Tag Archives: Fitness

Human Interactions Shape Horses’ Emotions

Mini-CooperIf you think about it for a moment, you already know this.  It’s fun to find that folks are studying the horsy phenomenons we encounter every day, and we see that very useful perspectives can emerge.

Clémence Lesimple, PhD, researcher at the University of Rennes in France, found that horses emotions (particularly their negative emotions) can result directly from their interactions with the humans who care for them.  You can read an article about the study here, published in The Horse.

We’ve all encountered a horse that seemed shy, standoffish, or even aggressive who was transformed by the love and dedication of a new owner or trainer.   This principle of loving care and kindness is referred to as Ahimsa in the yoga tradition.  It is one of the main principles which must be integrated into the practice of asana (yoga postures) and into a practitioner’s life as one steps onto the path of yoga.

I think back to the miniature horse we lovingly referred to as Mini Cooper.  He was neglected and malnourished, and when my Mom adopted him from Blue Ridge Rescue in Iowa, it was hard to get near him.  We took him to Sanborn, the amazing summer camp I was working at as a wrangler, and taught the campers how to be very patient, gentle and slow with him.  At first when approached, he’d run to the other end of his turnout area, so campers learned to get centered and calm, and practiced radiating love from their hearts.  Slowly, sometimes with the help of a handful of grass, Mini Cooper would turn toward the kids, and walk closer, closer, and close enough to eat out of their hands.  After just one summer, Cooper was transformed from a mini who ran from people and did not know how to trust them to a happy-to-be scratched bud of many, many campers.

PeteI also think about my sweet wrangler horse, Pete.  When I met him, he was really just a bit misunderstood, and had a reputation that likely colored many former wranglers’ approaches to working with him.  Man-handled or jerked around aggressively, he was eager and capable to respond in kind (even unloading riders he wasn’t fond of).  But when approached with softness and with an intention of loving connection, he became a snuggly, happy, willing-to-please and eventually camper-friendly mount.  So much of what we do–and who we are–impacts the horses we find ourselves among.  So keep breathing deep!

Before we can effectively and deeply help to transform the emotions of our equine partners, we must first dive inside to our own inner state, cultivating loving care and kindness toward our selves.  I can’t tell you how many times I have walked into the barn feeling a certain negativity and realized that as I worked on the horses ~ grooming or even just turning them out or filling their water buckets ~ I found that they seemed to be working on me, helping lift my spirits and demanding my presence in each moment.  How lucky we are that horses can be these emotional stabilizers for us!  In yoga, we can learn to do this for ourselves, turning within and growing Ahimsa from inside.

Another element of the study I found notable regarded not only our emotional state and how it impacts our horses, but also our physical bodies and training methods:

Certain training techniques and positions—as well as poor equitation style, especially of novice riders—can lead to chronic pain. Horses with chronic back pain showed more signs of depression, aggression, or learned helplessness (when they seem to “check out” of the environment that they have come to perceive as negative), she said.

Christa Lesté-Lasserre in The Horse

Our position in the saddle, our habitual movement patterns (whether we are aware of them or not) are always influencing our horse on both a physical and emotional level.  Consider Amy Cuddy, social psychologist’s study on the hormone responses and social implications of physical posture in humans ~ here is her Ted Talk called Your Body Language Shapes who you Are (it is one of my very favorites):

We know that a low head is calming for horses, we can read ears, facial expressions, lips, eyes, and body tensions.  How are our approaches to training and the positions we ask our horses to embody impacting their emotional state?  What is your experience in this arena?  I would love to hear from you!

Wishing you and your horses a sense of collective Ahimsa ~ the yogic principle of loving care and kindness ~ throughout your times together.

Happy trails!

