Sunday, August 20, 2017

Summer of the Horse: Yoga Pays Off


This is how life is funny, and awesome, and surprising. If only we could get our 18-year-old and 26-year-old and 35-year-old selves to understand that where you are RIGHT NOW is likely not going to be where you will be in ten years.
And if you are lucky, where you end up will be where you are meant to be.

Who knew, back in the fall of 2001, when I lived in Vancouver and the dog and I walked by that yoga studio on the side street and I picked up a pamphlet and went to my first class a week or so later, that yoga would be the key to my learning to ride a horse?
Because it's all about strong core and back muscles, and good balance.
Amazing that something I do once a day, and with more of an emphasis on stretch than on strength, is making this learning experience easier for me, who is not the least bit athletic or even particularly physically adept.
Just ask that wall I keep walking into.

It's not easy to see in this photo but I'm practicing a move that's used in jumping. With my legs, I'm holding myself just out of the saddle, barely using my fists and my knees for stability, remaining tall  in the saddle without bending forward.

I'm not going to be jumping anytime soon but Dawn now is opening my lesson with this exercise because it warms me up and teaches me this micro-movement while Dakota gets his warm-up walk.  Right now, I can hold the posture only for a few seconds but with practice, that time will lengthen.

For a few weeks, I've been thinking about the yoga postures I can do that will strengthen the muscles I'm using in riding. The muscles used on horseback include the inner thigh, which are stretched, the hips and outer thigh, which are shortened, and both the abdominal and lower back muscles, which stabilize the upper body for good posture. 
I've been able to correlate a yoga posture to every move I make on the horse. For instance, the posture pictured in this photo reminds me of Chair Pose. Eagle Pose is even better because it is a balancing pose in that squatting position. When my inner thigh muscles were aching after my first lesson, Warrior 1 and 2 eased the discomfort. Bound Angle Pose keeps those muscles stretched out now. I do Plank Pose like crazy to keep my core muscles strong.
I wonder if doing all these poses has kept my muscles from hurting again. Even my weak ankles don't hurt during a lesson!
There is a Horse Pose but it has nothing do with riding muscles; it's called that simply because the pose resembles the face of a horse.

It wasn't until my latest lesson on Friday, however, that I realized the overall impact yoga has on my riding. The lesson happened at four in the afternoon, and I admit late in the day is not my best learning time. As soon as I got into the saddle, it felt weird, almost unfamiliar, as if I hadn't been in the saddle in weeks.
I kept complaining that my body felt like it was a bunch of disjointed parts I didn't know how to get to work together until Dawn finally told me to stop overthinking and just ride, that the only part I needed to worry about was my butt staying in the saddle. That's what I appreciate about Dawn: she gets me and isn't afraid to snap me out of my self-absorption.
We ended the lesson with three attempts at cantering. On my third attempt, I was able to let go of the saddle and hold only the reigns, and self-correct when I started to tip sideways (because Dakota was on the lunge line so we were going in a circle). This self-correction happened because I have a strong core and good balance -- big win for yoga!

We joked my poor performance was the result of Dwayne being there, taking photos, but later I realized it was because I hadn't done any yoga that day. I'd gone for a walk first thing in the morning then worked at my computer all day, stopping only when it was time to change and head to the barn. Sometimes I do yoga while watching "The Bold and Beautiful", a nice thirty-minute yoga break in the afternoon, but last Friday, I didn't take time to do that. 
And paid for it.
Because when my lessons are at nine in the morning, I don't go for a walk; I do yoga. Which means when I show up at the barn, my mind and body are prepped for riding; my muscles are warmed up, my brain is clear and focused, and my entire system inside and out is energized, the blood flowing, my mood elevated.

For someone who doesn't consider herself athletic, and loves yoga because it doesn't make her sweat or involve other people or risk injury to brain or bone (as long as I don't fall off!), I'm absolutely tickled that the exercises I do every morning in my living room (and in my pajamas!) have turned out to be an advantage when it comes to riding a horse. 



