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.