Let Your Light Shine! Horses Love All of You

730158555_stdEliminating the need for dominance with horses:

I love interacting with horses.  Everything about interacting with horses.  The joyful, magical moments of connection are just as addicting as the crazy challenging moments when we can’t get in sync with each other, no matter how hard we try.

My horses have me on the trail of the elusive quality in myself that is magnetic to them- the quality in me that becomes addictive enough they seek to be with me.  I’m certainly not the only one seeking this particular grail. Each seeker has their unique way of describing the experience.  The way I figure it, the more we share our experiences as we find our personal grail the more possible we make it for others to find the light inside themselves, to hopefully, let that light shine.

The horses here keep showing me how to access the truth of who I am, all of who I am.  In those fleeting moments when I set aside all the ideas I have about how I ‘should’ behave, what I ‘should’ do with horses, what would be acceptable to others so I won’t be judged harshly or laughed at, ah,  horses love it.

As I endeavor to listen to my horses and give them a voice, it’s been easy to feel doubt about so many things.  In my doubt I hold back, lose confidence, fall back on whatever the latest study, article or guru tells me I should or shouldn’t do.  I stop being myself, I stop really listening to MY horses and things fall apart.  I feel resistance, reluctance or outright rebellion from my horses.  My efforts to give them a voice seemingly backfire.

But it’s not me giving them a voice that backfired.  The reality is I gave them a voice and they used it to speak freely.  What they share is not always something I want to hear.  They tell me they have been scared, hurt, told what to do in ways they didn’t appreciate.  They also tell me I am scared, timid and unsure and they don’t like being around humans when we feel like that.  They stop dead in their tracks when I resort to trying to make something happen or grasp for control.

We spend a lot of time together being still, sharing with each other about all the things in the horse human dynamic that doesn’t work for us.  Meanwhile I spend a lot of time away from horses investigating all those places inside myself where I feel shy, held back, ashamed, lacking confidence or conviction.  I found ways to access more of who I am by learning to sing, play the guitar, braid halters and dance, things that push my comfort zone and highlight those areas where I get stuck trying to fit in or not stand out, to protect myself from feeling too much or get frustrated enough to give up.

It’s been good to find ways to feel more comfortable in my own skin that don’t involve the horses, then bring my healthier self to the horses and see what happens.  They share everything with me now.  Freely.  It no longer matters if I have tack in play or work at liberty, we have the capacity to flow together.  To dance.   Everything has changed.  My horses have taught me to stop hiding who I am.  To stop lurking in the shadows, always looking for someone else to take the lead, trying not to be seen.  It’s still a work in progress but when I stop looking to others for validation, stop worrying about what someone else might think all of my life is better for it.

I am finally writing the book I have wanted to write for years but been to shy and disorganized to make it happen.  I spent the last year hosting an online class that has pushed all my limits and forced me to share what the horses have been wanting me to share for years now.  This subject of how to set healthy boundaries with our horses came up a few weeks ago and I feel called to share my thoughts on that subject more widely.  I hope you find some inspiration here.

Excerpt from Integrative Horsemanship Online Series 3:

Almost everyone wants to do something with their horse.  Most of us want a horse we can ride, whether for pleasure or performance, and we want to feel safe.  It can be hard to trust the idea our horses can have a voice and still be safe doing all the things we want, or need, to do.  It may seem as though we have the option of giving them a voice when we are hanging out together, but maybe not when we do a rehab session, doctor them, or train for our next competition.  When the rubber meets the road, it can be extremely difficult to let go of the desire to control.

In my experience of dancing, when I trust myself and my partner I don’t have to think, I just feel. In order to enter this dreamlike state, I have to stay fully present, fully in the moment, deeply connected and committed to my partner, myself and the Earth, or I’ll miss the subtle differences between the lead to do one thing and another.  When I think about what it takes for me to feel safe enough to commit to my partner on the dance floor I have far more appreciation for how challenging it must be for our horses.  

What is it about those magnetic leaders that makes it possible to enter that dream state and surrender to the moment?

I have spent the last five years analyzing what it is about those magnetic leaders on the dance floor that instills trust and a desire to follow their lead.  A great leader instills so much trust in the follower she surrenders, in a sense, to the shared movement.  She has to feel safe to allow herself to be moved by another being.  That safety comes in part from knowing that she has a voice, that the dance is a conversation.

We have many tools to help facilitate connection and communication with our horses.  The tools we use may take the form of equipment – whatever the tool it should enhance communication and connection.  But the single most important tool we have in our tool box is ourselves.

All of ourselves.

When we engage all of ourselves in the act of connecting with our horses, magic happens…

All of ourselves including:

  • Body: Tone, posture, precision
  • Mind:  Knowledge, our capacity to analyze and problem solve, our creativity
  • Spirit:  Our energetic heart, instinct, intuition, guidance, our love for horses, our determination and commitment.

Did you notice I said “our tools are there to enhance our connection and communication with our horses?”

What I am talking about are the nuts and bolts of taking the receptivity we spent all year nurturing in ourselves into action as we do the things we want to do with our horses.   Any tool we use, anything we do, either enhances our connection and communication or interferes with it.

How would I define interference?

  • Anything that restricts or confines movement of horse or human in an unnatural way
  • Anything that inflicts pain as a means of control
  • Anything that causes ongoing stress or discomfort (physical, mental or emotional)
  • Anything that is biomechanically impossible or damaging

To name a few.

As I explore with my own horses I am constantly checking in with myself:  how do I stay open, receptive and allow my horse to have a voice in the next step and the next of our progression towards our mutual goals? Is my approach efficient and effective?  For me efficient and effective means my horse and I are making steady forward progress: not stagnant, not drilling, not repeating the same steps over and over again like a hamster on a treadmill.

 It also means, I am not resorting to pressure or dominance to make something happen. The need to set occasional strong boundaries came up in the group dialogue and I want to elaborate on that subject to make sure my personal stance on the subject is clear.



What if my horse starts ‘taking advantage’ or ‘acting out’?  What if I am getting steam rolled by my horse or he is consistently not doing what I request?  What if he is doing something that makes me feel unsafe?  What if we are not making steady, forward progress?  If I have ruled out any physical issue causing the problem, what’s left?

In the absence of physical issues or pain causing the problem, any of the above are a call to action on my part.  My horse is asking me to take a closer look at what I’m presenting and how I’m presenting it.  If I have to resort to setting a strong boundary that includes physical contact with my fist, my foot, a rope, a whip, etc., my horse is letting me know I have not been presenting myself as a leader he can feel safe with, or I am not challenging him enough and he is bored.  It means he has been letting me know, in small ways for a long time, I’m not fully present when I’m with him.

