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Posts Tagged ‘mindfulness’

Photo by Dell Hambleton

It is always so interesting what we bring to our horse lives in terms of experience. Our pursuits or interactions with the world outside the barn are destined to impact those inside it. Consider what an argument with a colleague can mean to your lesson later that day, or how traffic can add tension to an already tight schedule between work, horse, and home. Yoga teacher and horsewoman Cathy Woods says that making yoga a part of your horse life offers wonderful benefits, in and out of the saddle. We caught up with Cathy to talk about why she feels yoga and horsemanship aren’t so different from each other and her new book YOGA FOR RIDERS.

TSB: Your book YOGA FOR RIDERS provides a number of parallels you have designated as illustrative of the similarities between yoga and horsemanship. How do these parallels provide horse lovers a new or different path to better horsemanship and/or improved riding? 

CW: Many people seem to view yoga as a form of stretches done on a mat, but when true yoga is examined deeper, it becomes clear that it’s really a way of life – a way to live with greater awareness. There are 8-limbs/aspects to yoga which teach us how to better interact with our inner and outer world. This enhanced way of living can apply to horsemanship as well as other areas of life. In essence, the parallels are things we should be doing in our yoga practice but also principles we’d want to apply to good horsemanship. Some parallels include: slowing down; mindfulness; and becoming body, breath, and energy aware, to name a few.  These can deepen our experience with horses, expand our learning on the ground and in the saddle, and enrich our relationship with our horses and other sentient beings, which enhances personal growth and adds richness to life. It’s a win/win! 

TSB: Were you a yogini or a horsewoman first? What made you first connect the two pursuits? 

CW: As odd as it may sound, I was born a yogini (a female drawn to and dedicated to yogic tradition). I had an inner pull toward yoga and had yogic awareness from a very young age and long before I was formally introduced to the practice. I quickly realized that being a yogini was not separate from anything thing else, such as my dance and fitness interests and my horsemanship. Being a yogini is a way of life – “How you do anything is how you do everything.” It has put me in touch with subtle energies, and equestrians know how important that can be in horsemanship, from energy shifts to intuition. I clearly saw that applying a yogic attitude to my horsemanship made a positive difference.  Things like being “present,” or what head and energy space I was in when I went to the barn, factored in to what my experience with my horse was on a given day. I organically came to realize that yoga and horsemanship were not so different from each other and instead, actually, a likely pairing. 

TSB: You teach people a combination of postures, breathing, and meditative exercises, on the mat and in the saddle. Is there a balance to strike between yoga practice off the horse and yoga practice on the horse? Which do you prefer? 

CW: I personally find it quite enjoyable and beneficial to do some gentle yoga poses, breathing techniques, and meditation in motion on horseback. However, I would say the mat practice is more important. I like to think of the mat and meditation cushion as a training ground for life – a place for personal groundwork and collection. Once skills are honed or mastered there, we naturally begin applying them to our horsemanship and other life situations – things like, breathing through challenges, heightened focus, body awareness, and the ability to self-correct when out of alignment or tense. We learn these skills best when practiced regularly on the mat. Then they become second nature off the mat as well. 

TSB: If you had to name one, most important benefit of exploring yoga in order to improve your horsemanship, what would it be? 

CW: The heightened self-awareness that comes from practicing yoga, along with becoming more mindful and present.  “Yoga is an awareness practice” – we become more keenly aware of ourselves on all levels, including our inner workings. This also translates to tapping in to inner wisdom, making decisions and choices from a clear, centered place. We also gain the ability for improved situational awareness, which is paramount in horsemanship. 

TSB: What is one lesson you hope readers will take away from your book? 

CW: That true yoga is SO much more than just twisted, contorted poses on a mat! It is really a practice for living well and a path for self-realization. It’s a means to spend integrated, quality time with all aspects of ourselves — body, mind, and spirit – and then carry that integrated awareness into all that we do.  

TSB: You are based in the Smoky Mountains. What is the best part about where you live and where you ride? 

CW: There is so much I love about this region, but one of the best parts is the sacredness of these ancient mountains (they are the oldest in the world). They feel deep-rooted, comforting, and safe. We have no crowds, and we get to live very close to nature. As far as riding, the Smokies have endless and diverse trails – everything from vistas, beautiful creeks and rivers, lovely lakes, and amazing vegetation, to abundant wildlife and rich Appalachian history. I’ve traveled and ridden in many parts of the United States, yet I’m always amazed at what the Great Smoky Mountains have to offer in comparison.  Though rugged, it’s truly some of the best riding ever! 

TSB: If you were trapped on a desert island with a horse and a book, what breed of horse would it be and which book would you choose? 

