Tag Archives: Relaxation

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.

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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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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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Hayloft Yoga: The Breath

Pete taught me as much about yoga as any of my human instructors!

(From spring 2012)

The opening practice for Hayloft Yoga could not have been sweeter. Spring at the barn is positively enchanting! Frog ribbits from the pond outside soothed us as we worked in poses; then, toward the end of practice, a gentile rainfall added to the tranquility. I think the horses knew what we were up to, as they seemed unfazed by our activities above them in the hayloft. Even when we practiced “horse breath,” (inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth buzzing our lips like a horse) they continued methodically munching on their dinner. Perhaps we were speaking their language?

The breath, for me, is the foundation of all yoga. In yoga, breathing is called pranayama. Prana is the Sanskrit for energy–the energy of everything around us, of God, life force energy. So, as we re-learn to breathe in our yoga practice, we learn to observe and perhaps enhance the flow of prana in and out of our bodies.

As we work with the breath, we begin to learn the language of the body. Most of us are limited to our awareness of the body’s language only when there is pain. “Ouch!” is like the body screaming at us, loud enough that we will slow down our busy, outwardly-focused lives to listen. By that time, there may already be a problem: we’re sick, we’ve strained something, we’re fatigued, and we have to take a day off to recover.

Yoga offers us a different approach: we begin by listening in, learning this new language, and we see that the body is constantly speaking to us. Very slowly, through continued practice, we find that we can move more mindfully, we find space in our lives for self-care, we sense when we may be starting to feel under the weather so we make nurturing choices instead of “pushing through it.”

It all starts with an awareness of the breath. And that can be elusive in itself!

I love how B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the major contributors to yoga in the West, puts it: The breath must “be enticed or cajoled, like catching a horse in a field, not by chasing after it, but by standing still with an apple in one’s hand. Nothing can be forced; receptivity is everything.” As we sit at the beginning of each practice, we practice drawing the senses inward and observing the breath. As we do this, the mind gradually stills. We breathe–not forcefully, but with awareness, watching the breath, listening for the language of the body.

Learning a new language is not easy. But neither was learning to ride, and that was an entirely new language, wasn’t it? Horsepeople, whether they are aware of it or not, are already practicing this inner awareness, thanks to their equine friends. Horses are exceptional practitioners of Pranayama. Their entire survival depends on their awareness of breath and body language. Their awareness is fine-tuned (far beyond the sense or smell that alerts them to the carrot in our back pocket, or the sense of sight when they see the invisible boogie man on the trail). They feel our moods and our intentions. This extra-sensory awareness is something that can be shared across species. Practicing yoga helps us to become more horse-like, practicing and fine-tuning our “extra” or “hiding” senses.

I am honored to report that many new faces joined in tonight. One comment at the end of class was truly a compliment: “This was not like the other yoga classes I’ve been to.” All yoga is good yoga. For me, some of the most important aspects of yoga are lost when the primary intention is to “get fit.” Of course yoga helps us become fit. That’s an awesome side effect, but it’s not the main attraction. Yoga (and horses!) help us find ourselves–our authentic selves–and to be present to that in us which holds the highest potential.

Thank you sincerely to everyone who joined Hayloft Yoga in 2012! Deep breaths until we meet again … soon!

Namaste.

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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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