Sunday, December 12, 2010

Pranayama Practice...with a horse

I rest my hands lightly on Peanut's right flank. The touch is light, so light as to tickle for many horses, but not for Peanut. I watch and feel his breath, being with him in the expansion and contraction of his breath. Together, we lengthen our exhales, just a little. Together we deepen the exhale through deeper abdominal contraction, just a little.

I notice that I am holding a bit in the back of my upper thighs, so I exhale that out. Peanut releases his flank a little more. I notice I have some tightness in the space between my upper scapulae and spinal column. Today, this isn't mine.

I'm reminded of the work we've been doing in our yoga classes these last few weeks, as we practice our asana and pranayama (postures and breath work). In pranayama as taught by the Desikachars, which you can read about in the Heart of Yoga, we inhale to fill the upper, middle, and lower chest and then the abdomen. We exhale from the abdomen, through lower, middle, upper chest. This is full diaphragmatic chest breathing, engaging abdominal contraction. It's helpful to exhale first for many, and then experience the in-flow of the inhale.

In a horse, the withers are well defined, and a good place to observe, feel, and practice filling the torso with breath. (That's a picture of Gary, showing the location of the withers. ) This is also an area in horses, like humans, that can get constrained and breathwork is one of the best ways to address this constraint.

Peanut is not expanding very much in this area today. (Peanut is a horse known to be a bit of a breath-holder.) So, once again, I use that tickle touch. I place the fingers of my right hand in the hollow below is left wither, and the fingers of my left hand stay in his flank area, and then we commence to breathe together in that long, slow deliberate way. Peanut begins to release through his mouth, (long tongue in a slow lick and chew), draws in a deep breath, and relaxes completely. (One thing about a male horse, you know when he's totally relaxed, because he'll drop his penis.)

Peanut has been a great yoga teacher for me these last few days. For one thing, he's the kind of horse you would never guess would appreciate a tickle touch. He's big and energetic, and is, well, quirky at times. He's also a horse that likes you to be either up close and personal, or, well, way far away. We've had to work through some of these spatial issues, and now I'm happy to be invited into his space. Namaste, Peanut!

Friday, October 29, 2010

And here are WalkAbout Pictures...

Yoga with horses is certainly not about being on the mat. At least, not on the physical mat. It's more about taking the yoga of movement following breath into relationship with other beings. Gary gently encourages his students to walk with him - from the hip and stacking the bones.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Horse Yoga Walkabout: Walk and stack

There will be pictures.

In the meantime, we learned to walk from our four-legged horse yoga teacher today. And walk, and walk, and walk. Walk and stack, walk and stack.

Stack refers to our tadasana (mountain pose) yoga posture. Out in the round pen, we find our feet and we practice stacking our bones and feeling our bone stack as we hold the weight of our head (all 13 pounds of it). Gary isn't giving us a lot of time today as he does one of his famous drive-bys. He walks into our midst, which we take as encouragement to join him in movement.

So off we go, bringing awareness to the front of our hip joints and the base of the big toe, and we inhale or exhale and walk off. One of our friends is having some knee issues, so we set her up in a rhythm of walking for four breaths, stop and stack, first one leg and then the other, and walk off again.

Another of our friends keeps looking downward, so her walk stiffens up, so Gary does a gentle drive by and gives her a little bump.

Another friend is walking in a manner that is balanced, but her steps seem a little short to me. I ask her to walk it out more boldly and she swings into action and Gary falls in line right behind her. He licks and chews (translation: "I like it.") As they move, I have a little chat with our other friends.

It's time to learn the "Don't f&#* with me walk." Look straight ahead, take a wide stance, walk wide-hipped, with intention. (Many women walk with a narrow half-moon kind of walk, which is hard on the hip and knee, and stand with their knees locked, so we are getting into changing these habits with Walkabout.) Gary begin to follow this brisk and bold walk, licks and chews.

We take a break in the shade as we've been walking for over 30 minutes now. One of our friends mentions how as she walks, she has a tendency to track in the direction of whoever she's walking with, so it becomes practice time. Two at a time, walk in a line together. They set off, Gary follows and then it's 3 abreast - two humans and a horse.