CW: The horse breed is easy: I’d go with a Quarter Horse. In my opinion, they are the best, all-around breed. A Quarter Horse could be a good companion, a leisure horse, or a working horse. As far as a book, a survival book would likely be a smart choice, but I’d probably go with The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. In a nutshell, the Yoga Sutras are a collection of 196 short verses that serve as a guide to attain wisdom and self-realization through yoga. What better to do if trapped on a desert island than to become self-realized and extrapolate Universal Truth! 

TSB: If you could do one thing on horseback that you haven’t yet done, what would it be? 

CW: A European or Icelandic village to village, several-day ride/tour with my good friend and program assistant Amanda – we travel well together and have had many great adventures.  

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?

CW: Authenticity. 

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?

CW: Good sense.

Photo by Dell Hambleton

TSB: What is your greatest fear? 

CW: Loss and dying. Clearly if these are issues to me, I’m not yet an Enlightened Yoga Master (nor do I claim to be).  I’m also a bit of a germaphobe – getting sick or injured scares me a bit, so I try to use these concerns to make good choices. 

TSB: What is your greatest extravagance?

CW: I love owning and residing on 30+ acres in the Smoky Mountains. Though it may sound extravagant, it’s actually pretty rustic, and it really allows me to live simply.

TSB: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

CW: I’d love to be calmer and more patient. I’m not naturally wired that way, and it’s a constant practice for me. One might think being a yogini I’d be super chill, but that’s one of the reasons I practice yoga – it’s a tool that helps bring balance to the imbalances. 

TSB: What’s in your refrigerator at all times?

CW: Cheese! I like to think I have no addictions, but I might be slightly addicted to cheese 😊

TSB: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

CW: Being soul-content in all life’s situations. 

TSB: If you could have a conversation with one famous person, alive or dead, who would it be? 

CW: That’s a tough question, because I miss my parents greatly, and they were full of good, practical wisdom – I’d love to converse with them again. But a bit more outside the box, probably Paramahansa Yogananda, an Indian monk and guru who died in 1952. There was something special about him (some deemed him a saint), not to mention his profound understandings and teachings about life, death, and beyond. I am drawn to adept individuals with this kind of life-knowledge and wisdom. 

TSB: If you could go back to December 2019 and go one place anywhere in the world with as many or as few people as you would like, where would you go, who would you bring, and what would you do?

CW: My husband Robert and I enjoy taking extended RV trips. Though I’ve traveled to many places in the US and abroad, I’ve still not made it to the Red Rock Parks of Utah (Bryce, Zion, etc.). This was on our 2020 travel list, which was of course postponed. We’d sightsee, spend time in nature, hike, and make more good memories! The trips we enjoy most are to natural destinations and just the two of us (and our cats)! 

TSB: What is your motto?

CW: Live well, live creatively, live deliberately, and live in a balanced way. Be present and take journeys (inward and outward)! 

Cathy’s book YOGA FOR RIDERS is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.


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OurHorsesOurselves-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Pam White

 

TSB is excited to announce a wonderful upcoming event at the Time Out Foundation—a 35-acre farm in beautiful northwest Connecticut that provides children and teens with the time, space, and experiences they need to create positive change in their lives. On May 20, 2018, from 3-5:00 pm, TSB author Paula Josa-Jones will present a playful, collaborative equine event based on her book OUR HORSES, OURSELVES entitled “3 Horse Tales for the 21st Century.” CLICK HERE to hear Josa-Jones talk about the event and what she hopes it will help achieve in a short interview with Marshall Miles on Robin Hood Radio.

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CLICK TO VISIT ROBIN HOOD RADIO

 

A short time ago, we found some time to chat with Josa-Jones about her book and her work as a choreographer and a dancer. It was wonderful to learn a little more about her hopes for the horse world, as well as her creative process. Here’s what she had to say about OUR HORSES, OURSELVES and the differences between working with human dancers and finding ways to “dance” with horses.

 

TSB: Your book OUR HORSES, OURSELVES: DISCOVERING THE COMMON BODY was published in the fall of 2017. Your perspective as a dancer and choreographer offers a different “way in” to that place of connection with the horse everyone strives for. For those who are unfamiliar with your work, how would you explain the relationship between your life as a dancer and your life as a horsewoman?

PJJ: Movement! Between 60 and 80 percent of our communication is nonverbal, spoken in the bodily languages of movement and touch—including conscious and unconscious movements, gestures, postures, and facial expressions.  The whole encyclopedia of our movement is in fact an intricate web of communication. Horses are in fact masters of the this movement language. They are speaking in it all the time. Every movement is expressive and carries meaning.  Much of their communication has such subtlety that even very experienced horsewomen and men find it difficult to parse. 