I recognize the necessity of setting boundaries for the sake of safety, but I never feel empowered or righteous about it when it happens. In our current horse culture, I see aggressive action frequently rewarded by coaches and trainers as an act of self-empowerment.  That worries me.  The truth is, our horses operate on such subtle levels, all that’s required is for us to act with confidence, self-assurance, clarity, consistency and ease.  But that’s not very dramatic and it takes daily acts of courage to keep asking ourselves to stay awake in a culture that tempts us to go numb on a moment to moment basis.  Our greatest challenge is to stay awake, even when it really hurts!

Let me reiterate, when aggressive action becomes necessary, it is because something about the way I am presenting myself is making my horse nervous or defensive.  When I miss things, when I don’t pay attention, when I’m inconsistent, horses get nervous, defensive or shut down.  That is often when a horse develops a pattern of behavior that feels dangerous. I may have no choice but to set a strong boundary (to match his energy).  It’s like we need to hit the reset button on our relationship. He’s asking me to step up and demonstrate my confidence, resolve and unwavering presence.  Once reset, in order to avoid conflict in the future, I must determine what to do differently to keep the dialogue on more productive footing.

Sometimes I get angry when I feel scared by something my horse does.  If they bump into me, push me, run through a gate and knock me down, kick me, bite me or something of the like, it triggers my fight or flight response.  I always used to over react when they scared me.  I’d yell and kick and hit and fight until they backed off.  Now I know all that is actually required is for me to own my space.  Simply owning my space defuses all of those behaviors so they don’t occur at all.  Hence no need for strong boundary setting.

Let’s say I have missed something and my horse is acting out.  All I have to do is match my horse’s energy.  Matching energy does not require physical force but it does require me to dig deep.  I may have to stomp my foot or growl.  I may have to wave my arms or yell. But the growling, the yelling, the stomping, are not really aimed AT my horse, they are designed to help me bring up energy that I don’t normally carry inside myself.  The energy of owning my space, energy of confidence, the energy I’m used to being told is too much.  I have to find a way to access my too muchness, my true power, and without fail a horse will step down and honor that in me.  Maybe that’s what I love so much about horses, they never tell me I’m too much 😉

Experience has shown me, when I am fully present and receptive I don’t need that kind of dominance to feel safe or in control.  All horses are innately respectful and curious, looking to us for safety, and they are attentive to our suggestions.  In the absence of pain or emotional trauma, horses naturally seek someone to follow (follow in the sense of joining in shared space and shared movement).  It’s in their nature to move with others.

It’s been a long road to figure out what it is about the quality of my presence that eliminates the need for dominance.  What I know now is, the greatest tool I have in my tool box is myself.  All of me.

 At the end of the day my horse will follow my lead (always a request, never a demand) because my full attention and commitment is magnetic and he desires to follow that kind of lead.  Having experienced following someone else’s lead when I dance, I can tell you following a magnetic, fully present, engaged leader is absolutely addictive.  It’s SO much fun to move creatively without having to think about it.  There is something insanely empowering about surrendering and melting into the connection with another. There is power in allowing oneself to be vulnerable with another being.

Enjoy your dance and let your light shine!

PS.

One of the best ways to learn from your horses, about them and about yourself, is to spend quiet time with them each day.  I spent almost a year doing what felt like nothing with my herd but it has been the most profound learning of my life.  I did three podcast interviews with Linda J. Salinas about what I learned during that time.  She has published two of them along with many other interviews with other like minded horse women: Kim Walnes, Crissi McDonald and Carolyn Resnick.  I’m honored to be in such good company!  Here are the links should you care to listen.

The Gift of Stillness Part 1

The Gift of Stillness Part 2

 

 

 

Learning with Sundance

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Every encounter with our horses is an opportunity to learn about them and to learn about ourselves.  Every encounter is an opportunity to put all of our skills to work for the benefit of our horse.  Each day, each encounter, is completely new.  I’m not the same today as I was yesterday and neither is my horse. We have ways to let each other know how we’re feeling, what we can and cannot do in this moment.

When I interact with all of my senses fully engaged, listening carefully to what my horse is telling me through his responses to my suggestions, I never fail to be blown away by how much they share.  If I pick up on the nuances of what he’s showing me the possibilities for healing, for dancing together, are endless and magical.

Here is an example of what this idea feels like in practice:

I’m using all of my senses as I interact with him so I can not only see the visual signals he gives that tell me he’s worried, I can also feel his emotions resonating in my own body.

When I make a request there is energy and intention in my movement. It means something and hopefully indicates to him to move with me. There is no need to encourage Sunny with the whip because he marches off on a mission, leaving me in the dust as he circles in his determined walk, back around to Alison, hiding behind her. There is so much information for me in just this one interaction. He’s telling me exactly how he feels about a human ‘telling’ him what to do. He’s letting me know that he has not had a choice in the past, he’s been told what to do and how to do it and if he doesn’t comply there have been negative consequences. He’s showing me that he’s scared of me.

I approach quietly and run my hand along his neck, landing on his back at the base of the withers. The tension in his body is electric. The fear has taken on an edge that feels like it could turn into panic if pushed. I feel all this coursing through my hand into my arm and down my body. He’s just standing there with his head in Alison’s lap. On the surface he looks calm. If I wasn’t using all my senses to tune into him I’d miss his fear and anxiety and blow right through it, proving to him yet again, that humans don’t listen and are not trustworthy. Before I understood the powerful undercurrents that happen in stillness I did blow through these things and it caused setbacks that sometimes lasted months before a horse would give me another chance. The signs of overwhelm were so subtle I never did know what I did that over faced them. I sure did get the consequences though!

I stand with Sunny with my hand on his back breathing and acknowledging silently that I hear him, I feel what he’s feeling and I will not push through it. After a time he takes a deep breath, I feel the electric energy dissipate, discharge, and he licks and chews, lowering his head. Now he is ready to try again. We repeat exactly the same pattern to ask him to walk off in a circle to the right and he does a less intense version of the same thing. I let him leave me, make his wide circle back to Alison and go stand with him again. I feel a much lesser version of the fear this time and he relaxes much more quickly. We repeat the pattern again and this time he is able to walk beside me through the circle to the right. He is able to stop when I stop and go when I go. Sometimes he drifts away from me, creating safe distance and that’s ok. I move toward the middle with the intention of drawing him off the rail and he comes to me and gets lots of praise. We do lots of starting and stopping all the while I’m rubbing his neck as we walk, encouraging him, praising him, letting him know I would love more of this, that this is the kind of connection and communication I want.

This is just one small example of how I can use visual assessment, touch, movement, animal communication, my own postural control, and so much more, to support a horse. We can identify the source of resistance and release it within each session.

This is an excerpt from my online class which launched yesterday.

I’m so excited! For the next 12 weeks we’ll be exploring how to use all of our skills and all of our senses in our interactions with our horses. This is a very low key course, designed to support a community of people in exploring new ways of developing relationships with their horses.

Come join us for a free trial week!