The two humans take a break, the other human steps up, starts walking serpentines and figure-8's, Gary gets in line, leading by following. Then it's another human and then another, and it's a line dance in the round pen, walking with grace, intention, and the sheer joy of walking.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hatha yoga on horseback

Put away any expectation of going riding, at least for now.

From the back of your horse, let go of any preconceived notion of riding alignment, just let the legs drape, soften, be supported by the barrel of your horse. Feel your breath, feel the breathing of your horse through your inner leg. Observe your thoughts. Notice how you feel, your emotion of the moment.

"Good horse training is boring to watch (unless you understand what you are seeing)".

I wish I could remember the exact quote by Ron Meredith of Meredith Manor but that's the essence of the quote. In lieu of having that exact quote at hand, check out the training articles over at the Meredith Manor website, or any of the articles over at Desert Horse Equestrian. Not flashy, just sound application of logic with compassion when it comes to working and playing with your horse. Being in this yoga of relationship with a horse, whether you are riding or being with the horse on the ground, doesn't look like much to the casual observer.

In yoga with your horse, we are including ourselves in this logic with compassion as means to explore what it means to be human, what it means to be human in relationship with horse.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali tell us that our posture should be 'sthira sukha' - stable and comfortable. So our yoga on horseback is finding that balance where both the rider and the horse are sthira sukha.

A good place to start is by releasing the agenda of riding, at least for awhile, and replacing it with the objective of simply finding stability and comfort while on the back of the horse. No place to go, nothing to do, but to feel your sit bones connecting with the back of your horse. From here, you can notice if there are areas of tension in thighs, back, shoulder, neck, jaw. Whose? Either. Engage your inner calf - what happens? Enter in to the exploration in a spirit of play, just for awhile.

Sure, we can do some pretty interesting and helpful hatha yoga postures while on our horse, but just as you would do in a yoga class, we start with finding out just where we are.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Sharing Prosperity Meditation


Inhale deeply and hold as you mentally recite:
"I am Bountiful, I am Blissful, I am Beautiful."

Exhale completely and hold the pause, mentally recite:
"Excel, Excel, Fearless."

Do for 3 minutes, 3 or 4 or more times a day.
Do for 40 days.

Notice if any of the words come hard for you. Just notice that, and just keep doing the meditation.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bountiful, Beautiful Booty: Yoga Butt, Horse Wisdom Style

Meet Ms. B, our Yoga with Horse teacher for today.

Today our Yoga with Horses group moves into our Windhorse Warrior Vinyasa with a bit of a difference - moving only on the exhale. This should help us to moderate our internal heat, and we'll be playing with this more this summer. As we practice, we allow ourselves to enter into the gestalt of the herd, which horse or horses capture our attention, enters into our mind's eye?

Today it's the grey horses. Denali behind us, Bianca to the east, Zeus in front, Cherokee to the west. Bianca is one of the horses in our shared herd, so she'll be our teacher today.

Ms.B walks regally with me to the round pen, engaged and curious. I've worked with Bianca and her person before, so this isn't new, but this is the first time that she is taking on the teacher role in our yoga class. What comes up for us is her mare energy, and how different it is to work with this energy compared to the energy of 'the boys' who are our usual teachers. We are quickly drawn into those non-logical dimensions of the vjnanamaya and anandamaya, the deep mind and emotions, so words describing the difference in the energy come difficult for this articulate group.

Round. Maternal. Softer, yet edgier. Sharp, but round. Ms. B has a big, round, muscular and fluid set of hindquarters on her, and some of our pet names for her tend to involve 'big booty'.

Into the pen where we practice our 'beach grrl' walk with Bianca showing us how to really move those hips. Sacrum flows forward, hips open, sway, ground. It's a soft walk with determination underneath. We have places to go - inward.

Then we take a little up close time with Ms. B and that bountiful, beautiful booty. She stands quietly as we connect with that strength and softness with the palms of our hands. Ah ha! Sthira Sukha, that steady comfort that is the only goal of asana practice, right here, right now.

Her eyes soften as she graciously accepts our attentions. We finish with a short mandala meditation. We end, bowing to her with namaste. The White Queen is ready to back and munch some hay.

