“Awareness of the body is our gateway into the truth of what is.” Tara Brach
Pause for a moment.
Take a deep breath.
Close your eyes and notice your body.
How are you sitting? Are you comfortable? If you’re uncomfortable, what parts are uncomfortable? Can you make yourself more comfortable before you continue to read?
Now pause again.
Take another deep breath – maybe even more than one.
Close your eyes and notice how you feel.
Are you relaxed? Bored? Tense? Stressed? Distracted?
Try not to analyze what you feel or make it right or wrong. Just notice what you feel and breathe. Where does that feeling land in your body? Does it show up as tight shoulders or a headache? Maybe you can’t feel your feet on the ground? Maybe your heart is racing? Just notice and breathe.
You may find that directing your senses to engage with your physical body or your emotions makes you uncomfortable. It might draw attention to things you try not to notice – the ever-present undercurrent of anxiety you cover up so well, a level of exhaustion you try to power through or maybe the chronic back pain you work so hard to tune out so you can function.
Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones and you feel fantastic! Notice what fantastic feels like in your body. Do your best to capture the sensations you experience as fantastic so that someday, when you are not doing so great you might be able to consciously find fantastic again.
In the context of working with horses, why does it matter?
Why should I stop and breathe and notice how I feel?
Because how we feel, from our emotions, to the chronic aches and pains we try to tune out, to feeling excited, enthusiastic or fantastic, to stressed from a hard day at work – all show up in how we move and carry ourselves. The more we are in tune with ourselves the more we are capable of recognizing our horse’s responses to us as possibly an accurate reflection of what we’re presenting rather than simply being disobedient, rude or flighty.
The reality is, most of us have things happen that cause us to protect ourselves for a time. Sometimes those injuries are to our mind or emotional state – we get our hearts broken, our trust betrayed, bullied or shamed. We close ourselves off a bit in response. Sometimes those injuries are to our body. Physical damage in the form of a traumatic accident or chronic stress and strain. Our body tightens up around the injured area, protecting it from further damage. We might limp for a while or hold the injured area more still to protect it from further injury. Our body and mind become accustomed to these holding patterns and they begin to feel normal, even healthy.
It’s called sensory motor amnesia. We feel perfectly fine, as though all our body parts are where they should be, functioning optimally. In reality we might have our shoulders chronically rounded forward as a physical representation of the habit we’ve developed of protecting our heart, our emotional selves from the world. Maybe we pull our shoulders back and greet the world guns ablazin’, a more defensive posture to keep ourselves safe. That limp we developed when we injured our knee is still there even though the knee is long since healed, but we no longer notice we are limping. We lose track of an accurate assessment of our own body and how it’s moving through the world.
And so, we go out and work with our horses and they are doing things we can’t make sense of. We are told they are being disobedient or rude or lazy. What if they are just accurately responding to how we move and carry ourselves? What if they are constantly dropping their shoulder on a circle because we are leaning heavy on our right stirrup, trying to protect that left hip that doesn’t want to settle into the saddle? What if they aren’t being lazy but are responding accurately to our rounded shoulders that reflect an internal dialogue of uncertainty and doubt, a lack of commitment to moving forward? What if we are actually leaning forward in the saddle even though it feels like we are sitting up straight and that’s why our horse is always amped up and anticipating?
Now imagine how it impacts your horse’s mental health if you punish him for accurately responding to your body language?
When a horse spends a lifetime having to compensate for our mixed signals it damages their ability to trust us, it can cause behavioral problems (shutting down or getting spooky and anxious are common), and if they learn to live with our lack of clarity we will usually need stronger aids or some kind of clear motivator to get them to do what we want. We can easily teach them to disregard whispers of communication and wait for shouts.
On the other hand, if I recognize my horse’s response as an accurate reflection of my posture, balance and movement, then I have an opportunity to make small changes within myself. Instead of having an agenda, I simply notice how they respond to my presence and adapt. I notice how they respond to energy and intention and adapt.
Depending on the horse’s background and to what degree they have learned not to trust my body language, they will respond with more or less skepticism. Skepticism can show up in compulsively diving for grass or the nearest weed, walking into a corner and going to sleep, frantically trotting or running the pen, fixating on distant threats, refusing to participate in any way and so on.
And this is where it becomes important to develop our own body awareness and skill at using non-verbal communication. The best way to help these skeptical, confused horses learn to trust their instincts again is by becoming congruent in our body language, energy and intention.
This is an excerpt from an online class about body language. To find out more about offerings for 2018 click here: 2018 Online Classes