Yoga for Farmers: Supporting our bodies for the long haul (Part II)

As October became November, this farmer has been hard at work at the library, putting together a grant application to continue the ‘Yoga for Farmers’ idea I first wrote about this spring. It’s been fun to intersperse washing vegetables and planning for next season with visions for a creative movement project that combines two of my passions.

As a farmer, my yoga practice has become key to encouraging the maintenance of a healthy body and mind, and I’d like to share yoga resources with other growers, so we can support the sustainability of the fresh food movement from the inside out. I think integrating a yoga practice into one’s farm schedule could improve growers’ quality of life and I envision cultivating a community of resilient farmers that celebrate self-care. What began as a brain child for me a few years ago, became a project for my yoga teacher training in 2017, and is hopefully growing into a grant-funded research project in 2018 that will run through January 2020.

My mission is to support sustainable farming for the long haul by focusing on the physical and mental health of the farmer. But how do you encourage busy farmers (or anybody?) to choose to get to the mat? I started off my teacher training project by putting together a survey of needs for yoga-curious farmers to see their demographics, their aches and pains, whether they already practice yoga, why & how they do or don’t, for how long they would practice (during the farm season and off-season), and what sort of format resource they would actually use. Click here to see a PDF of those survey results from the 72 growers who took my survey, if you are curious to dig in deeper. The simplest conclusion that I took from the survey, is that folks believe they’d be most likely to DO YOGA if they had resources (like videos and podcasts) that they could use at home. They would practice 1-2 times/week during the farm season for about 20-30 minutes. For the farming population, it’s hard to get to the studio and yoga classes are too expensive to be regularly accessible. Plus, sustainable farmers are spread all over the place, in mostly rural places, so all meeting up for in-person classes would only be possible during the off-season, when the physical and mental benefits of the practice often aren’t as needed.

With this information, I changed the container of my own yoga practice. Focusing on what is possible during a 20-minute period, I learned that I could access mindfulness and as well as stretch. The survey informed me that physically maintaining their bodies for the long-haul was priority one and that stress relief was priority two. Practicing daily within my own farm season, I wrote down the sequences that most resonated with me and keywords (body parts, adjectives, themes) that came to me in the moment. I borrowed a friend’s video camera and recorded myself doing two of the sequences (a relaxing balance-focused one and hip-flexion/sidebody love/midline stability one), but have yet to record the instructional audio tracks, and produce the virtual content.

I’ve gotten such overwhelming support from the farmer community that I’ve decided to let the momentum of this idea expand into the future. I am currently applying for a SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education) grant of $7,500 with the idea after encouragement from a few farmer friends. I’m hopeful that I will be awarded the resources, since not many growers apply with a ‘quality of life’ research question. Eventually, I’ll also look for outside corporate sponsorships (Organic Valley, etc) if the grant doesn’t come through. My hope is to shift from the survey phase to having a core group of farmers that come together to help develop what virtual yoga I design program based on their needs. In 2018, we track various quality of life metrics (stress, body aches, farm/life balance) monthly during the farm season and compile them at the end of the season. That winter, I’ll record and produce resources to support them the following summer (2019) that are specific to their stated needs. The resources will be online and accessible to farmers (and other bodies that move) into the future beyond the grant cycle. Pretty cool, huh?

In order to have confidence in my voice in order to teach virtually, I have also been teaching in-person classes to non-farmers in Fort Atkinson (at Ivy’s Holistic Arts on Mondays at 6:30pm!). I don’t believe that virtual resources are the best place to start as a new teacher, so I’m grateful that the grant timeline would give me about a year before I record myself doing yoga again. I feel quite vulnerable about putting myself and my body on the YouTube screen for all the internet commentators to comment on, but I think virtual resources (in combination with perhaps teaching in-person at winter farming conferences) are the best for the more-rural farmer population. Overall, I’m excited to continue pursuing the goal of increasing the quality of life of sustainable farmers through yoga. I hope that it grows into a resource base of virtual content that will support folks long into the future. I’m appreciative of co-operating Regenerative Roots with other business partners on cooperatively-owned land, because I feel the freedom to pursue interests beyond farming in conjunction with growing really delicious food.

Speaking of… you have one more month of CSA shares at our 2017 prices, so sign-up for one today using the BRAND NEW secure e-commerce site that Dennis built into our website!

~ Anne, November 29th, 2017