Namaste, Ms. B. Namaste.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Yoga with Horses, look closely

It's hard sometimes, when people ask me about what yoga with horses is all about.

If you look closely at these pictures of my friends and Gary's "students", you might be able to see the difference that being with Gary, the horse teacher, brings into the interactions. Compare what's happening in the top photo to the bottom photo.

So, one way to consider yoga with horses is that yoga with horses is the experience of that movement from the set of relationships seen in the top photo to what is seen in the lower photo.

What do you see?

I'd love to hear your comments.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Virabhadrasana: Warrior Spirit

I am your Warrior Spirit
name me
honor me

I am here

I am in the world
of the world
for the world

I see with clarity
I act with love

red as Blood
bright as Sun
black as Night
light as Moon

I am your Warrior Spirit
name me
honor me

I found this old poem while working on clearing my studio. It was in a handout I used way back when I did a Warrior Woman workshop as part of the Women and Spirituality conference that takes place in Mankato, Minnesota.

I love warrior poses. Nearly all classes that I teach include at least one warrior vinyasa variation, from ultra gentle to my more vigorous Windhorse vinyasa classes.

My Warrior Spirit Name? I have several, including Walks with Horses and Jeneralissimo. What's yours?

(Please use the comment feature to reply).

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Ooozing into Shoulder Stand

Today we had a small class at Lyric, which gave us the opportunity to move mindfully into shoulder stand. I was inspired by a video of Rama Vernon, who demonstrates how to get into shoulder stand over a deliciously long period of time.

We used the wall, and began with viparita korani, legs up the wall pose. I had the students organize externally at the center of their heels to their 'sit bones', and then sensing an energetic 'draw' down from the heels into the sit bones, while feeling an opening in the front of their hip joints, where the legs meet the pelvis.

We then shifted into neutral post, to take the mind deep into the central core - the spinal column and muscles in close to the spinal column, the psoas, and the little 'braiding' muscles of the erector spinae and the multifidae. I think of them as braiding muscles.

Then back to legs up the wall, organizing the physical alignment, and the energetic alignment. From there, letting the mind connect in to the spine and start braiding, slowly and deliberately, using the feet against the wall for support.

One student, who loves shoulder stand, hurried a little, and reported some back tension. She caught it, however, so now knows that maybe waiting a little will be more beneficial. The other student however, really took her time to find the ooze. Ahhhhhh.

Long and delicious.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pay Attention Please! Gary and his Yoga time.

It's a bit of a muck out at the barn, what with the heavy rains we received in Tucson. I go to the barn after teaching Peaceful Yoga at Yoga House, so I'm usually in a teaching and helping frame of mind and have an idea of what I would like to do. Today my thoughts were on practicing our Walks with Horses movements and postures in preparation for offering this as a regular yoga class.

The horses teach me that it's important to be open to the moment, or as I like to say, plan, but don't plan on it.

I got Gary out to groom, and realized it was time for the shedding blade. YAY! Spring is on the way, and this year the wildflowers and waterfalls for Tucson hiking should be awesome. He's been having some neck stiffness (isn't it funny that this month my Focus Yoga class is on neck and shoulders?), C3 on the right side, C5 on the left. We went out to work on neck releasing at the pranic level and through practicing our ground work serpentines. So far, so good.

We stopped to talk to Lisa, but Gary was cranky about that. Usually he's quite happy to hang out while we talk, Lisa was his former owner, and he adores her.

But not today. He chewed on his leadrope, walked forward, and otherwise engaged in rude behavior.

I have some choices here; one is to get on his case for being rude. Another is to just give in and do what he wants. Another is to ask him to back off, and then reward that with getting back to the business at hand. There may be some more, but I chose the latter. Truth is, he was uncomfortable with the status of his neck, we were in the midst of his practice, and, well, maybe I was being rude? Lisa and I both agreed to talk later, and Gary and I went back to his practice.

Each day, something new, something reminded. Thanks, Gary.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Comparative Anatomy, Mirroring - Horses & Humans

This morning I have been working on my sequencing, physical anatomy, and subtle anatomies for the upcoming Focus Yoga on Neck and Shoulder series at Lyric Yoga. While this series has been in the works for a few months, I've been receiving epiphany after epiphany on this area from our horse teachers.

