Tag Archives: Benefits

In Gratitude

I am overwhelmed with gratitude tonight.  We broke a world record up in the Hayloft … fifteen of us lined out our mats and squeezed into the space between hay bales above horse stalls for practice.  I saw kind new faces and dear old friends, and was completely overcome by a sweet, nourishing sense of community.

Hayloft

Sometimes when a large group gets together, it feels scattered or rambunctious, but tonight’s practice was deeply quiet.  Even the swooping, singing barn swallows calmed and came to a landing as we listened to our breath, connected inside, and began to move with awareness.  The loft felt transformed into a kind of sanctuary, lulled by the horses methodically chewing their dinner, shrouded in a beautiful sense of peace.  It was magical to be a part of.

Barn_Aisle_chickens_horseThis type of feeling takes practice.  It is not something that comes so natural or easy for many of us, although as my teacher says, “it is your natural state” — so perhaps a better way to say it is that we are simply out of practice.  Our minds are busy for much of the day (and night!), and over time we forget what it is like to have a simple, quiet awareness.  When we practice yoga, we learn how to be simple and quiet again.  We begin with our breath, using that simple awareness as a vehicle to re-discover who we really are.  When we are connected with who we really are–our true nature–we are automatically better at whatever we do, whether that is working with a nervous horse or having a challenging conversation with a family member or enjoying the beauty of a sunset.  This is why yoga helps us to become better horse people, and better people in general.  In other words, the benefits of yoga run far deeper than the physical postures.  Anyone who has practiced yoga has a sense for that.Supine-Pelvic-tilt-tuck

I am so grateful to be surrounded by a community who is willing to do this kind of work, who is committed to taking the time to practice being simple and quiet.  The world needs more of this type of feeling, of this type of community.  I hope that each of you know how powerfully your inner state–your connection to your true, radiant self–ripples out into the world.  This is how we make the most profound difference in our communities and beyond–not through great feats, but through each and every small act.  As Mahatma Ghandi–a great yogi–said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

I am so honored to be connected with each of you.  May each of you shine brightly with your radiant heart.

Namaste.

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In Oprah Magazine … Equine Therapy!

In this exceptionally-written article, titled Koelle Simpson’s Equine Therapy and published in Oprah Magazine, the author takes us through the experience of Equine Life Coaching.  It beautifully unveils some of the gifts that horses have to offer us–far beyond what we might expect.

Since infancy, Avery—like most of us—has done what she’s supposed to do, not what she wants to do. She knows how she’s “supposed” to act as a wife, mother, employee. But in equine life coaching, there is no “supposed to.” There is you, an animal, and the present moment. What you do with the situation is your choice, and for Avery, choice is an unfamiliar prospect.

Follow Avery’s story and you might find yourself nodding in recognition or even tearing up (as I did).  I especially appreciate the author’s integration of a possible scientific explanation for what seems unexplainable:

I believe this [ability to communicate with horses without using words/intuition] may have to do with mirror neurons, the brain mechanism that some scientists believe helps us empathize with others’ feelings. These neurons fire when we watch people act in a way we can envision acting ourselves; it’s thought that they also allow us to vicariously experience the sensation people feel as they take that action. Scientists are still learning why and how information passes through mirror neurons, but I’ve often wondered whether they don’t also help us intuit the thoughts others think or the emotions they feel. If it does, then it may be possible—given the highly social nature of horses—that they would be sensitive to this phenomenon as well. Perhaps this is why, for thousands of years, riders from Alexander the Great to the Lone Ranger have felt an uncanny understanding for, and from, their mounts.

We have so much to learn from horses!  How deeply fortunate we are to have these opportunities.

Please read more on the Oprah website.

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Hayloft Yoga: Compassion

Tonight was our first Fall-feeling Hayloft Yoga class of 2013, and the crisp air brought some friendly new faces!  I was struck by what a sweet community of horse- and yoga-lovers I am so fortunate to be a part of.