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June 25, 2013 · 9:59 pm

Horseback Yoga at Big Lake Stables

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SUNDAY JULY 7th
ALL LEVELS HORSEBACK YOGA WORKSHOP
12 noon ~ 3 pm
$40 includes arena use fee   ~   Free to “audit” (participate/observe on foot)

Big Lake Stables is located at 16550 State Route 9, Mount Vernon, WA

Here are the best ways you can prepare:

  • Please bring a trusted horseperson friend to hold your horse for you if needed.  It is also possible to partner up and spend half the time riding and the other half holding for your partner.
  • Show up on Sunday with a sense of play and childlike curiosity.  Let go of former approaches to horsemanship or expectations, and have an open mind about trying something new, even if just for a day.
  • If you have not already made payment arrangements with Terri or Jessie, please bring cash/check on Sunday.
  • Have your horse groomed by 12 noon.  If your horse would prefer, keep her/him in a stall while we do yoga (or you can leave her/him tied around the perimeter of the arena).
  • Wear comfortable riding clothes and boots.  Contrary to what you may have heard, you can absolutely do yoga in boots and jeans.  However, for our purposes, it is easier to move in flexible pants like breeches rather than tight-fitting jeans.  Wear what you will be comfortable moving in.  
  • No yoga mat or special equipment needed.  Bridle, hackamore, or whatever you are used to riding with is all the tack you need (no saddles!).
  • Okay to eat lunch before we start.
  • Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any other questions or concerns.

The workshop will flow somewhat like this:

  • We’ll start at noon with a 1-hour yoga practice in the arena (horses can be groomed & tied around the arena or in their stalls while we humans do our yoga).
  • At about 1pm, after human yoga, we’ll bring our horses into the arena to help them stretch.
  • Next, we’ll bridle our horses, then do some breathing practice and work on deepening our connection with our horses.
  • After that, we’ll each mount up, one at a time.  Please be comfortable bareback.
  • We will proceed with breathing & connection horseback, and then move into poses on horseback.
  • Trust that you don’t have to try anything that you are not comfortable with.  Come with a supportive attitude toward your fellow horses and riders.

I look forward to practicing yoga with each of you!

Please contact me using the form below:

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Try Hayloft Yoga at the Free Yoga Day!

 

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SATURDAY MAY 4,2013

11:00 am –6:00 pm
Room 309 in the Co-op Building downtown Mount Vernon

Yoga instructors from across the Valley offer an entire day of free classes in the upstairs of the Co-op.  Come up to the third floor,kick off your shoes and explore a variety of yoga styles in celebration of all that is offered in the Valley.  Each class starts on the hour every hour beginning at 11 am.  Classes are suitable for all levels (including beginners!).  Bring your own mat if you have one–some supplies will be provided.  Free &Open to the public.  Preregistration not required.

SCHEDULE 

11:00-11:45 am ~ Chara Stuart
Bikram Yoga for Beginners

12:00-12:45 pm ~ Kathleen Grimbly
Healing Musculoskeletal Pain with Yoga Therapy

1:00-1:45 pm ~ Cindi Running
Viniyoga:Therapeutic Yoga

2:00-2:45 pm ~ Jessie Tierney
Yoga for Equine Enthusiasts

3:00-3:45 pm ~ Kate Bowers
Yoga for the Brain

4:00-4:45 pm ~ Jen McFraland
Finding the Grace Within

5:00-5:45 pm ~ Dawn Lee
Gentle Yoga for the Triathlete

 ~*~

CLASS DESCRIPTIONS &TEACHER BIOS

11:00-11:45 am Chara Stuart ~ Bikram Yoga for Beginners

Often known as “Hot Yoga,” Bikram Yoga instructs students in 26 poses and two breathing exercises for health and well-being.  Typically performed in a  heated  studio,we will adapt for this introductory Co-op class by explaining the benefits of the heat,while practicing an abbreviated sequence of poses. During our practice,the health benefits of each pose will also be described.