My own story is that I rode as a young girl, and then horses left my life and dance became primary.  And then I found myself needing to be around horses and ride again as an adult. Almost immediately I wanted to get out of the saddle and explore moving with them on the ground. I wanted to speak with them in the shared language of movement and see what would happen. As an improviser, I was curious about just being still, listening with my body, and letting movement arise from simply being in their presence rather than from “performing” planned or patterned movements.

I am still doing that.  I would say that I try to dance every aspect of my relationship with my horses, and with the work that I do with students and clients.

 

OurHorsesOurselves2-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Jeffrey Anderson

TSB: OUR HORSES, OURSELVES provides dozens of gentle exercises and meditations. How can these simple activities, many of them out of the saddle and away from the horse, improve riding, training, and competitive performance?

PJJ: The idea of many of these exercises is to support riders and horse people in having a more holistic, sense of themselves and their bodies, and understanding that this embodied awareness is an essential foundation for all dimensions of horsemanship. Embodiment means experiencing our bodies in a continuous, feeling, conscious way, what I call “body presence,” meaning a moment-to-moment awareness of the flow of thoughts, feelings, sensations, and energies through our bodily selves. 

So instead of fixing the horse—the neck, the jaw, poll, or inside hind—or making small or big adjustments to the position of our legs, or hands, or seat, we start to feel the whole of ourselves in connection with the whole of the horse. This moves our focus from outside (seeing ourselves as an external viewer) to inside (feeling ourselves from within). 

Mindfulness about our bodies and our movement takes practice! We have to notice the details of our movement and bodily sensations in an ongoing way: how you pick up your cup, hold your steering wheel, sit at the computer, get up, shake someone’s hand, pick up your grooming brushes, move around your horse or your house.

Also, the exercises in my book are intended to move us toward a more “awake” expressive, exploratory, curious, and playful experience of our moving selves in relationship to the horse. So much of our movement is functional—about going somewhere and doing something—and we forget to “dance” our lives, or may not even consider that as possible. I want to challenge the unconscious, the habitual, and look for ways to “wake up” and experience each breath, each ride, as unique—as an opportunity to become more awake and engaged.

 

TSB: What is one lesson you hope readers will take away from your book?

PJJ: That we are not separate. The subtitle of my book is “Discovering the Common Body.” I want to emphasize that your body is not separate from my body or from the body of the horse, the praying mantis, the hummingbird, the manatee or the earth itself.
In his book The Songs of Trees, author David George Haskell, says, “Life is embodied network.”  What that means to me is that all living beings are an interconnected, interspecies, bio-similar, cross-pollinating network in a constant flux of adjustment, response, and transformation. Often, however, we are not feeling that ongoing connectedness; we are not orienting toward the pleasurable dimensions of that relationship with others or ourselves.
 
I believe that the horses can help us with that. There is something so precious and profound about entering the mystery and the silence of connection with them that has little or nothing to do with technique or conventional horsemanship, and everything to do with the deep alignment of relationship.

 

TSB: You have choreographed performances for humans and those for horses with humans. What has been most rewarding in your work with dancers on the stage? With those in the arena and on horseback?

PJJ: Each dance has its own intention and necessity at the time that it is created.  That means that the ideas and the movement materials that were a part of that particular dance took on the quality of an obsession, with a specific, intense urgency. For example, I worked over a period of two years on Ghostdance—with my company and in collaboration with a community of dancers in Mexico, and the composer Pauline Oliveros. That happened to include the year that my father was dying, and so that gave the dance a particular edge, and deepened the work in some unexpected and important ways.

I love each dance that I have made. I would have to say that I love the work into being, into form, and that each one leaves its traces—changes me deeply—and makes way for the next work, and the next. The important thing is to let oneself be drawn to the work, like a surfer waiting for that next perfect, inevitable wave.

With the horse dances, RIDE, the first dance that I created with horses, has a special resonance. I think that is because it grew from a community of riders and horse people (I was living on Martha’s Vineyard at the time) and had a velocity and potency that took us all by surprise. Like that wave, again, we all felt we were being carried. I was also a complete beginner in my adult horsemanship and in making dances with horses, and had all the blessings of beginner’s mind, meaning a strong, eager determination but few preconceptions.

 

OurHorsesOurselves3-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Pam White

 

TSB: If you were trapped on a desert island with a horse and a book, what breed of horse would it be and which book would you choose?

PJJ: Probably a Friesian, like my strong, steady, beautiful Sanne.  On the other hand, perhaps an Andalusian, like my feisty, enthusiastic, gorgeous stallion Capprichio. Both?
I will need two books: the complete poems of Mary Oliver and any mystery by Ruth Rendell.

 

TSB: If you could do one thing on horseback that you haven’t yet done, what would it be?

PJJ: Riding an Icelandic pony in Iceland! I have always wanted to know what tolting feels like.

 

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?

PJJ: Enthusiasm and kindness.

 

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?