The picture shows my friends Kristene and Bianca at a session where we worked a bit on shoulders some time ago. If you look closely, you can see how Bianca and I have a similar stance supporting Kristene in accessing her thoracic and cervical spine.

Then, a few weeks ago, I went out to ride Gary, but he was more interested in longeing, which is pretty unusual for him. I could see right away he was 'hanging' from his withers, tight in the shoulder blades and ribcage area, and heavy in the chest.

That same week, at one of our horse-assisted yoga mini-retreats, Gary worked directly with one of our highly intuitive participants, and he encouraged her to walk with him. She (the human) went right into a yoga opening that I usually include in my classes that I call 'sleeping puppet', where we extend and flex the upper spine area - our very own withers. Physically, we are flexing and extending in this area that tends to get pretty stiff and rounded for many of us. Energetically, at the pranic level, we are engaging the prana and udana vayus or you can also think of it as the engaging the heart and throat chakra energy.

It's my experience that when we play with our own bodies in the vicinity of horses (or dogs or cats or ...) the animals pick up on what we are doing and feel it in their own systems. What's good for us is good for them, and what's good for them is good for us, with a few comparative anatomy type of adjustments. It isn't just my experience either, this is an active area for scientific investigation, called mirroring.

So, the humans in our upcoming classes and workshops will benefit from the teachings of Gary the horse, who continues to provide insights into the workings of mind, body, and spirit.

Namaste Gary!

Oh, and the Focus Yoga on Neck and Shoulders class is at Lyric Yoga Tuesdays from 4-5 pm, and the workshop (that I'm doing with Rose Kress) is scheduled for April 24, 2010.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Playing with Intention and Intuition - Horse Teacher Style

Today was another magical day of horse-assisted learning as we met at the round pen, Gary waiting expectantly (and not cribbing). We wrote out intentions, practiced some yoga to extend and explore the Cave of the Heart and sacred heart of the sacrum. Then, opening our heart with the help of the compassion of our horse teachers, Gary, Ichobod, and Sport.

We practiced transmitting and receiving with the horses to develop our intuition skills, then adjourned to the yoga studio to continue the journey with yoga practices combined with tarot, finishing up with yoga nidra, a deeply intense and yet relaxing guided meditation. Three hawks soared overhead, the barn kitties hung out, and there was cloud gazing and mountain greeting.

Stacey and I continue to be awed and humbled by the power of this work. The horses? All in a day's work and play. Namaste.

Friday, February 19, 2010

SynergYoga:Dog Assisted Yoga for Chronic Pain Management

This new and innovative program pairs yoga methods for addressing chronic pain with the healing presence of a service, therapy, or companion dog.

SynergYoga is named after Laura Coursey’s dog, Synergy, who discovered, on his own, ways of helping Laura, who has spinal muscular atrophy, to relieve her own pain. In the world of positive reinforcement animal training through the use of the clicker, we know that if a dog has the physical ability to accomplish an action, we can train the dog to do the action.

SynergYoga takes this further, by acknowledging that a dog may have their own opinion and offer ways to assist their person.

Yoga methods may involve breath work, postures and movement, visualization, meditation, and sound, depending on the unique needs of the individual suffering from pain.

We use a particular yoga model for healing, called the pancamaya model, considering five levels of being: physical, energetic (systematic), mental, ‘story’, and emotional.

Email me for more information and to get placed on the list for announcements of upcoming classes.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Gary(horse) Yoga, Movement, Stillness, Breath

The best horse-related yoga seems to happen after teaching or taking a yoga class. Feeling good after a deep pranamaya focused class, where we chanted 'pranaha' during our warrior vinyasa and then released into supported forward bends, I went out to the barn to see what yoga play would happen today.

I ran into Kristene and Mz.B (Bianca) preparing for their ride together. Bianca very politely eyed the apple I dared to munch in front of her, and was rewarded with half the core. (Interesting turn of phrase there!) The beautiful white Bianca used to have a neck of steel, and now it flows so gracefully, easeful; it is wondrous to see, and to feel. And, Gary looooooovvvvves Bianca. K and I had yet another short insightful chat, and then they were off for their ride and I went to get Gary.