Gavi’s Lesson

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What Integrative Horsemanship looks like in practice:

What follows is a journal entry I wrote several years ago after a particularly wonderful session with Gavi, an amazing Keiger Mustang gelding whom Jill Soffer has allowed me the privilege of spending time with over the years. He has been a profound puzzle of a horse and one of my greatest teachers.

There are days when everything comes together, where you realize, this is what it should be like every day.  This was one of those days.  A day that provided the inspiration for what I teach today.

What Gavi showed me:

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A few weeks ago I was getting ready to do my normal long lining routine with Gavi.   He’s always such a good boy, stands quietly while I get all his gear on and puts his head down to accept the bit. He likes to start to walk away before the bridle is all done up but that’s ok, when he realizes I’m not done yet he stops and waits. We humans can be slower and clumsier than he’d like us to be! We walked out to the arena area together; I got the long lines attached to the bit and was ready to go. I set down the lead rope and proceeded to walk over to his left side.

He turned his head to the left, effectively blocking me from continuing onto his left side. He’s been doing this for a while now. It doesn’t matter what my intention is – ride, long line, work in hand, body work – when I proceed to his left side, ready to start ‘doing’ whatever I plan to do – he blocks me. I’ve taken to stopping and trying to figure out what he wants because clearly he is TRYING to tell me something. Often, when I stop and wait he will turn his head back to me and rest his nose against my chest with his eyes half-mast or with his nose inches from my solar plexus doing this deep breathing thing that he does. I had decided that he wanted me to stop and check in, maybe get more grounded and present. Still, most days I would end up having to physically move his head aside to get on with the task at hand. He never seemed upset about this – I guess he trusted that sooner or later I’d get the message.

When he did it again a few weeks ago I really stopped dead in my tracks. This time I decided if he’s still doing it then clearly I have not gotten what he is trying to tell me.  I stopped, looked him in the eye and straight up asked him – ‘what do you want, Gavi?’

I guess I should preface this by saying that my daily practice since last July when I did my first workshop with Thea Elijah has been to engage in her brand of grounding and connecting to myself, to those around me and to whatever you would like to call the place where we get insight.   It is that work that has allowed me to open to the possibilities – and most importantly to be open to receiving. Receiving information, answers, insight, feelings, gifts, compliments, abundance, you name it – receiving on all levels.

So when I asked Gavi what he wanted I was in a very open and receptive state – but also extremely grounded. In my head I hear – ‘I want a healing’.

One of the ways that I feel I can be pretty sure that I’m not making something up when I communicate with horses this way is if the words that come are words I would not have chosen. That was the case here. I tend to shy away from the word ‘healing’ in the context of what I do. I don’t consider myself a ‘healer’ – it’s an emotionally charged word for me. Which made me pretty sure this was coming from Gavi. My next question to him was – ‘can you be more specific?’ Because, of course, I had no idea what this meant from Gavi’s perspective.

We ended up engaging in a silent dialogue of sorts. A line of inquiry in which I asked Gavi questions as well as directed questions to that bigger source of insight – which I’ll call Source – for the purposes of this story. It started with – ‘can you be more specific?’ Which led to more of a feeling from Gavi about what he was after. These feelings can be hard to put into words. There was a certain amount of just trusting what was coming to me. Gavi stayed a few feet away from me, waiting quietly and trusting that I was getting the message – finally. I gathered that he didn’t want bodywork per se. In other words, he wasn’t asking me to put my hands on him – so he wasn’t looking for ME to heal him. He didn’t exactly say all of this; it was sort of a combination of showing me pictures and giving me the feeling of it.

Based on what he was sharing with me I decided to ask – as part of my line of inquiry – ‘are you wanting me to act as a witness to your healing?’ I got a big yes to that, followed by visual signs from Gavi letting me know I was on the right track. He lowered his head, closed his eyes and sighed. The next question was directed to Source: ‘how can I best support Gavi to receive the kind of healing he desires?’ What I got was that the best thing I could do was to show Gavi what it looked like to engage in self-healing activities.   What that has been looking like for me again goes back to things I’ve been learning from Thea.

I stood several feet from Gavi and went inward – focusing on my own connection to heaven and earth and then feeling myself being filled up from head to toe with energy from Source. One of the things Thea talks about is that if we are filled up with light there is no room for anything else – no disease can get a foothold if there is no room to set up camp. I like to think of myself being filled with something akin to sunlight – this golden, warm light that fills me up from head to toe until I am positively glowing with it. This is another form of receiving – by the way!

When I was full to overflowing I looked at Gavi and asked again what to do. I was told to simply observe and see if Gavi was open to receiving as well.

All living beings are hardwired – in a manner of speaking – to resonate with one another. That comes in really handy because it means that I can resonate with the horse I’m spending time with and feel something of what they are feeling. It also means that I can model for them what something feels or looks like and they will likely mirror what I am doing. Horses are much more connected to this natural ability than we are. We humans tend to get a bit overwhelmed and confused by the sensations of resonance and prefer to sedate or control that experience with drugs, alcohol, distractions, rationalization, etc. But – we can learn to feel on this level again and be able to utilize the vast amount of information that comes available as a result.

When I checked in with Gavi I was checking in on a whole body level. Feeling with my whole body, not just looking for visual signs. There were definitely visual signs that he was deeply processing something, but the connection and depth of information available is so much more rich when you use your whole body to connect – because that’s when you can engage your capacity to resonate and receive insight and information that can support the relationship.

Acting as witness to Gavi’s healing goes beyond just watching him stand there. It’s not a passive activity. It’s important for me to maintain my connection to heaven and earth – to model that for him the entire time. Doing that also keeps me from ‘taking on’ his ‘stuff’, making up stories about what I think is going on, and keeps me open to receiving information from him and from Source. As I’m observing him from this state of awareness I both see and feel what is going on for him.   What I see/feel is Gavi opening himself up to receiving that energy/light from Source in the same way he saw/felt me doing it.

It was interesting to observe because it took a little while for him to open to this. I had observed in myself over the last months how closed off I’d become – it felt safe to withdraw into myself vs. walk around with an open heart. To my surprise I found that Gavi also had closed himself off and withdrawn into himself. It took a little bit for him to realize he could allow himself to receive from this Source that was available, safe and empowering. He became fully absorbed in soaking it up – allowing this ‘light’ to fill him from head to toe, stem to stern. As I tracked the feeling of the light moving through his body I noticed that it would concentrate or focus more in certain areas.   I was told that these were areas that needed additional support – areas that had been stressed for one reason or another – and it became clear that as witness I could follow the light to the troubled areas to know what might need ongoing support.

Gavi got additional support for his lymphatic system, the right side of his low back where he’s had a muscle injury, his hind legs – not so much the joints as things related to circulation, and his pituitary gland and adrenal system.