At Bikram Yoga Mount Vernon,our community of students of all ages and health conditions,practice a sequence of beginning poses in a heated room. These poses are designed to promote health and well-being through systematic contraction and relaxing of muscles with compression and extension of internal systems.  The sequence,with the added benefit of heat,strengthens the body by improving balance and flexibility;and,irrigates and bathes the body’s internal organs and systems with blood flow,which helps to reduce inflammation and stress.  This combination facilitates the delivery of oxygen and nutrition throughout the body and the removal metabolic waste.  Simultaneously, students cultivate a focused mind, infusing their body with awareness and developing the ability to be more present in their lives.  Weight loss is one of many common side benefits of practicing Bikram Yoga.  With a steady practice you will discover the benefits this form of Yoga holds for you.

Hot Yoga Matters at Bikram Yoga Mount Vernon is located in the loft of the historic telephone building,506 south second street,accessible at the east entrance on third street,just blocks from the Skagit Valley Coop.

Kathleen Grimbly

12:00-12:45 pm Kathleen Grimbly ~ Healing Musculoskeletal Pain with Yoga Therapy

Learn to unite body-mind-spirit to heal the causes of pain non-medically.  Whether your pain is chronic or acute,learn a practice that both provides  immediate relief and supports restoration of the body’s design function.  If yoga classes or physical therapy don’t work for you,if you’ve had joint replacement,if you’re skeptical or analytical…come and experience.  Dress in comfortable clothes,bring a blanket or mat and two pillows. The only pre-requisites are the desire to heal your pain and/or posture problems and taking responsibility for your own health.

Kathleen Grimbly,(BA in Education) is a certified Kripalu Yoga Teacher since 1995.

After four automobile accidents,chronic pain,fatigue,fibromyalgia and a permanent partial disability,she studied at Rocky Mt. Institute for Yoga &Ayurveda and learned the Egoscue method to restore her health.  Now she teaches hiking,kayaking,cross country skiing and yoga which balances the body to prevent injury and pain.

Cindy Running

1:00-1:45 pm  Cyndi Running ~ Viniyoga:Therapeutic Yoga

Cindy Running stresses safety first,inviting participants to explore the sensations of the poses while encouraging a non-competitive enviroment.  Cindy cultivates a relaxed,accessible atmosphere in her classes,where participants are free to be themselves,no matter what level of experience they bring.

Cindy Running is a Registered Therapeutic Yoga Teacher,Certified Personal Trainer and a Licensed Massage Practitioner.  Cindy began practicing yoga thirty eight years ago while pregnant with her first child as an effort to stay in shape while pregnant – a lofty goal.  She delivered a large baby without complication or anesthetic.  While studying to become a personal trainer she found yoga to be the single most important part of her work out.  Cindy completed a two year yoga teacher training program in Seattle taught by the acclaimed Laura Yon Brooks  MA/RYT/LMP.  Her classes are a blend of all she gleaned from over thirty years of study,practice and observation.  Cindy teaches from her heart and she hopes she can be a resource for anyone who is seeking their greatest potential.

Riverwalk Yoga Studio  is Mt. Vernon’s hub for massage,yoga,personal training,meditation classes and more.  The studio is located in the newly painted “Tuscan Gold” Carnation Building. 117 N. First,Suite 5,Downtown Mount Vernon – on the main floor facing the river.

Jessie Tierney

2:00-2:45 pm  Jessie Tierney ~ Yoga for Horses &their Riders

Horse Lovers will unite with our breath and practice poses to open our bodies,fostering flexibility,balance,strength,and fluidity. This practice attunes the mind,helping us sharpen focus and deepen the ability to communicate with our equine (and human) friends.  This class is suitable for horse enthusiasts across disciplines with all levels of yoga experience.

Jessie Tierney is a Yoga Alliance Certified &Registered Yoga Teacher.  She studied with Om Ananda Yoga in the Shambhava Tradition.  She teaches yoga to children,leads Yoga-infused Outdoor Education Hikes,Horseback Yoga,Hayloft Yoga,and a variety of studio-based classes.  She works as an aide and teaches yoga at Sedro Woolley Physical Therapy,and also teaches a fun,non-intimidating,riding-inspired yoga practice in the hayloft at Double S Quarter Horses in Bow.