Horses-Grazing-Double-S

Horses and cows grazed outside in the field to the backdrop of the Olympics, and the sunset was lovely as usual.  The weather has changed and is a bit more brisk, but nothing some conscious breathing and active poses can’t warm us through.  I noticed, after having been out of state for a month, the incredible impact the horses have on our practice of yoga.  In the hayloft, we can gaze down into their stalls and watch them (and they often watch us!).  We are enveloped in the sweet smell of hay, the sounds of them breathing, chewing, the taste of the dusty air.  Most importantly for me, horses help us to be present, in the moment, in our bodies.  Their way of being in the world–whether standing in the pasture or ridden under saddle–shines a mirror to our deepest selves and helps us to access that depth in ways we wouldn’t otherwise know how to.  Simply being in the presence of a horse is healing, calming.  They patiently, persistently show us how to be our best selves.  It is an honor and privilege to share a space with these equines, the true yogis!

Tonight’s theme was compassion, and we began class in a restorative pose while I shared a quote from Jack Kornfield:

“True compassion arises from a healthy sense of self, from an awareness of who we are that honors our own capacities and fears, our own feelings and integrity, along with those of others.”

This practice of having compassion toward ourselves is one of great import in yoga and in our lives.  On the mat in asana (posture) practice, we can approach each breath, each movement, with a sweetness in our heart toward our body, its capabilities and its limitations.  With this intention of loving-kindness, we find that we avoid injury and can go deeper into our practice, learning more and more about our physical, energetic and spiritual bodies.  Cows-Chickens-Double-SAs Kornfield says, before we can be of service to others, we must first gain a healthy sense of Self.  Yoga is a system that offers us tools to develop an awareness of who we are, with honesty and patience, allowing us to purify our body/mind with continued practice.  Only then, from a space of clarity and self-awareness, can we truly serve others.

As we refine this compassion practice on the mat, it begins to seep into our lives.  We can consider: what if we awoke each morning brimming with a joyful sense of self-awareness?  What if we lived every moment of the day with a sense of compassion toward our selves?  What if we cultivated unconditional self love, so that no matter what, our hearts stayed open?  What might our day look like?

The horses we love never criticize themselves for having a lameness, or being overweight, or aging, or feeling pain.  Perhaps that is one of the gifts they can offer us: a reflection of how to stay present, how to be compassionate, without judgement or harshness.  With honesty, truthfulness, nonattachment, these equines offer us an approach to living.

I encourage you, as you move through your days, to check in with yourself and see that you are approaching your thoughts, your actions, with compassion.  With acceptance.  With a genuine sense of self love.  You may notice that honing in on this practice enables you to become more compassionate toward others.

I would love to hear about your experience.

ॐ The highest potential within me honors the highest potential within you: Namaste.  ॐ

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New Story Just Published!

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Overcivilized

“Horses help overcivilized people reconnect with the wisdom and rhythms of the natural world.”   ~ Linda Kohanov

PeteJanuary2010

I have been working on a new essay about Horseback Yoga over the past few months, and during this process, I’ve revisited some of my older writing.  In “Overcivilized,” I wrote about horses at a time when I was just beginning to work with Pete, my project horse who would end up teaching me more about yoga than I could have imagined, a time before I began to teach yoga to my peers or on horseback.  I am finding that those ideas are still just as valid and timely today as they were in 2010.  Here’s to looking back so we can move forward!

Click here to read.

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Birdsongs, Breath and Rainbows

No, this is not the title of a cheesy love song.  These are the three words that perfectly sum up tonight’s Hayloft Yoga class at Double S!

Rainbow-trees

I was thrilled to have been joined in the hayloft by some friends from Big Lake Stables!  Sue & Tom’s exchange student from France also joined us, and in addition to a few other familiar faces, the hayloft was full!  What a sweet sense of community.

The birds were especially vocal today, and they sang to us throughout the entire practice!  The horses chewed their hay, the cows grazed outside, there was a single hang glider riding the wind off Blanchard Mountain in the distance.  As the sun began its slow descent across the summer sky, the hayloft was alive with color.  I couldn’t help but think that I have landed in the most perfect moment I could imagine as we began class.

In tonight’s class, we considered the difference between judgement and observation.  In yoga, judgement involves  the ego, like when we think our breath is “too shallow” or “not full enough,” or we how attach to what we think a pose should look because we saw a picture of a bendy person in a magazine, or when we criticize ourselves for having a busy mind and not being able to relax.  Tonight, we collectively set the intention to leg go of judgement and instead honor our power of observation.  When we observe rather than judge, we soften.  We don’t have to be so hard on ourselves.  We notice what is happening in the body, whether it is a sensation or a physical limitation, or the quality of our mind, and instead of attaching to it, we simply watch it in the pose.  If there is pain, instead of getting involved in the story about where the pain came from or how we think it should feel, we simply acknowledge it, and see if we can get into a position that is happier and healthier for the body.  If there is a busy mind, we watch the thoughts come in, acknowledge their presence, and then let them pass, like watching a leaf float down a stream.  SS-RainbowIf there is limitation in a pose, we go to the point of sensation and breathe with intention into the space that is feeling tight, consciously releasing tension on the exhale.