I was told that I was to wait, watch and feel and that I would know when this process was complete. Another thing that Thea teaches is that it’s a good idea to establish our connection to heaven and earth and fill ourselves up before we engage in our daily lives or with other people. I like to think of it in this way: that if I fill myself up first, fill myself to overflowing, then the energy I put out is surplus energy rather than my own reserves. This is an important part of making any practice we engage in sustainable. So that’s what I was encouraging Gavi to do – and what I now encourage every horse I work with to do – fill yourself up to overflowing before you interact with me. After a bit Gavi felt full and seemed to be radiating light all around him. He shook his head, licked and chewed and showed me that he was complete with that process.

This is where things get even more interesting to me from a ‘horse training’ perspective.   The last few years I’ve learned how to dance, I’ve been working with Jean Luc Cornille on biomechanically correct ways to work with horses and I’ve been doing my self-healing work with Thea Elijah. I have often looked at these seemingly unrelated activities and wondered how they would combine to create something truly wonderful in working with the horses. My thoughts had begun to run along the lines of making working with horses my Spiritual practice. But I had no idea what that might look like. Evidently Gavi heard my wondering and decided to show me!

The cool and unexpected side effect of taking the time to witness Gavi getting his ‘healing’ is that it fostered a whole new level of communication, connection and information exchange between us.   This time, when I walked to Gavi’s left side he did not block me. BUT, when I got to his left side and thought about reaching for the long lines I felt him withdraw into himself and stop receiving. I FELT his energy contract. While I’m sure that Gavi has probably always felt this way about being worked with he is so calm and quiet about things that no one has been aware of what’s under the surface. I’ve had more than one person who interacts with him describe him as stoic. I’m beginning to understand that stoic means we have contracted our energy inward into a self-protecting mode – it’s a cover for some underlying something…

This is where I can rely a lot on my own bodily sensations – my capacity to resonate with Gavi – to give me the specifics about what is going on with him in a particular moment. I initially felt his energy contract and stop receiving the light from Source (which, by the way, was entering through the top of his withers or the back side of his heart). When I felt with my whole body, I felt a constriction around my heart and chest – a feeling like I couldn’t breath. Gavi’s facial expression had changed as well. His eyes got bigger and had a guarded look in them. What I was feeling was anxiety and a bit of fear. This was shocking to me. All I did was move to his left side where I intended to work with him but I hadn’t touched the reins yet, I had thought about reaching for the reins but aborted when I felt his energy contract. How had I never noticed this before? How many horses are communicating on such a subtle level and being completely ignored? How frightened they must be to work around such unconscious creatures.

I stopped right where I was and stayed on his left side. I stayed focused on what was happening in my body as it mirrored him. The goal for me became re-establishing my connection to heaven, earth and myself and making sure I was receiving energy/light from Source – that my heart was open and that I was breathing. Then I turned my whole body feeling awareness towards Gavi and felt into him as he began to resonate with me and make similar shifts in his own body. Once he was open and receiving and relaxed I went ahead and picked up the reins. The moment I put myself in position towards his hip and picked up a light contact his energy contracted again.

We went through the same exact process but this time he kept circling around. It felt like he was trying to spin around to where he was facing me to get away from the internal pressure he felt around what was expected of him. My guidance said to follow him around but stay in position at his hip to help him find a way to work through the anxiety about me being there. Again I stayed present with my own connections and myself and felt into him to see where he might be contracting his energy. This time the energy contraction was in my throat – meaning in his throat. I tend to equate the constriction of energy in the throat with a sense of loss of voice or ‘I have no voice”. This is likely a common feeling for horses when they are in a bit and being guided by their mouth to do things. I kept breathing and following him around without doing anything with the reins – just focusing on my breath and creating openness and space in my throat area. After a bit I felt his whole body relax and open up and the next thing you know we were walking around the arena together.

Because we took the time to connect and work on this level, the quality of the connection between us was so amazing. We were so tuned into each other’s whole body sensing that he could feel me turn him without any indication from the reins. The entire long lining experience was so subtle, soft, light and relaxed. That is what it felt like to have my work with the horses become a Spiritual practice! Leave it to Gavi to be the one to show me what that looked like.

I now employ this level of connection with every horse, every session we do together. The results have been amazing and the horses have been able to show me and work through some pretty intense emotional issues around various aspects of the training process. With each subsequent session there are fewer and fewer emotionally charged areas and it becomes easier to get down to doing whatever it is we want to do together. My hope is that helping the horses clear these old emotional wounds will help them heal whatever physiological damage has been done. Ongoing emotional stress has a physiological effect. Keeping emotional stress to a minimum is key to sustainable work with horses and is key to them staying healthy or healing from illness or lameness.

 

 

 

Falling Down: Part 2

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photo: Redhawk Photography

Falling Down Part 2:

Yesterday I wrote about what it felt like, the process my nervous system initiated, when I did something as simple as tripping on a chunk of frozen ground and falling down. My decision to write and post yesterday was intentional. Part of the conscious decision to be resilient instead of falling into some version of depression over being injured and not being able to work like normal.

Understanding the process our nervous system engages in when something unpleasant happens is important. It’s the only way we can go through a difficult experience without getting freaked out by all the bodily sensations and intense emotions that spring forth. We live in a culture that is uncomfortable with expressions of strong emotion, with talk about pain, suffering, trauma, and fear. When someone close to us is hurting our instinct is to touch, to hold and tell him or her it’s going to be okay or to hover while we feel awkward in the presence of this intensity.

The reaction of those around us when we are in the throws of reaction from accident or injury can help us successfully negotiate the aftermath or unintentionally thwart the process of releasing all that energy that is left over from the mobilization of the fight or flight response.   It happens everywhere, but for those of us in the horse industry it’s extremely prevalent – this attitude that after an accident we should dust ourselves off and jump right back on that horse. I don’t know how this approach affected the rest of you but what it did to me was cause me to feel ashamed if I felt fear or pain – that push to get me back on the horse right away caused me to shut down my body’s natural process – keeping bits of that fight or flight energy trapped inside me.

Over many years of horse related injuries I found myself inch by inch afraid to ride. I had no idea how it happened or why. It was a complete mystery to me. In the last year I have spent an enormous amount of time exploring this fear – where it came from, when it started, how to get rid of it. In the last 3 months I realized that it is the insidious accumulation of little bits of fight or flight energy that got trapped in my nervous system. Each new incident added another bit of energy to the loop I was in until one day my nervous system reached it’s limit and my body decided, without my permission, that riding was much too dangerous an activity for us to participate in any more.

What I realized as I wrote all the details about my fall on Sunday night is that the nervous system response to an accident is the nervous system’s response. It’s the same response whether the accident or traumatic event is small or large. The moment my brain realized I was flying through the air it released adrenaline into my system to help me make decisions and move my body into the right position to land relatively injury free in the split second it took for me to become airborne and land. That’s pretty amazing!

