November 13, 2013

Giddy Up Little Yogi: How Horses & Yoga Bring Us Peace. ~ Heidi Blackman

Horses and yoga—childhood fantasy meets adult therapy session?

It turns out that yoga and horses have a lot more in common than one might think. It’s clear that riding, or just being with, horses and practicing yoga are sources of great pleasure and inspiration for many. It’s also becoming more apparent to a growing number of people that these two gifts can help us look within; calming the mind, focusing more on the present moment and flourishing in our community.

Three reasons we should all mount up and say Om:

1. Horses and yoga are sources of inspiration and bring passion into our lives.

How many of us had childhood fantasies of galloping on a majestic, white horse across a wide-open space? By the same token, how many of us fantasized about pressing up into a handstand or having a blissful savasana (corpse pose)?

We fantasize about the things that we are most passionate about because they rejuvenate and give us energy; remember who you wanted to be as a kid?

Be that person even if it seems absurd—acknowledge your passions in life, be grateful for them ,and make them an even bigger part of your life.

When we do what we are passionate about it makes us more content, and frankly, more enjoyable to be around.

2. Horses and yoga help us observe our thoughts and emotions; quieting the mind so that we can be more present.

Horses are mirrors of the soul.

They are prey animals, highly attuned to the body language, energy and emotions of other animals (including humans). This allows them to have a very keen sense of what we are feeling, or even thinking; even if we are not aware of it ourselves.

Plus, they do us the big favor of acting out our emotional turmoil right in front of our eyes in case we need help figuring it out.

If we are scared when riding a horse, and we try to mask those feelings with confidence, chances are good that the horse will take on our fear and spook (a.k.a. “freak out”) at just about everything in our path. His instincts are telling him that we sense danger nearby and are not being genuine with him, so he is responding accordingly.

Horses teach us to focus on the present moment, trust our intuition and become more aware of our emotions, thoughts and reactions. They do not particularly care if we are frustrated, scared or stressed out; they just want us to be aware of what we are feeling and own up to it.

They want us to be authentic. And the bonus usually is that once we identify an emotion we are feeling, it dissolves.

So let’s take a good look in the mirror and be okay with what we see.

Let’s stop numbing ourselves from our feelings. It’s okay to feel poopy every once in awhile. Let’s become more aware of our feelings, but let’s not let them define us; and let’s let go of what doesn’t serve us.

Listen to the wisdom of the sages; as Donna Farhi says so beautifully in her book Yoga Mind, Body and Spirit, “…yoga is a way of living and being that makes real happiness possible.”

There is no way to adequately sum up how yoga can help us calm the mind and live in the present moment in a paragraph, but consider this the cliffs notes version.

One of the foundational texts of yogic philosophy is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The sutras basically outline the basic views, values and beliefs of Raja yogis.

In the sutras, 8 steps are described to help quiet one’s mind and achieve a state of bliss. According to the sutras, if we adhere to certain ethical principles (yamas and niyamas), have a physical yoga practice (asana), do breathing exercises (pranayama) and go through three stages of meditation (pratyahara, dharana and dhyana), we will eventually experience a profound awareness of our true divinity and the interconnectedness of all things (samadhi).

The wise yogis before us gave us this beautiful roadmap for how to be at peace.

If we keep ourselves out of trouble, are focused on the present moment, and observe our crazy thoughts without identifying with them, we’ll come to recognize that we’re all perfect exactly as we are; and at our core we have everything we’ll ever need to be content and at peace.

3. Horse behavior and yogic philosophy teach us the qualities necessary to flourish in our communities and lead a more soulful life.

Herd animals, such as horses, clearly set up rules to establish order so they can work together for the greater good.

If we truly want to have an unbreakable bond with a horse, or another person, we need to abide by the same rules. We have to be respectful, clear in our communications, authentic, organized, positive and present. If we can fulfill our side of the bargain, we will earn an unwavering trust, a willing heart, a true companion and a therapist!

Similarly, the first two limbs of the sutras (the yamas and niyamas) outline 10 ethical guidelines that allow us to live in peace with our family, community and ourselves.

Of these qualities, there are four that are very similar to those that earn us trust when working with horses.

The first is the practice of ahimsa, not harming others or ourselves in thought, word and deed (be respectful).

The second is satya, being truthful in words and thoughts (communicate clearly and be authentic).

The third is saucha, purity or cleanliness of the body, mind and environment (get organized).

And then lastly, there is santosha, the idea of finding contentment without needing anything else other than what you already have (be positive and present).

So, ride, practice yoga or better yet—do both!

Practicing yoga improves our relationship and communication with horses; and working with horses improves our yoga practice.

Beyond that, both yoga and horseback riding improve the quality of our lives. They ignite our passion, increase our body awareness, flexibility and balance, make us more attune to the power of the breath and help us become more aware of our thought patterns and emotions.

If we remain dedicated to our path, with an open heart, yoga and horses will help us become more present; and if we look deep enough we will see that we are all divine, and connected, in some wondrous way.


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Assistant Editor: Laura Ashworth/Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photos: Flickr & Yogawithorses

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