YOGA : The word Yoga comes from Sanskrit, the scriptural language of ancient India. Its root is the verb yuj, meaning to yoke or unite. The practice of Yoga can unite us with ourselves and our environment. And the practice of YOGA as a horseperson unites us to ourselves in relationship to our horses.
“The yoga practiced by most Westerners is Hatha yoga, or the physical yoga. Yoga postures when applied consciously encourage concentration, inner stillness, perseverance, patience, self-acceptance, objective self-observation and a sense of humor, all of which benefit the mind and overall health. Hatha yoga is described as the “doorway” to our inner world.” (from Yoga definition, Kripalu website)
Hatha Yoga, however, is only one of the eight paths of yoga described by Patanjali. The practice of yoga is made up of eight paths: moral observances (yamas), self-discipline (niyamas), posture (hathayoga), breath control (pranayama), sensory inhibition, concentration, meditation and ecstasy. A consistent practice of these eight elements leads to deeper experiences of awareness.
“The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.”
“The positive effects of this practice (Hatha Yoga) on classical riding are – greater flexibility and the ability to BALANCE, increased awareness, enhanced ability to concentrate and meditate (meditation on the horse which gives one a deeper insight into his nature). The ability to meet demanding goals in equestrian endeavor (such as the rigors involved with international competition) will definitely be enhanced by incorporation of yoga into one’s daily regimen and personal lifestyle.”
(Robert O. Mayer, B.H.S.I., FN)
“Don’t Just move your horse over; try to realize what is happening. You should be in rhythm, in time, in harmony with his body…. Ride with life in your body”
(Ray Hunt – Think Harmony with Horses)
“ The attitude of an equestrian must change and grow to include patience humility, tolerance, optimism, consistency and empathy with the horse…
…. A concentrating man is never self-conscious, for he is preoccupied by something other than himself. He has combined self-awareness, knowledge of personal worth, and relaxation into a physical and inner posture that never fails to connote elegance.”
(Charles de Kunffy – Creative Horsemanship)
Exercises for sitting the trot
When learning to sit the trot many riders try not to bounce in the saddle, taking the movement into the back and waist or stiffening against the horse’s gaits. Riding a Warmbloods with elastic, dynamic trots may be easier in some ways then riding the trot of a Thoroughbred or other breed that has a stiffer back and less movement. What ever you ride it can be a daunting challenge to make it look effortless and feel comfortable and effective. Tension of the rider and horse in different situations can make the harmony of the trot go right out the window.
There are a myriad of ways to approach this issue. I have worked hard at trying to make sitting the trot effective, and enjoyable for the horse and myself. This is not an easy task as I have dealt with a severe back condition and other health related problems during my riding career. I have devised for myself and try to pass on to the student a series of exercises based in Hatha Yoga and mindful exploration in an attempt to help the rider understand how the interaction of seat, position, and breathing can help the rider become more in tune with the trot.
- I encourage you to practice off the horse, become mindful of what your body does, and then try to integrate the exploration onto the horse’s back.
- Have someone lunge you while you figure out how to sit, breath and work your body in a proactive rather than passive way.
- Take lots of breaks. It makes no sense to bounce around for ten minutes trying to “fix” your position, or get your breath back. Correct, center and then resume what ever you are working on.
1. Horse Stance
- Stand with feet slightly more than hip’s distance apart.
- Inhale, place palms together, elbows up, shoulders down.
- Exhale, bend knees, push knees back over toes with quadriceps and abductors, big toes must be kept in alignment with the knees.
- Lift abdominal muscles, keep back straight.
- Inhale deeply into the abdomen, expand the rib cage without lifting the chest, keeping tone in the abdominal wall, exhale, pushing the abdominal wall back towards the spine.
- Hold position breathe normally.
- This is a good one to do against a wall to check straightness and maintaining natural curve in lower back.
- Maintain tone in torso move sit bones side to side, rock onto your heels, lower elbows to your waist, rotate thigh in hip socket until feet are parallel.
- Maintain regular breathing let yourself explore how the body feels, where you are holding tension.
Mounted (with or without stirrups)
Start at walk, and proceed to trot
- Holding onto reins with one hand, let other arm hang down with hand
- behind thigh.
- Inhale, exhale lift thighs off of horse holding calves lightly against
- horse; buttocks are relaxed.
- Inhale into abdomen, relax hips and thighs without losing tone
- Stretch up back through back of neck, with chin level.
- Body should be toned but relaxed.
- Shoulders, hips and ankles are aligned. Ankle should be under the trochanter joint, NOT aligned with the buttocks.
- Rider is in a state of balance without tension.
- When trotting maintain an even breathing rhythm, using the lower abs to bounce your seat as though you are sitting on a trampoline or mattress. The feeling is to get the seat to bounce the horse rather than the horse bouncing the rider.
2. Modified Twist
- Stand about 3 feet from a mounting block or chair
- right side to block.
- Place right foot on block
- Exhale and slowly twist away from block starting with navel, then ribs, and finally shoulders
- Stretch right hand toward the right foot palm out
- Place left hand behind back
- Look slightly upward and over the left shoulder.
- Hold and breathe normally.
- Repeat to left side.
Mounted Twist (Keep your Stirrups)
Walk and Trot
- Holding reins with right hand, inhale deeply, exhale and slowly twist from navel, ribs, shoulders and finally head.
- Inhale place left hand on cantle exhale and deepen twist.
- Keep buttocks and knees relaxed breathe normally.
- Slowly untwist.
- Switch reins to left hand and repeat to right.
3. Abdominal Lift and Downward Facing Dog
- Place hands on mounting block or chair. Walk feet back until they are about three feet from block, parallel and 12 inches apart. Exhale, roll up on toes, lift abdomen, round shoulders, tighten buttocks.
- Inhale, step heels down, flatten back stretch away from hands
- Push shoulders down, away from ears, hold and breathe normally slowly turning head side to side to keep the neck relaxed and shoulders down.
Repeat 5 to 10 times…SLOWLY.
Take time to feel how your body heats up and reacts. Make sure you keep checking your feet to keep them parallel and the same distance from the block; knees over toes, do not tense the knee or hyperextend the knees or back.
Christine Rossi has been a rider and yoga practitioner for over two thirds of her 62 years.She has been fortunate to learn from many two legged and four legged masters over the years. Yoga has always been an integral part of her practice off the horse, but the idea of integrating the two practices took a long time to incorporate. It wasn’t until 2001 when it was discovered that the debilitating back pain she had dealt with since childhood was the result of a congenital vertebrae malformation and in order to even walk normally again was going to include a spinal fusion. At that point, in an attempt to continue to ride after surgery she was going to have to approach things from a different perspective. Thanks to two yoga instructors, Chris Hoskins and Martin Hunke, she was able to put together a program of rehabilitation and conditioning, get back in the saddle and teach others her ideas. Cancer also became an issue in 2007, but Christine has worked to integrate the daily challenge of continuing health and conditioning into her practice. She currently teaches riding to adults and children out of La Jolla Equestrian Center in Pleasanton, continues her yoga practice and maintains and art studio and business in Berkeley, CA.