Longeing today. I have a complicated relationship with longeing horses. I love it for the perspective it gives me on where the horse is at in that moment, I like it because I get some exercise, I am ambivalent about it because I'm challenged to be easeful in my own energetic body while longeing (free longeing, so the horse is not attached to any line, nor is the horse wearing anything other than a halter). So, it's a good practice for both of us.

Today went great, Gary moving out briskly, engaging his hindquarters, a bit heavy in the front end. I opened up my own breathing, exhaling deeply to allow for the inhale to flow and Gary lightened, then dropped his head quite low, snorting and releasing. Downward transitions from trot to walk were rough, so we played with these transitions. He was still a bit rough, time for the bucking strategy - where he takes off, and does his own adjustment. Both directions, a little cross-cantering that he righted on his own, and he eased into lovely up and down self-managed transitions.

Time to do a little windhorse check, investigating areas which might still need some easing. Gary is 21 this year, so, like me, well, like me. We found some areas of 'draw' and so did a little bit of marma point release, particularly in the rib cage. Big breath on his part, and he was ready for lunch.

I love this stuff.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Yoga with Horses: A different kind of partner

When people ask me about what it means to do yoga with horses, it can be a challenge to convey the power and subtlety of this interaction.

If you already practice yoga, think partner yoga. Then, think partner who outweighs you by anywhere from 500-1200 pounds (unless your partner horse is a mini), has four legs, and thinks horse-think. Think partner who outweighs you that has their own aches, pains, and needs for body explorations.

Then, think big partner who can be really, really, really subtle, but direct, very direct. Think a partner who, when he notices that you haven't taken a breath for awhile, nudges you with his nose at your abdomen. (Remember, this partner is your four-legged horsey partner!) Think big partner who exhibits utter release with a blubbery snort, a big yawn, and drowsy eyes.

Then, stop thinking about it. Welcome to our world!

Focus Yoga: Deep Core Explorations

This month, February at Lyric Yoga, our Tuesday 4-5pm Focus Yoga On...Class is on Deep Core Explorations. Suitable for all levels, we learn some different ways to address the idea of core strength.

How do you define 'core'?

My operational definition of deep core emerges from the work of Liz Koch who wrote The Psoas Book. What I love about Liz's work is her use of language, and how she poetically draws on the language of evolutionary biology, shifting us away from a biomechanical model for exploration to an evolutionary model for self-exploration. (I highly recommend her teleclass as a way to get familiar with her work.)

In our deep core yoga explorations of the physical dimension, we begin with awareness of the bones of the spinal column itself. Then, we go within the spinal column, the realm of the spinal cord and the central nervous system.

Emerging from the spinal column we move our awareness to the diaphragm, and the apparatus of breathing.

In our awareness practices, we visualize our friend, the psoas muscle. If you are not familiar with this muscle, it's your filet mignon. This muscle has some very interesting roles, but I think it helpful to view the role of this muscle from the perspective of a meat-eater; it's the tenderest muscle in the muscular system, and it's supposed to stay that way.

In our first class, we played with psoas muscle and established a relationship with this tender and juicy muscle. One of the students, very new to yoga, got this look of wonder on her face and her comment was, "I can't believe how strong I feel!"

Good stuff. Join us.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

All Models are Incorrect, some are useful...(George Box)

How in the world do yoga, healing, animal education, and statistics, come together?

What 'kind' of yoga do you practice: Viniyoga? Iyengar? Sports? Ashtanga? Vinyasa? Bikram? Kripalu? Kundalini? Integral? Hatha? None, some, or all of the above? Why are there so many 'styles' ?

How do you care for your own health and well-being: Go to the Doctor? See the Acupuncturist? Get a massage? Regular yoga class? See an integrative health practitioner? See a herbalist? Consult with a nutritionist, herbalist, ayurvedic practitioner, yoga therapist? Practice Reiki? None of the above? Some combination of the above? What works for you?

Are you a clicker trainer? Do you think Cesar Milan has it nailed? What's your take on alpha-dominance in dog behavior? The predator-prey model for understanding horse behavior, dog behavior, cat behavior, sheep behavior? Imprinting in birds? Natural Horsemanship? Natural Dog Training? Koehler training for dogs? Operant conditioning?

