That first ride was one of the best rides I have ever experienced. We were connected, a horse/rider combo, like a modern centaur. I whispered with breath and touch. My mare responded in whispered grace. I was ecstatic. How did this happen?
It confirmed for me what I had experienced in last dramatic fashion over the last few years as I have gradually added yoga to my week. A vinyasa or flow yoga is a wonderful companion for rider athletes.
So, this year I am teaching yoga to any rider who wants to learn, visiting barns in my neighborhood to share the magic of fluid, focused breath and the movement that goes along with it.
What exactly does a ‘vinyasa’ or flow style yoga provide for the rider athlete? Why not run or swim or lift weights? Any athletic endeavor will help you ride and if you already have a passion for biking or pilates, keep at it. I have tried many of these, and yoga has most transformed my riding.
Why? Like so many Americans, I spend a good part of my day sitting on furniture or in a car. Over time, this shortens and tightens the area between our ribs and hips. The hip flexors are stuck in partially flexed positions in those ʻcar to officeʼ days. In addition, furniture supports our back so the psoas and other core muscles enjoy lots of time off. Then we get on a horse and expect to support ourselves while sitting on a constantly moving four legged creature. We also hope to communicate very specific cues using those same bodies. No wonder we feel a little wobbly at first!
A yoga routine addresses these shortened parts of the body thoroughly, bringing much greater balance, flexibility and strength to anyone who spends time on their mat.
Yoga includes some great bonuses as well.
A ʻvinyasaʼ or flow style yoga practice focuses on breath. A focus on steady, even breathing helps release tension, a major negative influence on our ability to communicate with the horse. Tension is the use of those muscles we donʼt need to use but tighten anyway, which leads to stiffness and early fatigue.
Yoga helps develop body awareness. The language of a horse is body language. So we need to start being aware of what we are communicating!
As we learn to focus in the present with the horse, letting go of the past, at least for those moments with our equine friend, we become much better communicators for them. Yoga can help us practice this discipline. It uses focus on breath as the first step towards recognizing and using the body/mind relationship.
A yoga practice can help us find a rhythmic balance within movement, particularly a ʻvinyasaʼ style practice that flows fairly quickly through asanas or postures, moving from breath to breath, finding balance, strength and release of tension all within each pose, and then moving on. This is like riding, which is based on the movement of the horse. Nothing is held on horseback. The horse is always changing, living in the moment as a breathing moving being.
So, yoga is much more than a body fitness program. It addresses mind, body, and perhaps will speak to your soul as well.
Having discovered all these benefits myself, finding my hips released, my legs floating straight down from my hips, surrounding the horse, rather than pointing in front of my seat, enjoying strength and balance, feeling like I could ride the wave of the horseʼs motion much more often than not, I wanted to share these benefits with others.
So you won’t find me quite so often in the riding arena this summer. You’ll find me in the grass beside it, teaching yoga. Join me!