Monday morning I opened up Peggy Cummings’ Connected Riding, An Introduction. The night before while riding Hope I knew that I could use some guidance on moving with her more freely.
I opened up to the first exercise–breathing. I appreciated that she approached breathing first, rather than a technical movement. If we aren’t breathing well, and then we force ourselves to change our posture or our movement, there will still be a great real of restriction in that adjustment.
While doing Peggy Cummings’ first two breathing exercises and feeling my neutral position, and relaxation through my thorax and abdomen, and the subtle movement that the breathing rhythm creates, I realized that I was too restricted in my chest, ribcage, sternum, and abdominal area to be able to breathe fully into my abdomen. This natural deep breathing is something I’ve had before, so I knew clearly that it was missing now that my awareness was focused on it.
Rather than continue to breathe and try to cause or force my body to be able to expand more deeply, I decided to do somatic breathing exercises based in Hanna Somatics. I began very slowly, gently, and with awareness, breathing into different areas of my ribcage and subtly expanding my body into that direction with the inhale, and then slowly contracting with the exhale. As I continued the exercise, I began to breathe, expand, and contract in different areas–right lower lung, left lower lung, the back of my left lung, the side of my right lung… I targeted whichever areas felt most restricted, breathing and slightly moving into them, and then slowly contracting, melting and then slowly expanding again.
As I continued, my ribcage began to open. My head began to unclog. I began to have a more integrated feel for my whole body. When I sat up, I was naturally neutral in general, with slight restrictions in specific areas. I felt like I had energy. I felt good.
A reminder to everyone to breathe. Next time you realize you can’t breathe or that your breathing is not as full as it could be, try this simple exercise:
Breathe into an area of your lung or lungs. It may sound and feel awkward at first, but just go with it.
As you expand into that area in the inhale, you may put your hand on the region to increase your sense of the area.
As you slowly exhale, very slowly begin to (gently) contract–going in the opposite direction of expansion.
Slowly relax, melting all the way. You might take a breath in neutral before starting again.
Play with this, and then move to a different region. Keep breathing into different areas of your ribcage and then abdomen, remembering that breathing should be three-dimensional: the front, sides, and back of your body should be rhythmically and gently expanding.
Something else that helps me in this exercise is making noisy breaths. It helps bring my awareness to it. You don’t have to make any specific yoga noises or overthink it, just try it. If it doesn’t work for you, leave it out.
As we soften in our ribcage, as we are able to breathe more deeply, we can sink deeper into the parasympathetic nervous system response. This is where rest, learning, and healing happen. This is where we want to guide our horses to be as we learn with and teach them. The more we are able to guide ourselves to this state, the more we will be able to share it with our horses. Get ready for softer riding, and softer being.
Once you’ve gotten the feel for it, even before you’re perfect, take it out and share it with your horse. I imagine they’ll be happy to relax with you.
Enjoy feeling. Find that rhythm. Soften. Share with your horse. And remember to breathe.