The adrenaline then masked the pain enough to keep me mobile and do what I needed to do to survive. In this case that meant getting me up off the cold ground before I froze (hopefully Steve would have found me before that happened but my primitive brain doesn’t know that). All of the things that happened that night – the shaking, the crying, sudden swells of anger – are all normal reactions in the aftermath of survival. Had I shut any of that down, I would have started my cycle all over again by trapping some of that energy in my nervous system.

Yesterday the adrenaline kept me fairly pain free and aside from the stinging of the road rash on my palms, the effects of the mild concussion was my biggest concern. Until it came time to go out and do late night feeding. I found myself procrastinating (I really wanted to finish writing and post my thoughts, aha, right).

What was really going on is that I felt anxious about going out to feed in the icy dark again. I would get butterflies in my stomach every time I thought about going out. Yep, you guessed it, this IS normal, because as far as my body is concerned going out there after dark with ice on the ground is dangerous and we shouldn’t do it. Which is totally understandable, of course. Instead of ignoring my body’s wisdom I did a few things to ease my nervous system’s mind– heavier boots with better traction, a head lamp, and staying mindful and focused on each step. All good.

But what happens when the power of the adrenaline leaves your system?

That happened this morning. As the last of the adrenaline burned off the first thing I notice is that I’m very tired. I also notice all the places where I hurt that I hadn’t noticed before. My fingers are sore, the grip strength on my right hand is shot and my right wrist is sprained. My left shoulder joint is pinging in painful ways from absorbing all that shock. My hips and pelvis took a good blow too – my tailbone is on lock down. Yesterday I got a severe pain in my head whenever I bent over and stood back up, today that was gone but I felt mildly nauseous – signs of a concussion that helped me know how important it was to take it easy.

But the biggest thing I noticed this morning was how frayed my nervous system felt. Even with all the work I did the night before to allow my body and mind to move through whatever came up. Even with the conscious work to mobilize all the stiff places and release the frozen places, my nervous system was still in shock. Impact trauma causes the entire membranous system to go into a sort of lock down. I suppose this makes sense – the tissue system would be engaged to stabilize any injured areas and keep you in ready mode should there be another threat.

I wasn’t so much aware of this tension on a physical level, I was aware of it on an emotional level. Steve and I have a usual banter we engage in (the product of 28 years together) over breakfast. This morning, instead of letting his picking on me bounce off, it went right in and I felt like bursting into tears. When I brought this to his attention the next thing he said caused me to actually burst into tears and run from the kitchen, landing in a fetal ball on my bed. I had to explain to him that this is part of the deal with how our nervous system responds when we’ve been injured or stressed enough to go into overwhelm. Apparently full body impact on icy ground with a solid whack to the head will do that.

It has been so liberating to know what’s happening and why. To be able to explain to Steve how to support me through it without feeling ashamed or getting lost in the emotional responses I had no control over. And that’s the thing, even with all the work I’ve done over the last few months, in this moment my nervous system was overwhelmed enough that I could not control my response.

I have a whole new level of appreciation for where I’ve been for the last 20 plus years of my life. I get why I couldn’t relate to people very well, why I could get super emotional about things for no good reason, why I seemed overly sensitive so much of the time, why I had several bouts of what felt to me like a nervous breakdown. My nervous system was full to the brim with bits of leftover trauma energy from all the various accidents I’d had throughout my life. I have so much more compassion for where I was back then and where everyone else might be going through as well.

Now, when someone says to me that we are responsible for what we put out there, that we are responsible for our reactions, emotions, behavior I know that it’s often a bit more complicated than that. Yes, we are responsible, but I now understand that when we aren’t properly discharging the energy from accident, injury or even chronic stress we lose some or all of our ability to respond vs. react. Left unchecked it puts us in a state where we really don’t feel in control. No wonder so many people I work with get so freaked out when we start talking about trauma or emotions. How many of us are running around in a state of constant overwhelm? That backlog of old emotional residue is seriously intimidating to contemplate diving into!

What I knew, based on how I felt this morning, was that I needed help. Again. As my mentor, Carol Welch, is fond of saying, ‘Spirit loves a witness’, there is something about someone else’s compassionate, knowledgeable witnessing that helps us release the after effects of trauma so much more effectively and completely than we can do on our own.

After breakfast this morning my friend Joyce did a long distance Craniosacral session on me. I said it yesterday and I’ll say it again, Craniosacral therapy is hugely useful for tapping directly into the nervous system to help unravel the effects of stress and trauma. Homeopathy and acupuncture can also be extremely helpful, I’m sure there are others. The main thing is to know there are ways to move through it all efficiently and relatively painlessly. I can be resilient now because I have cleared so much of that old stuff. Before I cleared all the old stuff my resilience was seriously compromised.

After the session my nervous system felt completely at ease. And along with that came some deep fatigue. The last time I got really hurt I was very aware how much energy it takes to heal. Rest is an important part of our physical healing but also of that nervous system reset that is critical to successfully navigating future challenges. Without taking the time to rest and recuperate on all levels we can send our nervous system back into some level of fight or flight mode and get stuck there again.

Health, wellbeing and resilience are our birthright if we can just embrace the wisdom of our nervous system. I am blown away by how quickly my body has recovered from this fall. I have no doubt that it is because I have been able to relax into the process rather than resist it. Resistance, after all, takes energy, energy that could be used to heal.

We are all resilient!

P.S.

By the way, all mammals, have a nervous system that is essentially the same as ours.  That means that their response to stress and trauma is much the same as ours.  I hope that by sharing my experience and helping you understand all the phases that our body and mind go through when we are stressed it helps you begin to understand how our horses, dogs, cats, and other two and four legged and winged friends might end up with emotional challenges.

And last but not least. I received a request for some resources to learn more about the body/minds response to trauma. Here are a few suggestions:

Anything by Peter Levine: Waking the Tiger, In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness – these are the two I have read and reference frequently.

Somato Emotional Release by John Upledger

Do a google search on emotions, emotional intelligence, PTSD or trauma and you’ll find all sorts of information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Falling Down

Christmas day 2015

……and getting back up again.

How our minds and bodies respond to life’s little…. or big traumas

The last thing to hit the ground was my right temple. I lay flat on my face, momentarily immobilized. I could hear the horses running away, snorting and blowing, feel the icy ground beneath me in the cold darkness. My whole body went limp as I moaned in pain and shock. It happened so fast. One minute I’m walking along thinking about how great my day has been and the next I’m flying through the air like Superman, tripped up by one of the many frozen chunks of ice that litter the place like a mine field in the darkness. I had been so mindful of the treacherous terrain and just like that, I’m sailing through the air.

Ever had one of those days where you couldn’t fly any higher if you tried? Everything is falling into place, you see your bright future rolling out ahead of you unimpeded and – BAM! – You fall flat on your face. Yesterday was one of those days.

There’s something particularly traumatic about being injured when you are in the midst of thinking about how great everything is. At least it seems that way to me.   A lot of things run through your mind when you find yourself lying on the ground seeing stars and taking inventory of all your parts. I’m still alive being the first, I’m going to wish I wasn’t by tomorrow, being the second, wondering how on earth I’m going to get up, if I even can and who’s going to feed the horses if I can’t!

