My bodywork and movement education practice, much like everything else in my life, is changing.
It’s growing. I can see even more now how much of my influence is based off of my intent, my approach, and my energy. Much of the change, too, is driven by inner sure-ness.
I’ve come to a place of believing in myself and my abilities. I can still get nervous or apprehensive when approaching performance or social situations, but even in the jitters, there’s something different. I’m sure of myself. I know I can. I know I will.
I’m starting to realize, too, how much information I have. This goes along with some of the reflex and sensory integration work that has come together recently–it always felt difficult for me to retrieve and explain information. Even though I had it and I knew it, the lack of external translation could, at times, make it seem like it simply didn’t exist. Now that the boundary between the internal and external world are gone, the information flows (for the most part) freely, even if apprehension is there. In a nutshell, I’m starting to realize how much I know and understand.
Today my sessions with the girls were focused on freeing different areas of their bodies. I also focused on playing in different levels of the doability perspective: can, will, and is.
Through a mixture of Hanna Somatics and bodywork, along with intention and refined connection/communication, both horses began to really unwind. The difference in their movement and standing before and after was quite amazing to me.
I’ve seen the same levels of influence and improvement in human clients, in other areas of my life, and in myself.
I’m always amazed at this life thing. Always learning, always growing. I’m so happy to be able to experience each moment so fully.
The sketch of this big German Shepherd-like guy (ears didn’t fit on the page, unfortunately) to me represented sureness–it was in a time when I had very little, and for some reason, when I drew this he made me feel steady. I had him on the wall above my bed for a long time, and every time I looked at it, I would feel more stable and more sure of myself, and also more hopeful for the future. I could look at him and remind myself that it was okay to feel unstable. Cherish also often represented this for me. These two helped me find sureness in a time when I had none–funny enough, what I didn’t realize is that that sureness I felt from them… the feeling was still coming from inside of me.
Mark helps riders understand the importance of softness in both the horse’s and rider’s body and helps you to find awareness of and understand the impact of your body and thoughts (on yourself and the horse) through simple but highly effective exercises.
For me, this DVD really helped me understand how to quickly find my center, the power in using my energy and my thoughts, and the importance of softness. For those of you who know and appreciate the value of simulations, this DVD is for you.
I would recommend this DVD to anyone. You don’t have to be a cowboy to get a lot out of it. I initially rented it from GiddyUpFlix.com and will most likely end up buying it in time.
During a time that is rather difficult and emotionally rollercoaster-ey for me, I have been forced to find creative and deeply effective ways to self-soothe, ground, and calm. For this, I have found awareness exercises, yoga, meditation, breathing, nature walks, and using mindful imagery have really helped… but there is more that I need.
I have needed to express (much of which I do through painting, writing, or singing), to cry, to talk, and to try to understand. At the same time, the emotions have had an impact on my body. I have noticed that certain protective reflexes are becoming more active and certain muscle groups are beginning to contract. My body is holding down the fort and trying to keep it all together, to keep me safe, in a time where I need, more than anything, to be open to heal, connect with loved ones, and to be ready to receive.
The practice that I have found to be most deeply restorative and opening is Somatics. At the same time that the movements release muscular tension, emotional tension and upset begins to release. It does not mean I begin to sob–it means that the feelings of desperation begin to melt and drift away. As the physical need to grab a hold is released, the mental and emotional need to hold on and try to control things I simply cannot control begins to release as well. As my muscles release, the protective reflexes lose their power. With this, my mind begins to re-enter homeostasis and my body returns to functioning in the parasympathetic nervous system. This allows me to find calm on both a mental and physical level. As the ribcage and abdominals are released, my breathing broadens through my trunk. I am able to move, to feel, and to come back to earth. I am able to begin to accept, to let go, and to love openly, without judgment or anger.
As the body releases the impulse reactions and reflexes, you, mentally and physically, are able to approach situations from a state of openness and love.
A couple of days after the event that inspired the post about “The Most Beautiful and Talented Dressage Pony”, I was out on a trail-walk with Hope a fair ways away from the house. We were enjoying our walk until she heard a sound at one of the nearby construction sites. She began to get panicked–explosive–rather quickly. Rather than get small, and try to hush her, soothe her, and quickly shuffle back towards a comfort zone, I grounded myself, found my center, and viewed in my head the most dignified, calm, loving, full, un-phased version of Hope I could. I asked her to join with me and to join in her body.