PJJ: Curiosity. 

 

TSB: What is your greatest fear?

PJJ: Something happening to someone (animals included) that I love. 

 

TSB: What is your greatest extravagance?

PJJ: The horses, always the horses!

 

TSB: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

PJJ: I am VERY sensitive, like an anemone.  That is a blessing and a curse—a double-edged sword.  I love that my sensitivity allows me to feel everything so deeply, and wish that I were not quite so vulnerable to the cruelties. On the other hand, my outrage fuels my activism.

 

TSB: What’s in your refrigerator at all times? 

PJJ: Avocados, goat milk, and something green.

 

TSB: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

PJJ: I have more than one! Riding out with my horse on a spring morning or a fall afternoon, tasting the air together, feeling each other. Reading a book while listening to the Caribbean ocean. Swimming in the Caribbean ocean. Standing with Sanne’s nose pressed into my shoulder. Sitting on the porch with a cup of tea and my beloved Pam White. 

 

TSB: If you could have a conversation with one famous person, alive or dead, who would it be?

PJJ: Please don’t make me pick ONE!!! Eleanor Roosevelt. Rachel Carson. Harriet Tubman.

 

TSB: What is your motto?

PJJ: I believe in deepening creativity and awareness playfully, through the body, and finding ways to expand understanding and feeling with all sixty trillion cells, not just the ones perched on our necks. That means having a 24/7, wide-awake, multi-sensory, empathetic bodily experience of the world and ourselves.

 

Our Horses OurselvesPaula Josa-Jones’ book OUR HORSES, OURSELVES is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

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mf-blog

Screenshot from Bojack Horseman–Watch him on Netflix.

There are a lot of things these days that can making getting to the barn difficult, or even impossible. Hey, from experience, it even can happen when your barn is in your backyard! Work, kids, spouse, meals, extended family, friends, fitness, errands, household repairs and chores, appointments—you name it, they take time, and pretty soon the hours you planned to spend with your horse have dissolved into a few minutes at the beginning and end of your day.

But that old argument for quality versus quantity gets a nod here, because of course both your horse and you can benefit from a short visit—if, that is, that visit is one where you are fully present. And with text vibrating away in your pocket and the mental clocking ticking down in your head, therein lies the modern equestrian challenge: Quiet, focused, undisturbed, tech-free-time with you-know-who. (And don’t forget the carrots.)

In her latest book RIDING THROUGH THICK & THIN, horsewoman Melinda Folse explores the various traps we fall into as imperfect life and imperfect bodies sap the joy we once found beside or on a horse. Stress, feeling “overwhelmed” and out of control, and the unhappiness with “self” that often goes along with it, can play a big part in keeping us out of the saddle. Here’s one powerful exercise she provides, which she learned from licensed therapist Jill Valle, who was trained at The Mind Body Medical Institute at Harvard Medical School and has run a 15-year private practice, focusing on women and adolescents and body image issues.

The exercise is as easy as 5-3-1…

Any time you catch yourself feeling anxious, upset, or overwhelmed. Stop, take a deep breath, and then ask yourself:
• What are 5 things I see in the room or barn or arena around me?

• What are 3 things I hear?

• What is 1 thing I feel?

Valle says that using this exercise when we feel like the wheels are spinning too fast takes us out of our “loops,” returning us to the present moment by making us “observers.”

In RIDING THROUGH THICK & THIN, Melinda Folse admits she often feels “overwhelmed by my life’s magical roller coaster ride,” and so she gave 5-3-1 a try.

“At work I got a pop-up reminder that the farrier was coming later that afternoon, so I left my office early, picked up my daughter from school, and headed to the barn,” she writes. “On the way I got a business call deemed ‘extremely urgent’ that necessitated an evening ahead full of damage control. As I pondered this mess, my daughter informed me she had nothing to wear to an important event the next day (oops), and I looked down to discover my inspection sticker was expired on my car. Did I mention we were out of hay?

“Taking a deep breath, I pulled into the parking area near our barn and immediately went for 5-3-1:

5 things I saw around me? 1) Horses grazing in a turnout pen; 2) the barn manager welding something on his trailer; 3) a friend giving her horse a bath in the washrack; 4) another friend hand-grazing her horse; 5) kittens playing on the clubhouse lawn.

3 things I heard? 1) The buzz and popping of the welding equipment; 2) horses in the pen behind me running down the fence line; 3) a tractor coming back from raking the arena.

1 thing I felt? Warm sun beating through the windshield of my car.

“Did this exercise change any of my circumstances? Not at all. But somehow, everything suddenly felt more doable….The turning point toward calm control was Valle’s 5-3-1.”

 

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

 

You can find more easy, horse-life-changing exercises in RIDING THROUGH THICK & THIN, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter or to order.

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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