Every single one of us, human and non-human animals, have things happen that trigger our body into survival mode. This is my area of expertise. Helping horses recover from trauma.

I’m intimately familiar with the process, the stages the body and mind go through when something bad happens. From the first moment of realization that you are in trouble to all the tiny steps that happen in seconds but feel like a lifetime that constitute your nervous systems mobilization to action to save your life – should it come to that. Tripping and falling doesn’t seem like it should be that big of a deal. It happens to people all the time in the winter. And yet even such a seemingly small trauma mobilizes the same response in my nervous system as if I had just stepped on an actual land mine.

As it happens this is a subject I have been intending to write about for some time.   As I coach people and work to rehab horses I’ve come to believe that just about all of us have symptoms of chronic stress – which is really what PTS boils down to – chronic stress of a duration that overwhelms our nervous system, making it challenging, if not impossible, to regulate our responses to stress.

One of the main reasons horses and humans end up with symptoms of chronic stress or PTS, in my opinion, is a lack of understanding of the physical and mental/emotional processes underlying the nervous system response to what our body perceives as a threat, even when our rational mind believes otherwise.  When we don’t understand what’s happening or why we feel the way we do the tendency is to thwart our natural process, inadvertently ‘trapping’ some of that nervous system response to threat energy in our bodies.  In doing so we set ourselves up to be run by what can feel like out of control emotional responses. Having been there I can tell you it’s more than a little unsettling.

I can also tell you that there is a way out.  I found my way through and while it wasn’t exactly easy it is so worthwhile to feel like I’m in charge again, that I’m not at the mercy of unexpected and unexplainable emotional reactions to seemingly small things. 

My hope is that by sharing my personal experience of moving through a traumatic event it will help others understand this HEALTHY reaction that our nervous system initiates.

Lying on the ground last night I could feel my body kicking into survival mode, mobilizing adrenaline to help me think clearly enough to take action. Aside from the fuzzy feeling in my head the worst was the palms of my hands. They slapped the ground hard and felt as though someone beat them with a paddle. My right knee didn’t feel much better and I knew I’d need my hands to help me up. It was a slow, careful process. Sitting upright and just taking stock, letting my head stop spinning, recognizing the shock settling into my nervous system.

I managed to get up and limp slowly back to the house, aware of how fortunate I am to have someone there to help me while at the same time realizing how long it might have taken Steve to come out looking for me if I’d knocked myself out and how much that would have scared him. Slow and steady, it was much farther to the house than normal!  I felt too numb to be scared about how hurt I might be.

My hands were frozen in shock. They both stung and burned and it hurt terribly to move them as the impact continued to vibrate through all those small bones. My left palm was bloodied and raw, frozen ground is sharp, apparently. Ouch. No wonder it hurt so much getting up! My right eye felt oddly pressurized, and my entire body IS still vibrating from the impact. I feel fuzzy and hurt and know there are strong emotions ready to surface as I peel off my winter layers, careful not to touch any of the more injured areas.

Duty to the horses calls and like most horsewomen I know I’m loath to ask for help! Steve is running around in his usual routine, saying hello to Georgie cat just come in from feeding with me and looking for her bedtime treat. So I grab the feed buckets and haul them to the kitchen to soak for morning. By the time I reach the sink the shock is really setting in – in that way that it does when you are now in the presence of another being who can offer help, sympathy, comfort. He still hadn’t noticed there was anything wrong so finally I said – ‘I need help’.

This is a big deal. Something I’m learning to do more often these days. Asking for help is intelligent, not a sign of weakness. I’m so glad I’m finally figuring that out!

handMy hands hurt so badly that I really did need help getting out of my clothes. I couldn’t really move them and my whole body was still vibrating from the impact. Literally vibrating, my whole upper body frozen in shock, afraid to move.

I know what this is.

This is a normal part of the nervous system response to trauma.

Sometimes our body goes into freeze mode as a survival mechanism. And as Steve gingerly helps me out of my clothes we talk about what happened, where am I hurt, how did I fall. This is important. I am able to see how intelligently and instantaneously my body responded to the situation. Even as I was flying through the air my body/mind made split second decisions – surrender to the fall because there is no saving myself – go limp – my hands and forearms were in alignment when I landed causing my elbows and shoulders to seamlessly absorb the bulk of the shock, saving my wrists severe sprains, maybe even breaks. I landed pretty flat so my whole body took the shock instead of having it isolated to one part. The last thing to hit the ground was my right temple and I remember it vividly because it happened in slow motion – I couldn’t stop it from hitting the ground but it didn’t hit nearly as hard as it could have. My body knew exactly how to fall. Thank you!

As Steve asked me questions – mostly about if I was sure I really wanted to take a shower – I could feel irrational anger and irritation rise up. This is normal too. As my body starts to let go of the shock of the fall the energy that was mobilized for fight or flight has to be discharged. I didn’t lash out at Steve but I also acknowledged my anger and fear, the shock of the impact, the knowledge that it could have been so much worse. It’s important not to stop the flow of emotions during a traumatic experience. Showering helped, crying when the tears came helped, attending to the wounds helped.

After showering I remembered: I have tools.

I have to remind myself of this when I’m sick or injured.

I have tools.

  • Take Arnica for the head trauma and emotional shock.
  • Make sure your pupils are working right and assess your head and face for damage.
  • Clean and dress the wounds on your hands – see if any of them are deep.
  • Put Arnica ointment on your knee and the uncut parts of your palms.
  • Find that Chinese herb blend Audrey gave you that helps stop bleeding – use it.
  • Get some form of compression on that knee so it doesn’t swell out of control.
  • Ice, rest, elevate.

Once I got settled into bed and the lights went out that’s when the serious work started. As my body begins to relax that’s when I can make use of the rest of my tools. I know my nervous system is still in overwhelm and I know I can change that by breathing and tuning into my body. Taking stock again – tracking my own tide (the flow of the cerebrospinal fluid we track in craniosacral work) – craniosacral therapy is astonishingly effective at helping our nervous system reset, so I tracked my own tide. Things continue to settle and I can feel the protective pattern in my neck and shoulders from absorbing the impact. Bringing my focused attention to it, acknowledging it’s purpose, the innate intelligence in my body, it begins to let go. I trace all the places in my body that hurt or feel tight or restricted and give them attention until they soften.

I move them all, taking each stuck spot through it’s range of motion, testing, feeling for anything that might indicate injury I should be more concerned about.

Tears come here and there as I trace the patterns in my body and slowly unwind all the tension. I wonder why this happened? How could I get so hurt just when everything is going so well? Is there a message? Is the Universe out to get me?