“…imagine what would happen if you started feeling tremendous love for all creatures, for every plant, for every animal, and for all the beauties of nature.  Imagine if every child seemed like your own, and every person you saw looked like a beautiful flower, with its own color, its own expression, shape, and sounds.  As you went deeper and deeper, you would start noticing a phenomenal thing–you are no longer judging.  The process of judging has simply stopped.  There is just appreciating and honoring.  Where there used to be judging, there is now respecting, loving, and cherishing.  To differentiate is to judge.  To see, to experience, and to honor is to participate in life instead of standing back and judging it.”    ~Michael Singer in The Untethered Soul

 

We can go further and take this practice off our yoga mats, into the saddle.  I think of a time when I was younger, riding a horse who had a history of being terribly barn sour.  I was determined to make this horse carry me on a trail ride (ego!).  I started calmly, turning her head side to side, giving her all the rein I could, clucking, squeezing, and leaning forward.  When none of this worked, I kicked her in the sides.  This backfired and she backed up instead of moving forward.  Frustrated, I redoubled my efforts to make her do what she was supposed to.  Instead of recognizing that I had exhausted all the tools I had at the time, ego kicked in.  I am embarrassed to say I kept wailing on her, even using the ends of my reins to force her to move forward, and she just kept backing up toward the corral where her other horse friends were.  She backed up so far (with me still on her, flailing my legs and arms and at this point, even yelling at her) that her rump was touching the fence.  And me, so involved with my ego’s idea of how things should be, kept kicking and clucking and getting nowhere.  It finally took another person coming over to me and saying “maybe it’s time to get off and take this to the round pen,” for me to give up on trying to make it happen.  I was so embarrassed: it was the first time in my life I’d beet told to get off a horse.  And even then, I was reluctant to give up.  I’d thought I had failed at riding, and instead of working with the horse in the roundpen, a new tool for me at that time, I un-tacked her and put her back in the corral, frustrated that she had “won.”

If I hadn’t been so invested in the way I thought things “should” have gone, I might have created an entirely different experience.  If I’d had the mind of observation rather than judgement, I would have noticed that I was having trouble dealing with this horse on my own, and observed that I needed help.  This would have changed the experience into a learning opportunity!  I could have asked for assistance (later that summer, we realized that if someone hand walked this mare away from the barn, just about 50 yards, she was fine).  I could have engaged in a roundpen session under the guidance of the person who suggested it.  I could have gotten off and hand walked her away from the barn.  This could have been a transformative experience for both me and the horse, but because of judgement, I’d shut off that possibility.

View-from-arena

At the core of this teaching: be honest with where you are.  Balance effort (sthira) with ease (sukha).  Notice rather than judge.

I think if we all followed these guidelines, our inner lives and the world we create would be quite a bit more peaceful.  What do you think?

“The essence of bravery is being without self-deception.  However it’s not so easy to take a straight look at what we do.  Seeing ourselves clearly is initially uncomfortable and embarrassing.  As we train in clarity and steadfastness, we see things we’d prefer to deny–judgmentalness, pettiness, arrogance.  These are not sins but temporary and workable habits of mind.  The more we get to know them, the more they lose their power.”                           ~ Pema Chodoron

At the end of class, when we’d all rolled up our mats and headed down from the hayloft, the sun-setting sky greeted us with a fully formed rainbow, just outside, perfectly arcing over the barn!  With the sunset painting half the sky and storm clouds darkening the other, we celebrated joyfully under this symbol of promise.

Namaste.

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Reflections on the First Hayloft Yoga Practice of 2013

Hayloft

We could not have dreamed up a more springlike and lovely first day of Hayloft Yoga!  The sun was warm, the frogs were cheeping, the birds singing, and of course, the horses were peacefully munching their dinner beneath us as we practiced.