Friday, August 18, 2017

You Wear It Well


I may have hit the summer sale at a certain equestrian supply store. I may be wearing a traditional horse rider's outfit at my lesson this afternoon. I may be a little too excited about this.
It's not so much that I hope I wear it well, it's that I hope I wear it right! 
***
Update: When I showed my instructor that I was wearing breeches and half-chaps, she laughed. Then she said, "You got the half-chaps right. So many people put the zipper on the inside."




Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Midsummer Dreams

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, August 16, 2017, by Sara Jewell.



My favourite morning hour is six to seven before the world is awake and bright and loud. This is when I walk the dog, when it is cool and quiet. 
My favourite evening hour is eight to nine after the sun has sunk below the treeline but there is still light in the sky. This is when I tend my gardens, when it is cool and quiet. 
Even in the golden days of August, there are still reasons to putter.
"What are you doing?" calls a voice through the dusk.
"Collecting rocks," I reply. 
We have a pile of slate rock at the edge of our property and after the sun goes down, when I know I won't come across a snake snoozing on a warm stone, I gather flat stones to place in the gaps in my flower gardens. Gaps are good; gaps provide a space to kneel and breathe.  
The chickens are tucked up on their roosts so my husband shuts them up for the night.
"Want me to help?" he calls to me as I fill my wheelbarrow with rocks.
"No, thank you," I reply, preferring to work alone and in silence.

This is not truly work, however, this hauling and placing of rock, the digging in the dirt, the pulling of weeds. It may feel like work during the day when it’s hot and sunny, when the lawn mower drones and trucks rattle by on the road, but in the evening, this is a meditation. A time of peace and quiet, a time when the shadows slip in and twilight narrows the world to the patch of garden right in front where our hands are touching the ground.
This is vespers, when the toil of gardening becomes an act of prayer, when we are down on our knees in the dirt, breathing in the smell of earth and plants, hearing the rustle of leaves in the light breeze, brushing the soil with our fingers. We are filled with peace and hope and the promise of joy.
A prayer ends with “Amen”, which means “So be it”. It was Oliver Wendell Holmes who said, “The amen of nature is always a flower,” and that’s where gardening meets our faith in something other than ourselves. Be it soil and plants or spirit and persons, we plant, we feed, we watch; we take care of each other, we nurture. We do it year after year after year no matter what challenges we face.
There comes a point when we must get up off our knees, wipe the dirt from our hands, and hope for the best from our labour and the weather, saying, “So be it...”

The sun has set. I join my husband on the back deck. It’s darker than it was a few days ago, the days shorter, the nights cooler, the mosquitoes waning along with August’s full moon. 
We sit there until ten o'clock then we say good night to the chickens in their coop, good night to the stars quivering on the tips of leaves, good night to the flowers folded into themselves like they are praying.









Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Morning Refraction


This is the kind of distraction I have to deal with while doing yoga in the morning!
The original shot, while I was in Tree Pose and without camera (who knew I had to have the camera with the telephoto lens handy to me while on the yoga mat in my living room at 6:30 in the morning?) was of the hummingbird only through the sugar water, on the other side.
By the time I got the camera, and had it handy, the hummingbird wasn't willing to recreate the original, breathtaking image.

The flare on the right side isn't from taking it through the living room window but what the camera does with a glint of sunlight shining through the corner of the glass feeder.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Summer of the Horse: No Can't, Now Canter

Wore my daisy socks today.
We joked afterwards that we should have had a photo of me holding on and hollering.
But Dawn, my riding instructor at Galloway Stables in Linden, had Dakota attached to a lead line and I had my hands firmly gripping the saddle so there was no way either of us were taking a photo -- or were even thinking of taking a photo as we dealt with the instructor who wanted Dakota to canter and the chickenshit in the saddle who didn't want Dakota to canter.

In my defense, it was the command to "Hold on tight to the saddle" -- an English saddle, mind you, that doesn't have a pommel -- that freaked me out. It made it sound so serious, so potentially dangerous. I almost refused to try it.
Imagine that.
But I put my legs where she told me to, I sat back in the saddle, and I held onto the saddle.
"Kick, kick," she hollered as she clicked at him to go faster. Faster than a fast trot, right into a canter.
So I cantered today. I didn't let go, I didn't fall off, I didn't die. All I had to do was keep my butt in the saddle and move my hips.
It was a little embarrassing how easy it was to go from can't to canter.