And then I remember to breath and my body starts to shake. This is normal. It’s a key component in our nervous system coming back to a balanced, neutral state. So I let myself shake. It’s mostly in my neck and shoulders and it is intense but I keep breathing and let myself shake as more tears come.

Throughout the night I would wake up and find myself thinking about how this happened and why. By morning I was wondering if I was being tested somehow. Maybe the fact that I was thinking about how great everything is and how I’m on the right track when it happened is a sign that I’m not, in fact, on the right track. Maybe I should just quit, throw in the towel. This is normal. Because I know this is normal and I have cleared my nervous system of old traumas I am able to let these notions go.

It’s winter. It’s icy and treacherous out there. People slip and fall on ice all the time. Stuff happens to us all the time. Had I not allowed myself to release the energy of fight or flight it would have been so easy to succumb and spend a week in depression, hurting, all of my positive momentum derailed.  Because I took the time in recent months to rest and let my nervous system let go of the charge from all the large and small traumas of my life thus far I was able to let go of that mindset.

Instead I thought, fine, if I’m being tested so be it.

The test isn’t necessarily that I should have been able to avoid falling if only I had been on a different path or, or , or – because we’re going to fall in life, it’s bound to happen, the test is how do we pick ourselves up and go on after the fall? I decided in that moment that this wasn’t going to put a dent in my momentum. I am resilient!   So here I sit today with the after effects of impact trauma still resounding through my body in smaller and smaller waves writing about the experience while it’s still fresh, asking for help where I need it, resting when I need to. And I’ll be fine.

I am resilient.

 

Don’t Worry

snow day-0965

Photo credit:  Redhawk Photography

 “Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles, it empties today of its strength.” ~ Corrie ten Boom

I came upon this quote among a series of musings on the topic of the Buddhist Rule regarding Worrying – which is – simply – Don’t. I laughed out loud and left the page up on my browser for days, frequently referring back to it, as though some deeper message would be revealed if I just kept looking at it. Nothing happened. I closed the page.

Of course, as the days went by, the theme of worry, and it’s effects, started showing up everywhere.

Primarily with my students who have horses with physical and/or emotional challenges and are doing their own rehab work to bring them back to health and soundness. They worry a lot. They worry they are doing too much, they worry they aren’t doing enough, they wonder if their horses would be better off retired or euthanized or with someone else.

It’s normal.

These folks embark with heart on a difficult path. I’m proud of them because doing this work requires them to dig deep, really deep, and they learn to be better people in the process of helping their horse’s heal. It’s not easy.

I’ve always said rehab is not for everyone, certainly not the faint of heart!

It’s as tough on the person doing it as it is on the horse. It takes a great deal of perseverance to make progress, even small progress, and takes seemingly forever to get over the hump where you see consistent improvement. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of worrying when progress is slow, or you have set back after set back.

I’ve spent my fair share of time worrying and stressing about how or even IF I can help the horses that come my way. If there is one thing the horses make clear it’s that my stress, my worry, does absolutely nothing to change the outcome and often makes things worse. At the very least it can lead to misinterpretation of what’s going on, making the positive outcome take that much longer to achieve.

Worry saps your strength, messes with your ability to be rational and make good choices, and completely destroys your intuitive ability. The real kicker is that our horses feel it and reflect our worries back to us. I am quite shocked at how easy it is for us to inadvertently create a pattern in our horses as we endeavor to ‘fix’ it. Very often things will appear worse than they actually are simply because we are so focused on the problem.

One of my first rehab projects was a horse I adopted to save from euthanasia.   Romeo had one of the worst cases of navicular syndrome my vet had ever seen. His person was at a loss and felt the only humane thing to do was euthanize him. I was working for the vet and we were standing there with the needle in hand looking at this gorgeous horse…. and we just couldn’t do it….

He came home with me the next day.

Imagine having problems with your feet and having someone hovering over your feet, constantly worrying about them and looking for what’s wrong with them, watching you move and analyzing every small bad step and worrying about that some more. It’s oppressive. Horses are hard wired to sense how we feel so it’s easy for them to pick up our worry, to feel the energetic focus of that worry and to wonder what’s wrong with them.

Let’s put ourselves in Romeo’s ‘shoes’…

From his perspective I stop seeing him, I see only his feet and there is clearly something wrong with them. He senses that and starts to focus on his feet too. This is a big deal, from his perspective because if he’s physically  compromised he’s as good as dead, predator bait. Now he’s stressed about his feet and he starts walking in a way that is more protective of his clearly defective feet. In my worried state I am more inclined to see confirmation of my worst fears. He’s showing me what I knew all along.

If we continue in this vein the cycle gets perpetuated and it becomes quite easy to lose hope. Worry sets up a vicious cycle between horse and human that can be difficult to break. It becomes impossible to tell if your horse is actually having a problem or just reflecting what they are picking up from you. I’ve known many horses, and Romeo was one of them, who are so eager to please that they will pick up on our focus and decide we must want them to limp, and so they do.

My students and I have this conversation on a regular basis because of course we don’t want to stop listening or ignore that something is off or potentially off, but if we always assume the worst we may never know for sure.  When I encourage people to take their stiff, lame looking horse horse out and do something with them anyway,  nine times out of ten they were just stiff from standing around too much. They almost always benefit from moving. If we never test our theory we’ll never know if it’s true, worry can stop us from trying things.

I get further confirmation on the adverse affects of worrying when a given horse’s caregiver leaves for a few days and their horse is instantly better. All the things that were big concerns seem to magically vanish. That happens all the time too. I’ve even had horses with people who were worrying from afar and when I get them to shift their perspective and focus on a positive outcome their horse improves. Bottom line there is a great deal of power in what we choose to focus our intention on.

It’s not easy to have a horse with challenges and it’s extremely difficult to let go of our expectations and hopes, to be present and available and see them for who they are today. To trust that they can heal despite the odds and to hold space for a health that is not colored by an idealized version of them – not easy. But if you can learn to do that you are likely to have much more success with your own version of low-tech rehab.

This is not a skill I was born with, mind you, it’s a skill I developed out of necessity. Romeo was not the only horse who communicated via his health when I was stuck in worry and stress.  Fafnir has been retired with me so long he is just part of the herd now.  His version of mirroring my worry back to me was to colic.  He had seemingly random bouts of colic since I’ve known him and he acts like he’s going to die!  Talk about stress….

I learned early on that he responds well to pro-biotics, bodywork and hand walking and always snaps out of it.  But still, colic is scary stuff.  After many years I learned that Fafnir would colic when he was worried about me or worried about another horse that he was trying to get me to pay attention to and I wasn’t hearing him.  I literally had to have a talk with him and explain that he didn’t help me with my own stress levels or help me focus on the horse he was worried about if I was busy attending to him.  But it was a big wake up call to realize that and pay more attention to how my mood affects the herd.  Fafnir, knock wood, has not had a bout of colic since.

We are all connected.  We impact each others lives in large and small ways whether we intend to or not.  It pays to stay awake, to notice how we affect those around us and realize we do have a choice.