There were some new faces in the Hayloft last evening ~ welcome! ~ and with their presence a reminder that you don’t have to own horses (or even have ridden a horse before!) to enjoy and benefit from Hayloft Yoga.

THE PRACTICE
We opened practice in Supta Baddha Konasana (supported reclined bound angle pose), belly-breathing and releasing tension.  In the space of openness, I read this Barbara Marciniak quote:

“Imagine Yourself unbounded, with an opportunity at every turn, and this is what you will create.  Set up limitations, and you will find them.  Remember, you effortlessly attract the energies that support your version of life.”

In life and in asana (yoga poses), we can work toward manifesting whatever we imagine.  When we find tightness in the body, instead of pushing through it or becoming frustrated, we instead honor that this is where the body is today, and continue to breathe.  We can imagine going deeper, staying conscious of our breath.  In this way, we patiently and persistently begin to energetically move the body in the right direction, through the power of intention.  With practice (this is why Yoga is referred to as a practice and not an exercise), we begin to find that our tightness opens, the body becomes strong yet supple, and perhaps after weeks, months, or even years, we find ourselves an embodiment of what we imagined.

IT TAKES TIME
One of my teachers told me the story of a yoga master:  One of the master’s students was having difficulty sitting in sukhasana (easy seated pose).   The master instructed him: “Each day, sit in sukhasana for one hour.  Place a large phone book under each knee.  Each day, you may tear off one sheet from the phone book.”  Eventually, after many years of practice, the student was able to sit with ease in this pose.

It takes loving kindness, patience, and persistence.  If your intention is there, if your imagination is activated, the rest will follow.

TRY IT
The same goes for our lives.  If we take the time to imagine our most ideal life, full of ease and abundance, if we dedicate some time and energy toward creating a strong enough intention, we will see that eventually it becomes manifest.  There are dozens of books and teachings supporting this concept.  You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay is a great start.  Try it for yourself: click here for a simple exercise you can do on your own.  If you are uncertain where to start, try setting an intention of Becoming Whole.

As we practice yoga, we take steps toward reaching our highest potential.  I am honored to share this practice with you.

SunsetThe magnificent sunset over the San Juans was the perfect night cap.  Thank you to all who joined me in Hayloft Yoga!  I am already looking forward to next Tuesday!

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Claim your FREE Hayloft Yoga Class Pass at the CoOp Wellness Fair

Please join me at the Skagit Valley Food CoOp’s annual WELLNESS FAIR on March 23, 2013!

I will be sitting at a booth and handing out FREE class passes for HAYLOFT YOGA (Hayloft Yoga starts April 16, 2013 at Double S Quarter Horses)!  The 6th Annual Co-Op Wellness Fair is located on the third floor of the Skagit Valley Food CoOp in downtown Mount Vernon.  No registration necessary; you can drop in any time between 11am and 2pm.  There will be a variety of practitioners offering services, talks, demos and free samples.

It is sure to be a great time!  Visit the CoOp Website for more details about the  Wellness Fair.

WellnessFair

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What is Hayloft Yoga?

IMG_9183HAYLOFT YOGA:

This accessible yoga class is specifically designed for horse enthusiasts across disciplines with all levels of yoga experience—beginners are welcome!

On the physical level, practicing yoga improves balance, posture, strength, and flexibility, all translating to a better seat, efficient cueing, and an overall better ride.

On a more subtle level, yoga teaches riders how to address and work through our fluctuating mental states, enabling us to find balance and focus.  From this place of equilibrium, we connect more deeply and communicate more effectively with our equine partners.

Yoga and horses speak the same language: the language of the body.  By learning how to move and breathe consciously in a yoga practice, we are practicing the very skills that allow us to “talk” to our horses through our bodies.

THE LOCATION:

Practice yoga to the sounds of munching horses and that infamous smell all true horse people love. This unique class meets in the upstairs hayloft of Double S Quarter Horses, a beautiful open-air training and lesson facility in Bow, WA. Sue Sultze and Tom Pasma have graciously opened this space where horse enthusiasts can meet for a fun, non-intimidating, riding-inspired yoga practice.  Ample parking is available.  Visit JessieTierney.com for directions.

