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Perception, Yoga, and Horseback Riding

Posted by on Mar 15, 2017

I hadn’t really put together the whole yoga and horseback riding thing. I often see Facebook and Instagram posts about yoga and goats, yoga and cats, or yoga and dogs. They look cute. Practicing with sweet, furry animals looks like fun, but I never fully understood the connection. For me, yoga has always been an individual practice, until this morning.

I interviewed Morgan by phone about the Yoga and Horseback Riding series she’s leading in April. She told me that, “Within a body/mind practice like yoga, students show up to their mat to find a deeper connection with themselves and to practice their very own Satya (truth). With that truth comes the present moment and vice versa.” She added, “As a prey animal, the horse has wisdom and sensitivity like no other animal – or human for that matter. The horse is always in the present moment, he does not have the capacity to over-think or rationalize his actions. It’s all intuition.”

I get that. We seek truth and present moment awareness in the yoga practice; horses are sensitive, they can help us find what we seek. It makes sense that we can become more self-aware when we become attuned to an animal that is incredibly attuned and self-aware. That’s nice. Horses are beautiful, they have such big eyes and long eyelashes, who doesn’t want to learn something from gazing into those babies?

But the real import of the series finally struck me when Morgan talked about 340 degrees. Because of the placement of their eyes (on either side of the head), horses can only see in 340 degrees. You can get a feel for this width of vision in yoga when you practice Standing Twist, or Empty Coat Sleeves. When you twist, you don’t see all 360 degrees of your reality.

It is the same for the horse, but the part he is not able to see, that missing 20 degrees, is you, the rider. The horse cannot turn his head far enough to see who is sitting on his back. Instead of the visual cues you and I take for granted when establishing a relationship – and the relationship between horse and rider is a very intimate one – the horse must rely on instinct and trust.

You cannot fool a horse. Are you happy? Are you calm? Are you fearful? The horse knows. As you mount up and sit in the horse’s blind spot, you take a certain leap of faith. The horse must trust you and you the horse. Together, rider and horse create a perfect balance of trust.

This is the yoga; this is the magic. The horse is very much like your own body in yoga practice. Your body does not lie. You can only do the poses your body can do. As much as you psych yourself up about a certain challenging pose, whether or not you can perform that pose is up to your body. And like the rider trusts the horse (and vice versa), you must trust your body. In order to be fully present in your practice, you must be attuned to your body.

This is why we should practice yoga with horses: to shine the light of understanding into our blind spots. In our own body, in our relationships with other people, in our work, in our communications, we have all have blind spots. Sometimes you might not understand someone or be able to make yourself understood. It could easily be that you are in that person’s blind spot – or perhaps, he is in yours. Though we cannot directly see something, we still need to be aware of it.

This is the kind of awareness that develops in Morgan’s Yoga and Horseback Riding Series. But don’t take it from me, here is a comment from a woman who participated in the series last fall:

Morgan creates a setting in which one is asked to connect body and breath to those of another living thing… to attune to the horse’s vulnerabilities and sensitivities in order to create a relationship of trust and respect. The human-horse dynamic becomes a metaphor for all living relationships.  I left with a greater understanding of how yoga can be taken from a personal experience on a mat to a mechanism for mindful interactions with others.

This series is truly unique and I recommend it highly to anyone who desires to increase their connection to the living world.  We could all use this experience with the current climate of uncertainty and fear.

Here is the link to sign up.