Monday, August 07, 2017

My Favourite Month


It's the time of year, the time of the summer, when I can hardly get any work done for the draw of the back deck.
The canopy that provides shade under the spruce trees. The anti-gravity chair that cradles my body comfortably. The ospreys chirping and flying.
Also, I'm here alone. No one has joined me. I don't have to make conversation, I don't have to put down my book.
But then I do because really, all I want to do is watch the world in front of me. In my back yard.

It was like this on the front porch of our old summer house on Pugwash Point. You could sit there for hours looking out over the field, the road, the harbour.
The view likely never ever changed. Maybe a car would drive down the road and eventually pass by again after turning around at the end of the road.

Here, I can sit on the back deck and look at the yard, the trees, our gardens. Seagulls circle over the freshly-mowed and baled field. Today -- and for the rest of the month -- the action is provided by the ospreys flying in and out of the nest. This is mostly what draws me, us, to sit on the back deck. We are watching this year's hatchlings learning to fly, getting the hang of it, so much so they chase the crows. We will watch as they learn to fish, too.

Unlike the old house on the hill, nothing is quiet here. I hear wind, the birds chirping, wind chimes. Every so often, Andre Poulet will crow.  But silence isn't the point; the point is stillness. The point is just sitting, relaxed in my chair, not even turning pages, not doing anything but enjoying the view.

"We can't do this in February." As if we need to justify our enjoyment of this space, these gifts.




Friday, August 04, 2017

Summer of the Horse: Practice, Practice, Practice


This week, I began a new writing project in earnest. No more "fiddling and farting around", as my mother would say. No more appointments, no more parties. No more procrastination. Time to start the new project.

This is the hardest part of writing. The starting. The getting into it. The finding the flow. The first couple of days are a struggle to get comfortable in my chair, rummage through the jumble of words eager to be strung together to create engaging sentences, wade through the swamp grass and the suctioning mud in order to slip into the clear, swift current that will carry me into the story.
There is always that moment -- like in running or swimming or dancing or ANYTHING -- when you feel like you can't do it, you aren't good enough, you don't know what you're doing, you're tired, you're...blah, blah, blah...and you just keep going and it happens. You break through and you get it. From then on, you've got it. You can't wait to sit in that chair and write.


This week reminded me of the importance of practice, of Just Doing It. The advice most established writers give to emerging writers is this: Put your butt in the chair and leave it there. It sounds silly, it sounds simple but that's all there is. Your butt in the chair, your hands on the keyboard or holding the pen, and being there, doing it. Because the more you do it, every day, day after day, the better you get.
The more you do it, the more you remember that you WILL break through, you WILL get it. 
Every time I start a new writing project, I have to give myself that advice. I have to make myself sit in the chair and not bounce out of it every ten minutes when I don't know what the heck I'm doing, when I don't know what I'm trying to say, when it just seems too hard.
So I make myself do a Power Hour: I tell myself, "I will write until such-and-such a time," and I do it. It's a trick but it works. It's the breakthrough.

The same goes for learning to ride. You put your butt in the saddle and you stay there until you get what you're trying to learn. Week after week, you show up, you tack up, you get your butt in the saddle and you trot around that dusty, sun-beaten ring until you feel it, until you know you're getting it, until you get better at it.
I had that moment today during my lesson, when I was hot and sweaty, worn out. I kept at that damn trot going the way I'm weakest at (counter-clockwise, which I think is called left reign) until I was posting correctly and continuously.
(Which reminds me of another trick in writing: You don't stop when you are stuck. You stop when you know exactly what you're going to write next. That way, you are eager to get back to work because it's easy to get into it.)
 
You cannot accomplish anything without practicing it over and over again. It is annoying but it is the rule. 
There is absolutely no way to become the painter or writer or rider or carpenter or singer you long to be without staying in one place for an hour at a time.

But remember: there are carrots and strawberries for a reward when you're done.