3:00-3:45 pm  Kate Bowers ~ Yoga for the Brain

Yoga for the Brain is a class for all ages.  This class provides a zippy challenge to the brain and body in surprising ways.  We’ll use crazy props like blow pipes and hula hoops.  We’ll clap,tap and rap.  Prepare to laugh.  Bring friends ages 5 and up.

Kate Bowers

Kate Bowers, owner of Cascades Yoga &Neurotherapy,has taught yoga for 16 years and practiced for 32.  She trained extensively at the Integral Yoga Institute in San Francisco,CA and since has been an ardent student of yoga.  For 15 years she studied neurotherapy with neuroscience pioneer,Judith Bluestone.  Bowers obtained HANDLE (R) Institute certification to work with people aged 5 and up with mild neurological and neurobehavioral challenges such as ADD,ADHD,learning of disabilities and mild brain injuries.  Bowers works as both a yoga teacher and neurotherapist with groups and individuals.  Bowers uses gentile humor,compassion and mindfulness to help others explore the self discovery offered by both practices.  She hosts the Yoga Minute radio show on KSVR’s 91.7 FM on Mondays at 5:25 PM.

At the Bow Yoga Club, Bowers teaches small group, private yoga and neuro yoga classes where small dogs Cracker and Godzilla keep it real and inspire loving kindness.  Bowers teaches yoga in Anacortes at Island View Elementary School,the Anacortes Senior Center and the Anacortes Center for Happiness where she currently teaches Neuro Yoga for Kids.  Yoga classes combine traditional and obscure yogic practices with Ayruvedic and neurotherapeutic influences.  Visit the website or call 766-4282.

Jennifer McFarland

4:00-4:45 pm  Jen McFraland ~ Finding the Grace Within

Finding the Grace Within with Jen McFarland of Crescent Moon Yoga is a multi-level yoga class with energy building kriyas,pranayama and inspirational words.

The benefits of yoga,strength,flexibility,and relaxation techniques,are far reaching and promote healthy living. Crescent Moon Yoga offers a variety of classes from Hatha and Vinyasana flow,Anusara,and Iyengar.  Believing in community,our studio utilizes local talent to facilitate special events,workshops and classes to pamper!  Our Yoga studio is located at 521 Morris Street,the Yoga Bliss Building,in La Conner,a quaint little town in the Skagit Valley.  Our focus is yoga for every body.

Dawn Lee

5:00 ~ 5:45 pm  Dawn Lee  ~ Yoga for the Triathlete

Gentle Yoga for the Trialthete is a needed addition for healthy muscles,reduction of injury and prime recovery.  Whether you are seasoned,brand new,or a triathele at heart,yoga is a vital part of training.  We will focus on stretching all the muscles that are used during swimming,riding and running.

Hailing originally from Columbus,Indiana,Dawn Lee combines the midwestern sensibilities of her upbringing with the progressive ideals of the west coast to offer a holistic,attainable approach to wholeness and fitness of mind,body,and spirit. She blends her innate love of the outdoors with her academic training in nutrition and fitness to assist her clients in developing an individualized plan for whole body wellness.

With twelve years experience as a fitness instructor and four years as the owner/operator of Expressive Fit,Dawn has extensive expertise as a yoga instructor,having worked with individuals and groups in a variety of settings. An avid marathoner,cyclist,swimmer,and tri-athlete,Dawn works in team situations to promote individual wellness and team cohesion. She also offers themed workshops to small and moderate sized groups.

Dawn is excited about her latest venture in personal wellness,Skype yoga appointments. Using the flexibility and accessibility offered by current technology,Dawn now offers personal internet yoga sessions,allowing the client the comfort and privacy of their own home while offering the benefit of an instructor led encounter.

See you there!

~*~

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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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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.

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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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Horse Harmonics in the News!

Sara Helm practices a standing version of Downward Facing Dog with help from Danny, an American Quarter Horse

Sara Helm practices a standing version of Downward Facing Dog with help from Danny, an American Quarter Horse

Lynsi Burton from the Skagit Valley Herald came out on Saturday to cover Horse Harmonics ~ Alchemy of Attunement.  Here’s the official link to the article: Finding Harmony with Horses.  Please read and enjoy!!!

