Renowned choreographer and dancer Paula Josa-Jones gives us innovative new tools for connecting with our horses in deeper, more meaningful ways.
Many of us tend to harden into our activities, using momentum and drive to get from one place or activity to another. We are “on.” There may be physical tension, absence of breathing, and tightness in the jaw or buttocks, and this affects our horses.
Relaxing doesn’t have to be a vacation in the Caribbean, a nap, or a drink after work. We don’t have to collapse from exhaustion or succumb to overwhelm. There are the other, more subtle ways to rest.
Rudolf Laban, the choreographer and movement theorist, discovered that factory workers engaged in repetitive motion labor were more efficient, less fatigued, and happier in their work when small, apparently random, and seemingly unrelated recuperative movements were “salted in” amongst their repeated work patterns. For example, as you are working at your computer, taking a breath, leaning back, stretching your arms or legs, and allowing the eyes to meander and orient to the space around you can expand not just your field of vision, but soften the body and create a feeling of reconnection to the world beyond the screen. It is a way of awakening and rebooting. This “intentional pause” is a way of refreshing ourselves when we begin to feel activated, fatigued, or overwhelmed.
Conscious, intentional pausing is adaptive and deeply recuperative, bringing us back into the present moment. It is about being as we are doing. Consciously slowing our activities, getting up from the desk to walk outside for a moment, taking a focused breath, drinking a glass of water, petting the cat—these are all restorative and can bring us back into a more balanced, expansive state. Sometimes a pause may be momentary, other times longer. Each time you pause, let your sensory awareness open out, remembering to breathe.
While I am riding, I use the intentional pause to soften and center. The simple act of pausing interrupts automaticity, awakens awareness, and creates the space for more harmony between me and my horse. Several times during the ride, I ask my horse to flow forward into a halt—softly inviting him to stop without bracing—and then drop the reins (loose contact, on the buckle). Then I just stand (sometimes with eyes closed, depending on what else is going on in the ring) and focus on feeling the inside of my body connect with the inside of my horse’s body. I am looking for the feeling that all my cells and all his cells are humming on the same frequency. My breath is the portal and the anchor. I am waiting for the horse to drop his head, take a big breath and for both of us to lose any sense of needing to move, settling into a shared relaxation and openness to each other and everything around us. When we begin moving again, I find it easier to offer a soft connection, and to feel both of our bodies as a harmonic whole.
TRY THIS: PAUSING WHILE RIDING
Pausing and coming to stillness during a ride gives us an opportunity to recalibrate what we are doing. This is a powerful tool for breaking up unconscious habits and patterns than can accumulate when we are “working.” In meditation, there is the instruction, “Begin again,” meaning that if you find your mind wandering, simply bring your focus back to the breath, and start fresh. The intentional pause gives us that opportunity.
- While you walk down the long side of the arena or down the trail, pause. Take one or two conscious breaths. As you do this, feel your seat and legs yielding and softening into the back and flanks of the horse. Let your hands, arms, and shoulders soften. Consciously lengthen down into your stirrups and upward through the top of the head. Notice what is around you, including sounds.
- Walk on again and after several moments pause again. Imagine the inside of your body connecting with the inside of your horse’s body in this stillness. As you begin moving again, consciously focus on that connection. Leave nothing out: hooves/feet, head/tail, inside/outside. Pause again, this time noticing any tension or bracing that you feel in your body as you stop: Scan your hands, shoulders, legs, buttocks, lower back, face, jaw, feet, and ankles. Consciously send a flow of breath to any parts of the body that feel tense, and at the same time, visualize a spacious, warming relaxation spreading through your body and the body of the horse. Walk on again.
- Pause again and soften your focus, like you are looking out of your eyes from the back of your skull as if it were a large empty room. Scan the space around you with relaxed, receptive eyes and a global focus, at the same time noticing where your horse is looking. Begin moving again, keeping the feeling of an easy, expansive focus.
- As you alternate between stillness and moving, be aware of both the container and the contents of your body and your horse’s body. Can you imagine the support of the organs, the fluids, and the fascia in both the movement and the stillness?
- Bring the relaxed, attentive quality of stillness into your riding so that you can flow seamlessly from stillness into movement without losing feeling or awareness.
This excerpt from Our Horses, Ourselves: Discovering the Common Body is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com)