Yoga offers more than just physical benefits to you and your horse.
If you have a body you can do yoga – yes, it is all you need. So wouldn’t it make sense that yoga can be for horses too? In fact, horses already practice yoga; animals, unlike humans, generally live with an acute awareness of their bodies, since it’s necessary for survival.
Yoga has existed for thousands of years. Ancient yogis developed the asanas (poses) when they realized the need for a healthy body in order to sustain long hours of stillness in meditation. This ancient tradition of mind-body connection has been medically recognized and proven in modern times.
When I realized the numerous positive effects of yoga on my life, it was only natural for me to extend it to my horses too. Bringing awareness to ourselves through yoga can only benefit our interactions with horses, and sharing yoga with a horse can make that interaction even more special.
Good for Physical Fitness
Yoga has you moving and holding your body in different ways than you normally would. Our bodies are amazingly designed – when we limit what we do with them they adjust themselves to accommodate, whether good or bad. A good yoga practice will reintroduce and strengthen the movements your body needs to become whole and balanced again.
Humans take horses and create environments for them, just as we do ourselves. These environments may not fully allow them to use their minds and bodies in they way they would choose.
When horses are limited in their daily lives – for example, by standing in a confined area for a long time – their bodies will also begin to adjust and accommodate. If we can realize this, we can be careful to try and provide a way to alleviate this imbalance; for instance, by making sure they are warmed up adequately for a ride, or turned out in a bigger area for a reasonable time. Equine stretches can be of added benefit, both from the ground and under saddle.
There are numerous internal physiological benefits that occur as well. Yoga helps to balance our internal systems, leading to more optimum function and overall well being. The equine internal system is well known for being quite sensitive. Strength of internal systems is imperative.
How Does Yoga Benefit the Mind?
The practice of yoga has psychological benefits. Our mind-body connection increases; or, if you will, our somatic and kinesthetic awareness increases. Mood, concentration, attention, learning efficiency, sense of well being and social skills are enhanced. Things like anxiety, depression and hostility decrease. Don’t these sound like states you would like for your horse as well as yourself?
In yoga, the parasympathetic nervous system dominates. We are then able to calm the sympathetic nervous system, also known as the “fight or flight” response. Our sympathetic system is often overstimulated by daily stresses that affect our breath, blood flow and hormones. This “fight or flight” response is about survival, and the body sacrifices itself in many ways because it believes it is under attack and an immediate reaction is necessary. Our bodies are not meant to remain in this state for long periods of time. Yoga encourages the engagement of the parasympathetic nervous system, which in turn helps the body back into balance, and to heal. When you take a step back from your initial “fight or flight” reactions, your thoughts and beliefs are challenged. Taking the time to really feel your body and find control of your breath helps you realize when you do or do not need the sympathetic nervous system to take over.
Horse people are all too familiar with the “fight or flight” response. We already consistently work with horses in all sorts of ways to help them gain control over their sympathetic nervous systems. We expose them to many different things, try to recognize when they are in pain or uncomfortable, and to understand their limitations and potential. Performing horse stretches can be another tool to add to your relationship with your horse.
And our Souls?
The soul is not far behind once all these other benefits come together. With awareness and balance in body and mind, the soul is free to flourish. In the presence of horses, this is even more apparent and spectacular.
When I guide yoga with horses, it’s about sharing what feels good for both equine and human. Sometimes the person is assisting the horse with a stretch, and other times the horse is assisting the person. When or if the time is right, both horse and human are stretching together. Yoga practice brings awareness to your own imbalances as well as your horse’s. You gain a new appreciation for how you might be affecting your horse when you’re riding, or what your horse may need in order to support his imbalances.
If you haven’t yet tried yoga, I encourage you to do so. If you have tried it but decided it’s not for you, I encourage you to try again. Try more than one style or class. A certain style or instructor will resonate with you. It may take a few different classes for you to discover this, but when you do it will be well worth it. All the benefits discussed above – and more – await you and your horse.
Linda Guanti is a certified yoga instructor based out of Pemberton, BC. She discovered yoga after an injury left her with chronic health issues, affecting her ability to ride. Yoga changed her life and she now utilizes it to help other riders, and stretch their horses too! yogawithhorses.com