Sue Henry, riding Player, an American Quarter Horse, dribbles downfield towards the goal in a hoofball exercise, in which the horse moves the ball, Saturday during the Horse Harmonics workshop at Double S Quarter Horses in Bow. Behind is Barbara Brady, minding the goal aboard Troy, a Haflinger. Scott Terrell / Skagit Valley Herald

Sue Henry, riding Player, an American Quarter Horse, dribbles downfield towards the goal in a hoofball exercise, in which the horse moves the ball, Saturday during the Horse Harmonics workshop at Double S Quarter Horses in Bow. Behind is Barbara Brady, minding the goal aboard Troy, a Haflinger. Scott Terrell / Skagit Valley Herald

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Yoga on Horseback, Really?

Yes!

But it’s definitely NOT about turning yourself into a pretzel on your horse.

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At first glance, yoga on horseback may seem like an impossible and potentially unsafe merging of opposites. However, it is important to consider some of the core principles of yoga: in these principles we find what truly unifies riding and yoga.

Yoga is not the simple act of turning oneself into a pretzel; it combines mindfulness with breath and a myriad of other subtle practices in hopes to achieve Union (of body-mind-heart-spirit). Horseback riding, when done with mindful, embodied intention, truly unites horse and rider through its own subtle techniques. Both yoga and riding are a practice–not to be mastered overnight.

Being horseback is NOT like riding a motorcycle.  Your horse has a mind; it has its own personality, its own need for safety, for connection, for oneness with its herd.  Attaining trust and understnding to the point where a horse allows a prey animal–the human–to ride astride is miraculous.  It requires that the rider is in tune with her body, with the energy she emits, with her thoughts.

In the study of equestrian arts and the science of yoga, I have found more similarities than I could have imagined. After having grown up on horseback, then finding yoga when horses were no longer a part my life, I now find a union of this art and science to be natural and intuitive. Consider alignment, for instance. It is virtually the same in Sukhasana as in sitting in a saddle: rooted through the seat bones, spine tall, shoulders back and down, chin parallel with the earth. The more subtle elements of a yoga practice–the breath, quieting the body, centering the mind–are equally applicable and in fact instrumental in achieving a focused, unified ride with an equine partner. As I began teaching Horseback Yoga in the foothills of Pikes Peak, Colorado, my perceived limitations floated away on nearly every exhale–my riders were able to do virtually anything they set their minds to.

I currently offer Horseback Yoga classes at Double S Quarter Horses. Please contact me if you are interested in setting up a Horseback Yoga Workshop.

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HOW HORSEBACK YOGA WORKS
Here I will offer a simplified step-by-step outline to paint a picture of one shape Horseback Yoga can take. This is by no means meant as an instructional piece. Practitioners and riders should seek the guidance of a professional before attempting these exercises on their own.

So sit tall, take a deep breath, and enjoy this step-by-step approach to Union with the horse.

HORSEBACK YOGA

1. SET YOUR INTENTION

  • Remember that the objective of Horseback Yoga is to achieve Union with the horse, with your bodies, minds, hearts and souls (not necessarily to do some crazy pretzel pose on horseback).
  • Your intention can be anything you wish to cultivate in the practice. Some examples could be Boundaries, Courage, Oneness, Stillness, Friendship, Strength, Growth, Inner Peace, Serenity … anything that comes to mind.
  • Take a moment to strongly identify with your intention. Feel it in your cells, your body. Then allow it to float away on the exhale, trusting that the acknowledgment is enough to keep it with you throughout the practice without grasping onto it. You may seal your intention by saying “OM.”

2. BECOME CONGRUENT: BE PRESENT WITH YOUR SELF

  • Tune into your inner state and feel what you are feeling. Your horse already senses your deep emotional state and is waiting for you to become congruent with your emotions.
  • Be patient with yourself as you look inward. There is no rush.  This moment is the point; the journey is the point. Often your horse will let you know that you have aligned through a lick of the lips or a lowering of the head.

