Tag Archives: Teachings

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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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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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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Documentary: The Path of the Horse

This beautiful and thought-provoking documentary is well worth watching!  Please enjoy.

Follow Our Horses on Facebook.

Official Website: ThePathoftheHorse.org

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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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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!

~*~

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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