I’ll leave you for now with a little wisdom from Winnie the Pooh.

“Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?”

“Supposing it didn’t”, said Pooh?

After careful thought, Piglet was comforted by this.

  1. Milne

To read the rest of the great quotes from the post that inspired this article check out:

http://www.elephantjournal.com/2009/08/buddhist-rule-re-worrying/

The Power of Intention, Intuition and Attention:

Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy and Things We Cannot Explain

cici sunset

Life is full of mysteries. There is so much we experience that we cannot explain with the scientific method. Many people can only accept something as true, as valid, if a legitimate scientific study can prove it so. And I must admit I do love it when I find a scientific study that backs up something my intuition has been telling all along. But where does that leave all the experiences I have that science cannot explain? Are they any less valid?

People often ask me to describe what I do when I engage in a ‘long distance’ session with a horse. We are often taught that something isn’t valid or legitimate unless there are countless scientific studies to back up our claims. Our Western culture paradigm doesn’t give much stock to things that haven’t been scientifically proven and so I shied away from doing this work in a public way because it was too hard to explain in a way that seemed legitimate to me.

Some things are just plain hard to describe.

My personal exploration, inspired by my study of Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy, is one such area. This subtle, beautiful work teaches practitioners to perceive the health of a being via palpation of the nervous system.   The nervous system is a primary organizer of health and well being. As such it is a potent, powerful place to influence positive changes.

From a place of deep stillness we learn to witness the underlying health, the dis-ease that overlays it, and the process of resolution. What a privilege!

andrea-8251

So much happens that I cannot explain and yet I see the results in the physical manifestation of wellness every time. We have the unique opportunity with this work to address physical, mental/emotional and spiritual simply via the power of our intention and focused attention.

Craniosacral Therapy wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the persistent curiosity of its founder. William Sutherland was trained as an Osteopath, a very scientific undertaking. One day, in 1899, during his senior year of study, he paused to admire a dis-articulated skull on display. He was quoted as saying:

“Then, like a blinding flash of light, came a thought: Beveled, like the gills of a fish, and indicating articular mobility for a respiratory mechanism.”

Imagine having that thought when it was accepted as fact that the cranial sutures are fused?

But like any good, curious mind, he couldn’t let the thought go. Ultimately he experimented on himself by tying something around his head tight enough that he was able to perceive and track the subtle movement of the cranial bones as the fluid tide of his nervous system rode in and out of his skull – what would eventually be labeled the primary respiratory system. Of course now it makes total sense that the bones of the skull have mobility – and at the same time it is completely reasonable to see how it would be assumed, looking at a dead skull in isolation – that the sutures are fused – it takes a living system to breath life into those bones.

My study of Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy began with a foundation training that spanned several years. During one of the final hands on weekends I had my own flash of incite that, similarly, I have not been able to let go. As I held my fellow student/practitioner’s head delicately in my hands she engaged in a process of going ever deeper into the issue her body had decided to work on. The class was wrapping for lunch and she was nowhere near completion of her process.

At a certain point it became clear that as long as my hands were touching her she was going to keep going. As unobtrusively as possible, while maintaining a state of holding space for her, I removed my hands from her head. I have no idea if her process came to conclusion because my hands were no longer there, inviting her with that level of support to continue ever deeper, or if she just came to completion on her own. What I do know is that even though my hands were no longer touching her she continued to respond as though they were.  And I continued to feel the same quality of connection to her system, receiving the same amount and quality of information from her body.

I realized in that moment that I didn’t have to have my hands on a body to track the nervous system, to perceive this energy. And that got me thinking!

Biodynamic Craniosacral work is so subtle it truly fits more into the category of energy work than physical manipulation. William Sutherland developed his skill of perception to such a high degree that he once sat and observed a client from a distance and directed a group of students specifically where to touch, how to hold, accurately guiding his students to bring miraculous help to a young man who prior to the session could not speak. He felt something shift in his head while they were working on him and whatever had been keeping him from speaking was resolved.

Sutherland was a pioneer, guided by his instincts, intuition and intention and informed by his knowledge. Though he never did feel comfortable teaching or writing about this ephemeral, often indescribable ‘stuff’ that happens when dropping into this deep state of listening, witnessing, another beings healing process, he did acknowledge that it was happening.

Hugh Milne wrote in his book The Heart of Listening: A Visionary Approach to Craniosacral Work:

“I have put aside my own qualms about owning my intuition, and ‘unscientific’ (non-reproducible) way that I work. This is energy work. The only craniosacral book I consider worth writing myself is one that explains how, at its highest levels, craniosacral work intertwines knowledge, perception, and intention. If as a result my work is dismissed and laughed at as New Age shamanism, so be it. I know another truth, a poetic, not a scientific truth: this is how things really happen.”

Much like Hugh Milne, I have learned to embrace the non-reproducible and unscientific way that I work. Since that day in class so many years ago I have been unable to let go of this notion that I could work long distance. It’s something I dipped my toes into on and off over the years. My fear of being called crazy along with my inability to describe what I do, stopped me from pursuing it in any serious way. And yet every time I did what I call a long distance craniosacral session – my clients reported that ‘something happened’ – things shifted and improved, for them and for their animals. It became something I did for friends and family, still too afraid to put it ‘out there’ in any bigger way.

Two months ago I made a commitment to develop this practice. It’s evolved into it’s own entity that is not easy to describe. It is certainly inspired by the dialogue with the body and the quality of listening, presence and witnessing that I learned while studying Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy. It is enhanced by the fact that I know a lot about the anatomy and biomechanics and biology of horses. It is enhanced by my intense interest in emotional intelligence and the effects of stress and trauma on our mind and body. It has become my unique way of listening to horses both in person and long distance.

This way of working has taught me that every practitioner of this kind of work is unique and will be able to address things on a slightly different level because the work is so colored by our own particular interests and knowledge. The horses will tend to only show me the things they know I can help them with. I love that there is room for all of us to bring our particular gifts to the table.

It feels good to embrace the unexplainable, to have Faith in something outside myself that perhaps guides and directs these intangible connections. It feels good to be able to combine all the knowledge and skills I have learned over the years and put them to good use helping horses and humans heal – both in mind and body and in their relationship with one another. Understanding the source of a horse’s dis-ease and their particular ways of behaving in response to that dis-ease is a huge step toward a person finding a compassionate way to support their horse to heal.

There is something so powerful about our willingness to witness another. Bringing that unconditional, non-judgmental presence to hold space for someone’s pain facilitates transformation, sparking the body and mind into their own healing.

There is something truly magical about bringing our attention, intention and intuition to whatever it is we do. It is often those flashes of insight that stimulate the questions that motivate scientists to do the studies. I hope all of you have those unexplainable magical aspects to your life that you believe in even if science hasn’t caught up yet!

Life is so much more interesting when we embrace the mystery!