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. 

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