Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Me, Dressage and Yoga 2.0

(This blog was originally posted on August 10, 2016)

Image courtesy of Flickr

 When I first tried yoga around 1999, my initial goal was to increase strength and flexibility, and maybe chill out a little bit. I continued to take classes for a few years with waning enthusiasm. Some instructors (and the classes they taught) were more energetic; others were so laid back that the class felt more like meditation than any kind of exercise. Eventually I got bored, lost interest and dropped out of the class altogether.

Now I’m back at the yoga studio, more enthusiastic than ever. What changed? I bought a horse.

I had long known that practicing yoga is an excellent way to increase fitness, strength and flexibility for riding. My trainer initially suggested I take up Pilates, and I took classes on a reformer machine for about a year. But that was a different kind of work-out which, I felt, wasn’t the best fit for me right now. Scheduling classes was always tough with my and the instructor’s respective schedules. I also found that the workouts fatigued my muscles as much as they strengthened them. A few weeks ago, my sister told me about an introductory offer at my old yoga studio, which was offering unlimited sessions for one month for a very reasonable price. I decided to join her for one class—she swore it would be a good abdominal workout—and immediately became hooked. I’m at the studio at least four days a week and can honestly say I am becoming a yoga “junkie.”

In addition to the great stretching workouts yoga offers, just about every position requires good balance, strength and, of course, regular and deep breathing. Like riding, you can’t do yoga without breathing. The body just can’t sustain the energy and strength you need to take and hold the positions unless you breathe. My riding instructor constantly has to remind me to breathe; now, I have a yoga teacher telling me the same thing. I know from my hypnotherapy training and practice that repetition of a behavior is the best way to create new message units and change an unwanted subconscious mental script. Now I have several different instructors, including my trainer, reminding and coaching me to inhale and exhale. I know I’m getting better at this because they are pointing this out less often.

The other thing I noticed about yoga that is so helpful for my riding is its emphasis on holding the upper body still while moving the legs or arms into various positions, such as the Warrior poses (my favorite). Over the years, my current and previous trainers have reminded me to sit tall and still with the chest open, head up, hands quiet, breathing, etc., while I applied appropriate leg and seat aids.

Every time a yoga instructor comes over to help adjust my body position so I can stretch longer or taller, the equestrian in me is grinning from ear to ear. My favorite class, Vinyasa flow, entails transitioning between various yoga poses fairly quickly. I like this training because it reminds me so much of my dressage training, transitioning from basic movements such as circles and basic lateral movements such as leg yield in both directions to shoulders-in and haunches-in, etc. Sometimes I get confused and sometimes Galahad does, too, when our trainer introduces a new pattern or combination to add to the repertoire: you want me to do what? For me, the yoga equivalent is when the instructor stretches and raises her leg to what seems like an impossible angle and encourages the class to just try a balance pose that I can’t imagine ever being able to do. But as my flexibility, strength, balance and breathing improve I am able to stretch that leg a little more and hold the position a second or two longer before placing the limb back down with control.

Fifteen years ago, I almost resented being corrected about my position in yoga; now, I practically can’t wait for the teacher to make a needed adjustment. I am not a professional yogi; I don’t know what I need to do or how I should look as I practice the various poses. But I want yoga to work for me to help me be a better, more relaxed and flexible equestrian. These days, I approach yoga classes as an opportunity to do just that. I can’t wait to start doing sun salutes with my horse one day!

Sara R. Fogan, C.Ht. is a certified hypnotherapist based in Southern California. She graduated with honors from the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in 2005. For more information about Calminsense Hypnotherapy® and to set up an appointment, please visit http://www.calminsensehypnotherapy.com/.
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