3. BE PRESENT WITH YOUR HORSE

  • Observe your horse. Horses speak in a language that is totally body- and energy- aware. Watch for some of your horse’s signals:
    • Ears–your horse’s attention is where his ears are pointing. Is your horse listening to you? To the other horses? To the fly biting his right side? Is there a threat? Ears relaxed and to the sides with one following your movements is what you can be looking for.
    • Eyes–with observation you can see fear (whites of the eyes showing), calmness (eyelids drooping), and many more emotions through the eyes
    • Licking lips–processing, agreement, “I get it!”
    • Lowering head–listening, relaxation
    • Nodding head–urging you to speak, agreement
    • Swishing tail–annoyance
    • Resting one leg–relaxation

4. INTERACT WITH YOUR HORSE

  • Your horse will respect you if you respect him. Respond to the signals he gives you throughout the grooming process. Scratch his itchy spots. Rub his sore spots.
  • Take your time grooming to really get to know your horse’s favorite areas. Grooming is a conversation between you and your horse which can solidify a connection before you mount.
  • SOCIAL GROOMING is essential for the well-being and survival of horses in the wild. As you scratch your horse’s withers, don’t be surprised if he turns around and nibbles your shoulder in reciprocation!

5. LEAD YOUR HORSE TO THE PRACTICE SPACE

  • Your Practice Space can be an arena, pasture, trail, or roundpen.
  • Establish boundaries with your horse by playing the Stop and Go game—Your horse should anticipate when you stop walking and freeze all four feet when you exaggeratedly halt. If he does not, ask him to back a few steps before walking on.
  • Your horse should respect your space by walking behind you. If you need to remind your horse of these boundaries, turn toward the horse and tug or shake the lead rope back below the horse’s chin until your horse backs a step or two. You may need to continue to work with this until you have learned to establish your boundaries and your horse learns to respect them.

6. WARM UP

  • Halt your horse in the Practice Space.
  • Tune into your breath. Flow through some gentile warm-up postures beside your horse to warm up your body.
  • Possible poses: Surya Namascar, side bends, chest openers, Trikonasana, Virabhadrasana I and II.
  • Observe your horse as you flow through your warm up.

7. WARM YOUR HORSE UP

  • Horse-Asanas: Bend your horse’s head/neck to the right and left without moving his feet, arch his neck, stretch his neck, lift and sink his belly (horse version of Cat/Cow).
  • Gently extend your horse’s legs through their safe range of motion, one at a time, with attention to your horse’s breathing: pause when you horse inhales and lengthen when your horse exhales.
  • Massage your horse’s withers, neckline, back, rump.
  • Move your horse’s tail: pay attention to his reaction, only go as far as he is comfortable with.

8. MOUNT

  • We ride bareback for greater ability to feel your horse beneath you.
  • Mount gracefully, on your horse’s exhale, using whatever method is most appropriate for your body (mounting block? leg up? railing?) and most kind to your horse (while it may be thrilling to take a running leap, what would your horse most appreciate?).
  • Find your seat bones. Sink deep.

9. SYNCHRONIZE YOUR BREATHING

  • Listen and feel for your horse’s breath.
  • Here is part of why we ride bareback: your legs will gently expand with your horse’s inhale. It is extremely subtle; it is helpful to close your eyes.

10. SLOW AND LENGTHEN YOUR BREATHING

  • Deep, slow diaphragmatic breaths.
  • Watch for your horse to lower his head or sigh; notice if your horse relaxes one leg.
  • Pat your horse or scratch his withers when he has relaxed with you.

Click below to enlarge the photos and to view as a slideshow!

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11. HORSEBACK ASANAS

  • Maintain the awareness of your breath and your horse’s breath throughout the entire practice helps keep both species focused yet relaxed and receptive to the Aśva-pṛṣṭhasanas (Poses on horseback).

Practitioners and riders should seek the guidance of a professional before attempting these exercises on their own.

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