Mmmmm. So many options, it boggles the mind. Leave it to an engineer/statistician to put things into a workable perspective: All models are incorrect, some are useful.

Maybe the question isn't to ask which one is right, but to ask which one is useful. That means we have to identify what useful means. How do you define useful when it comes to your own healing? With your relationships with animals?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Clicker Training and Yoga: Ahimsa

"First, do no harm."

That's one way to interpret the word ahimsa, one of the yamas, which are guidelines for our relationships with ourselves and others as laid out in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Yoga Sutras is ancient book of the code of yoga, a manual that lays it all out in a spare poetry that might just take lifetimes to master.

It's true confession time: Crossover trainer here.

What that means is that in my ignoble past I have used choke collars, prong collars, electronic bark collars, citronella bark collars, alpha rollovers, screaming mimi-fits, rolled-up newspapers...ugh. It hurts to even think about it.

And 'hurt' goes against ahimsa. So, if I am to follow this first of principles, then I need ways to work and play with animals that, first, do no harm. Enter clicker-training.

I learned to clicker train when I moved to the city from the country with our Gilly, an Akbash Dog, a livestock guardian breed who was dog aggressive. I took her to the general public classes offered by Handi-Dogs, an organization that instructed people how to train their own service dog through clicker training. I showed up with 115 pound Gilly in a pinch collar and was promptly shown how to fit a Gentle Leader and given a clicker. From there I went to volunteering and eventually taking on a role as a clicker training instructor.

I wasn't a yoga teacher then, but was in the midst of my career transition from scientist/statistician. My work with the dogs and their people lead me back to horses (I once nearly completed a PhD in equine exercise physiology) and horses lead me back to yoga, and the spiral of learning continues.

Clicker training is positive, concrete, and specific (first learned from one of my teachers, Robert Birnberg). The critters love it, the consequences of the actions of clicker training are beneficial to the relationship, everybody learns, and no one gets hurt. Ahimsa.


Yoga with Animals - First Step - Observe the rhythm...

What is the rhythm of your life? In mine, sometimes its poetry. Sometimes its beading. Sometimes its hiking. Much of the time its teaching yoga, walking the dog and grading statistics papers or being online. It's preparing that morning cup of coffee or tea, driving to class, practicing asana, practicing pranayama, meditating, thinking, thinking, thinking, quiet moments with my partner, sleeping, dreaming, walking with horses.

When people ask me about 'yoga dog training' I tell them that I train dogs using yogic principles. But, what does that mean? To do yoga with animals? Today, while walking with Ellie and practicing our Loosh Leash Walking, I had an epiphany - it's about rhythm.

It isn't about putting the dog into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) - What would I have to teach the dog about that? Any dog dipping into a play bow to entice another to play demonstrates way better than any yoga teacher that particular position of stability with comfort.

And yet, our domesticated companions, much like ourselves, do get themselves into uncomfortable physical, mental, and, yes, spiritual dilemmas. The dog that always sits slouching on one hip is likely to have some stiffness and discomfort as they get older. The cat or dog rescued from an abusive situation or adopted from a shelter may suffer in ways we can't imagine. The horse ridden by a fearful, stiff-backed rider suffers the consequences of the rider's imbalances.

So, a first step in practicing yoga with your dog, your cat, your horse, your fish, your bird, your ??? is to observe their rhythm, and to observe your own - and - start noticing; Where do your rhythms connect and flow?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Peaceful Yoga for Relief for Haiti - Tuesday 1/19 8:30

Yoga House at Civano is donating to the Red Cross this week through dedicating yoga class fees and instructor compensations to the Haitian relief effort.

My Peaceful Yoga class on Tuesday will go to this effort. The theme for the class will be Release-Stabilize-Strengthen-Restore-Release and is suitable for all levels.

Peaceful Yoga is breath-centered, incorporating vinyasa (gentle movement) with gently increasing holds and is appropriate for beginners, people returning to yoga after absence, and those desiring to explore your innate deep peace through breath, mindful movement, stillness, sound, and meditation.

Join us in spirit if you can't be with us in space and time.