I asked her to do some lateral exercises and experimented with asking her to move various parts of her body in different ways, in different amounts, at different angles. These exercises helped her to find awareness of herself and her body. I asked her to find her body–verbally repeating it out loud so that everything I did was from that intention. At one point, I began doing the massage technique called “Tapotement” (softly patting her with the palms of my hand in a soothing but wakeful rhythm) to help her find her body and her center, all over her barrel, her shoulders, and her hind end on both sides. All the while I continued to picture that special mare, ask her to find her body, to stay with me, and to bring her attention back to us.
Hope calmed, found her body, her feet, and found her place. She still needed reminders, but she was able to stay with me. She lowered her head and walked inside of her body, consciously with me. This is a big step for her, and a big step for me. I now understand what she needs as well as how to help her get there.
I’ve been working with my two mares fairly regularly for the past week or so. Before that, I had been messing with them off-and-on and mostly spending undemanding/healing time with them. At first, this was due to school, and then once school was over, due to a pretty upsetting occurrence in another area of my life.
As I was riding Cherish the other day, I found her struggling a bit with some exercises that I was experimenting with. There was no pressure – I was just checking to see if they were within our range of possibility in terms of communication and physical capability. She could do them, but it was sluggish. I then noticed that everything was sluggish and delayed, almost mopey, if that isn’t too anthropomorphizing.
I got a picture in my head. I was atop the most beautiful, most talented Dressage pony in the world. Everything was effortless for her, and she was so full of joy and pride that she bounced with each stride. She stood tall, moved well, and had a captivating air about her. I was atop her, helping to guide her, but mostly molding with her, as we rode. Anything that didn’t go quite right, it was because I wasn’t quite asking right.
With this picture, my perspective changed… and my energy… and my approach… and how I responded to things… and even my body.
As you can imagine, the same things began to shift in my horse… the most beautiful, talented Dressage pony in the world.
Within just a few minutes I did have a proud, beautiful, captivating horse beneath me, who could do no wrong but was only responding correctly when I asked just right. Interestingly enough, this became the truth.
In the midst of a difficult time, I downloaded a mindfulness app called “Stop, Breathe & Think“. If I start to feel myself spiraling, or like I can’t possibly sleep and never will, I simply open up the app.
You take 10 seconds to scan your body and how you’re feeling, then pick your level of physical and mental/emotional wellness, and then pick up to five emotions from a fairly comprehensive, but organized, list. The app then generates a short list (usually 2-3) of guided meditations for you to try. Most of the meditations are 5-8 minutes long, which is great for a beginning meditator like me. (With such a busy mind, meditation has always seemed a bit daunting to me, so in the past I’ve gone for moving meditation, such as flow yoga. I’m sure many others can relate.)
Each meditation talks you through the whole process, using imagery, asking you to feel for different areas of your body, and bringing your awareness to different perspectives. So far each time I have completed a meditation, my emotions at the beginning were quite desperate sounding, and at the end they are at least neutral, with a bit of “hopefulness” or “love” or “gratitude” mixed in there.
My favorite guided meditations so far have been…
- Falling Asleep: Before I downloaded the app I was unable to fall asleep, and then upon falling asleep would promptly wake and be unable to get back to sleep. Needless to say, I lost a lot of sleep. Now, before bed, I do an emotion-specific meditation and then “Falling Asleep”. I’m usually out before the meditation is finished. If I wake up in the middle of the night, I can just turn this on and be drifting off in no time.
- Great Compassion: In a time where it would be easy for me to be angry or upset at someone, I have instead been able to have love, empathy, and compassion for the other person.
Sleeping instead of not sleeping, and loving instead of being angry? I would say that’s a pretty big deal. So, go download the app. It’s free. What do you have to lose?
For the past few sessions I’ve had with the horses, I’ve been playing with increasing the amount of positive reinforcement I use, and using more aids that are either invisible or almost invisible. If I’m not getting what I’m asking for, I might decrease my idea of 100%, or make it more clear or easier for the horse.
