, but so will your hamstrings!

don’t do it all

Having the ability to say that you won’t do the entire task takes courage. Who wouldn’t want the whole yard done in a day? But this just isn’t realistic and even just the thought of it can raise your cortisol levels, let alone cause various muscle groups to protest. Practice moderation and generosity (to yourself!) by working manageable areas and know that you will get it done eventually. Just as when you are on your Yoga mat you are not out to impress your neighbor with your poses, you are not out to impress your neighbor with your yard. Show your Yogic spirit and practice ahimsa, or non-violence to your body. Pace yourself, take it slowly. The leaves don’t fall from a tree in one day: emulate nature in its wisdom and don’t pick them all up in one day.

meditation and the breath

Lastly, make this yard shindig a date with meditation and the breath. Find your favorite music, podcast, or just chill with nature. But as you do so, inhale as you extend the rake, pause, then exhale and you draw the leaves close to you, pause. Repeat. If you can’t do this and you are throttling the yard with frenetic movements of raking and conquering, step back. Find out how you can engage into more meditative movement and breath so that your Yard Yoga takes on a more serene quality. If you don’t, you know that in 2 hours you are going to need ibuprofen and a masseuse.

May your season of fall be filled with colorful leaves, sublime moments, and a body that is not a bad by-product of yard work. Be intentional, be compassionate, use moderation, and stay with the breath.