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?