It’s interesting to begin playing with. I’ve only been using a white Dressage riding whip. It doesn’t have a string. Sometimes I’m using the rope halter and lightweight lead (in a cavesson style with the rope connected to a connector piece in the middle of the noseband), but if I do, the rule is that I’m not allowed to pull on it, even if the horse is drifting. I’ve been playing with Cherish without ropes (and in the pasture) quite a bit, but it’s interesting to note that it’s easier for me to help both horses be successful when the line is on. They know its there and are more likely to drift a little bit and stop if they are unsure of something, rather than getting unsure or irritated with what or how I was asking and entirely leaving.
While in a learning phase, this buffer that encourages them to stay with me while I’m playing with the components of how I’m asking and what I’m asking for is extremely helpful.
The only time that I have used the stick more than a slight touch or a tickle was when Hope came in from the circle and just about side-swiped me. This took me off guard a little bit, but I realized that it had occurred only because of what my internal intention and body language were communicating.
(I would like to note that any mathematical equation can be flipped around, i.e., it could also be Happy Horses=Happy Humans and mean the same thing.)
This is a very clear lesson that my lovely mares have been teaching me lately. Happiness and love come before softness, before connection, and before energy, and before any of those other cool things we can do when we start to communicate.
There are many qualities of pure happiness and love. One of those is complete acceptance, and even utter appreciation, for each other. As the humans, we get to initiate that way of thinking by loving and fully appreciating our horses for what they are… but also knowing that that is not just mediocre, but amazing. For more on this perspective, see my Facebook post – if you type the phrase “I’m learning a new level of self-acceptance.” into the search bar, you should find it immediately.
I have been experimenting with a type of communicating with the horses that involves no pressure. There is no “and… you have to.” at the end. There is no force. I haven’t been using a whip with a string on the end – I’ve been using a (riding) dressage whip while on the ground, for guidance, for encouragement, and as an extension of my arm, meaning I will touch and love on them to tell them they’re awesome or they’re alright if they’re afraid as well. With Hope, I’ve been using a rope (for giving her a feeling of sureness and safety when she gets nervous)… but the rule is, no pressure on the rope, and I have to drift with her. With Cherish, we’ve been at liberty in large, open spaces. If they leave because they’re uncomfortable or not connected, I drop all aspirations at communicating and follow in love and happiness and relaxation.
This has been quite an interesting experiment. It requires allowing them to make choices. It’s been difficult, and especially while using the rope, requires discipline – but it’s also becoming very liberating.
The horses respond not just as well, but so much better, when they feel like they are loved, taken care of, appreciated, and listened to. We are communicating, not in a way of “because I told you so”, but in two-way communication. There is a co-leadership going on, but that co-leadership is full of mutual respect, trust, love, and joy. This kind of communication requires that we take ourselves off of our podiums and become individuals that see our horses as individuals.
I’ll share more as we go along. For right now, happiness and love are all you need.
We all know the limbo. How low can you go?
I’ve been thinking of a different kind of limbo, lately…
How light can you go?
Lightness means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Some may not even have the word in their vocabulary. Some may have the vocabulary down pat, and then you watch them in action and wonder where that word fits into the picture in front of you.
Try something for me:
Imagine you’re riding your horse. You’re riding through a field in perfect harmony. You do a side pass across the field… you come down to a collected trot… you go into a slow, rhythmic canter… now, use your own imagination.
How light can you go? What does real lightness feel like, in your head? Can you get lighter? Now lighter? How many notches down can you imagine that equestrian limbo pole?
What does it take to enable that lightness? What does your body have to feel like? What does your mind have to feel like? What does it feel like to be you, to be that light with your horse? What does your horse feel like?
I could tell you what that feels like to me, or what I picture, but that probably wouldn’t be helpful to you at all. I’m not you. I don’t know what it’s like to live in your body, or your imagining of what you would ideally feel like in your body, or what your horse would ideally feel like in his body, or what it would feel like when the two of you ideally came together in your two ideal bodies.
Just for yourself, and for your horse, just dream a little bit for a while. Just imagine.
After all, you need to know where you might be able to go before you can ever know how to head in that direction.