            Double S Quarter Horses
15213 Colony Road
            Bow, WA 98232

Jessie Tierney, CRYT

Jessie Tierney, CRYT

THE TEACHER:

Jessie leads an alignment-based, intuitive class, responding to the needs and concerns of participants, offering hands-on adjustments and variations that suit each practitioner’s needs. You don’t have to be a pretzel to do yoga!

Yoga gave Jessie the same type of emotional and physical benefits that horseback riding had given her for years when she discovered this powerful practice during college.  While she didn’t have the resources to ride in Chicago during school, she could dedicate a few evenings a week to her yoga practice.  Once she graduated and started riding again, she recognized that despite her time out of the saddle, she was a more balanced, focused, and effective equestrian.

Jessie has taught yoga in the studio, on the trail, in a hayloft, on horseback, to kids and adults.  She is a Certified & Registered Yoga teacher and  an equestrian of 18 years.

BROCHURE-HAYLOFT-YOGA1

Click to download the Hayloft Yoga Informational Brochure.

Please feel free to contact Jessie with any inquiries.

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Benefits of Yoga for Equine Enthusiasts

The practice of yoga benefits riders and their horses both subtly and obviously.  Here are some things we can watch for and celebrate as we learn and grow in our practice.

FLEXIBILITY

This benefit is perhaps the first one we recognize.  After a well-rounded practice, our bodies have moved in all directions, we have created space and heated the body through conscious breathing, and we have stretched comfortably within our limits.  Over time, flexibility increases and we notice our physical limitations expanding.

I can’t recount how many times I have heard, “Oh I can’t do yoga–I’m not flexible enough!”  Yoga isn’t about showing off how flexible you are; it’s about gently coaxing your body toward suppleness and gaining flexibility over time.  It is a practice, and it may not happen overnight.

Flexibility is beneficial in the saddle.  Even though we aren’t exactly riding in a specific yoga position (though some–myself included–would point out that sitting on a horse is yoga), a flexible body has fluidity: it moves efficiently and gracefully with the dynamic movements of the horse.  Try sitting a trot with your shoulders scrunched toward your ears and you will feel a dramatic example of how a lack of flexibility impacts your riding (then be sure to pat your horse afterward and thank him for letting you experiment).

With flexibility comes ease: notice the difference between a limber horse who has warmed up and a stiff horse who has just stepped out of its stall, or a horse who will bend easily to slight pressure and a horse who resists the bridle.  Visible grace arises out of flexibility, and this concept applies to both horses and humans.

BALANCE

Physically, as we age or through lack of practice, we lose our balance more easily.  This can be remedied simply by engaging in balancing activities.  All Hayloft Yoga classes have a balance component, with modifications that are accessible to anyone.

Physical balance translates to staying centered in the saddle through every gait and transition.  Yoga develops muscles that aid in balancing through seated, standing, and moving postures.  In the saddle, we find greater ease and stability as a result of the yoga practice.  Our horses will appreciate our integrity and ability to support their movements through our heightened sense of balance.

BODY AWARENESS & COMMUNICATION

Unlike humans, who primarily use words and tone of voice to express ideas, horses rely on what we consider subtle physical cues.  As a prey species, horses are far more sensitive to physical messages.

As we practice yoga, we heighten our awareness of the messages we send through our bodies.  We become more intentional in how we move.  We begin to notice the impact of posture, the energy in our seat, and the awareness of our breath.  In these ways, we learn to communicate with our horses with more clarity and effectiveness.

CLARITY & A HEALTHY MENTAL FRAMEWORK

By focusing our attention on the physical body and the breath, a yoga practice clears the mind of distractions and makes this mental state more readily accessible.  We gradually realize that mental clarity is a choice: it is a matter of taking a moment to breathe rather than getting wrapped up in external circumstances.

Yoga can teach us patience, persistence, grace, humility, courage … the list goes on.  When we’ve had a rough day and arrive at the barn frazzled, we often find after just a few minutes of grooming or riding, our troubles have melted away and we’ve gained a healthy perspective again.

Yoga empowers us to create the same impact: no matter how busy or chaotic the day has been, a few minutes of breathing deeply brings us to center.  It only takes a moment.

This mental clarity can benefit us before we enter the show ring, as we get prepare to mount a nervous horse, on the trail, in the arena–virtually every circumstance we encounter.

AN INVITATION

I invite you to share some of the benefits you have found in  your practice in the form of a Comment or Reply, below.

Thank you and Namaste.

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