Things were going so well.
I was writing, spending quality time with my family, hanging out with my horses, exercising, loving teaching my therapeutic riding students – and then suddenly I wasn’t. Things stopped going so well.
In the space of a week, I was diagnosed with a heart condition (no wonder I’ve been so exhausted!), and I injured my knee severely enough to warrant surgery. I missed a few days of writing, a few days of exercise, a few days of spending extra time with my horses… and then it was a week, and then it was 2 weeks…it felt like I had lost my way. Can you relate?
Plans and Dreams or Pain and Drudgery?
The truth is we’re all faced with stuff that crops up and knocks us for a loop. Health, horses, family, work – none of it runs smoothly all the time. But how we cope with those unexpected issues can be the difference between returning to our plans and dreams, or getting stuck with pain and drudgery.
We can do what I did for about 2 weeks – we can wallow, play the poor me game, whine a little (or wine a lot ;-), and just let it all wash over us. In fact, that’s probably a useful thing to do. It gives us the chance to sort out and deal with all of the ramifications of our unwanted circumstances (like teaching my therapeutic students while on crutches and having major bouts of dizziness and lightheadedness.)
[Tweet ” But there comes a time to put away the pity party hat. It’s time to move on.”]
If you read my post about meditation, you’ll remember that I recommend the app 10% Happier – Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics. One of the teachers in 10% Happier is Joseph Goldstein, a man with an amazingly calming voice and manner. Joseph’s advice when your mind wanders in meditation is, “simply begin again”. I think Joseph is on to something.
We have a choice. We can continue to focus on the problem, or we can look for the solution. Lamenting the time I’ve lost exercising isn’t going to heal my knee or move me toward my weight loss and health goals. Far better to find ways to exercise that don’t compromise my knee, and simply begin again.
Throw my plans for my blog, my coaching courses, and my book out the window because I’ve abandoned my writing schedule for a few weeks or push my self-imposed deadlines a little further out, and simply begin again?
Fuss that I’m not riding or keeping on my training schedule for Bella, or spend my time doing ground work and relationship building with my horses, and simply begin again.
It’s a choice we all have – wallow or win? Whine or work?
For me? I think I’ll simply begin again.
Today, I’m going to continue to
rant preach talk to you a bit more about mindfulness. If it seems like I’m ranting preaching talking about this topic a lot, it’s because I feel it’s one of the most important concepts I cover on the Horsey Life.
Everything you do, every moment you spend with your horse, setting and achievement of every goal – all come down to this one concept.
My challenge for you today is to see how often you catch yourself going through your day on autopilot – shoulders tense, mind going ninety-to-the-dozen, and generally feeling like a hamster on a wheel.
When you find yourself in that place – bring yourself back to THIS place. You are here – now BE here.
“M” word? Mindfulness? Good one, but not quite. Well, you can’t mean that “M” word!! No, this isn’t that kind of blog. The “M” word in question is…..
Yup – I said it. I just rolled out the woo-woo, hippie, New-Agey word. The word of saffron robes and incense and people who have nothing better to do… I can see your eye rolls from here, for heaven’s sake!!
It may (or may not) interest you to know that meditation does NOT require you to be able to sit in lotus position (thank God!), nor does it require you to be a willowy 20-someting clad in spandex with a serene expression and nary a wrinkle in sight. It doesn’t even require you be sitting on a deserted beach or standing on a majestic mountaintop! Who knew?
So, are you willing to stick with me (at least grumblingly) for a few minutes to learn a little about what meditation is and how it can help with your horse? Good. You never know – you might even surprise yourself and give it a try!
If you’re like many people (including me up until a few years ago), you are pretty certain that meditation isn’t, never has been, and never will be your thing. Why? Glad you asked – let me list the ways:
- you’re too busy
- you don’t have the time
- you can’t sit still long enough
- your mind won’t stop
- you’re too busy (trust me, I used to trot this one out frequently)
- it’s boring
- it’s too woo-woo
- and, last but not least – you’re too busy
I had all these reasons, and dozens more – but I got to the place where I was a little tired of living my life on auto pilot, never “finding” time to ride for enjoyment, sit and read a good book, or even sit and read a trashy book. I would get to the end of a day and wonder how the hell I got there. Yeah, not exactly the queen of awareness. And I started paying the price. Migraines, a big uptick in my fibromyalgia symptoms, being completely exhausted and depressed – I wasn’t living, I was existing, and it sucked.
So, I “tried” meditating. I would set my timer for 3 minutes and wait for my mind to go blank. It never did. I thought -“Wow – I can’t even get this right! It’s freaking sitting still for God’s sake and I can’t even do that! What kind of a failure am I???” (Did I mention how kind I used to be to myself? No? Well, you probably get the idea…)
Now, before I get into some of the benefits I’ve received from meditating (and I meditate anywhere from 5 – 20 minutes a day, that’s all), I want to tell you how it relates to this whole Find Yourself on a Horse thing…
In this post I spoke about how your horse is likely to react to you when you approach him with an agenda. Horses are much better partners when you’re fully present. Whether you’re “just” bringing your horse in from the field or you’re running barrels to win a kick-ass buckle, the more present you are, the better the experience will be – for both of you.
The first thing you need to be able to do to improve your level of presence is to be aware of what you’re doing. But awareness does not just happen. Let me repeat that: Awareness does not just happen. It takes work, it takes awareness… wait – if we need awareness to become aware… Yeah, the whole chicken-and-egg thing, I know. And here’s where meditation becomes a useful little tool.
Make meditation your bitch.
When I say “useful little tool”, I really mean make meditation your bitch.
Meditation isn’t just for hippies any more. It can help “normal” horse owners (does such a creature exist??) with things like remembering your dressage test, controlling your road rage, alleviating your constant stress, oh yeah, and giving you a better relationship with your horse and the key people in your life – especially yourself!
Meditation isn’t just for hippies any more.
By sitting (or standing, or walking, or lying down, or riding) in meditation, you step back from the chaos that is your mind. You detach long enough to realize that your mind is chaos, but that chaos is not you – not all of you, anyway.
Meditation helps you observe the rabbit, without getting dragged down the rabbit hole.
So if you’ve “tried” meditation and found that “it doesn’t work” (see above), you’re going at it with the wrong expectations. You see, meditation doesn’t mean your mind goes blank. It means you start to find tiny spaces between the to-do list, questions that pop up, memories of your grandmother’s plum cake – God, that was so buttery and good and …. Hey! I’m still thinking here!!! Yes. You’re a human being. We think. Get used to it – but, not so used to it that you believe that’s all there is.
Mind the Gap
Remember that tiny space between the questions and the memories of the plum cake? That’s your first opening into the world of meditation. That tiny fragment of open space allows you to realize that there is a space not occupied by thoughts. A place where you are a human being, not a human thinking or a human doing.
Mind the Gap
If the first time you meditate, you have a gap that lasts for about a millionth of a second – congratulations! That’s a great place to start. If the first time you meditate you have no gaps at all – congratulations! That’s a great place to start, too. The important thing is you started. Don’t expect miracles overnight. (I’m still not a willowy 20-something with no wrinkles and oodles of serenity).
Once you see that little chink in your thoughts the first time – notice it. Remember it. The following day, you may have 2 tiny gaps. Notice them. Remember them. As for the endless stream of thoughts? No worries – they’re not going to just go away, (because that would probably mean you’re dead, and that would suck, too…) What do you do about the thoughts, the itch, the ache in your left ankle from getting stepped on last year? Nothing. You don’t have to try to evict them from your mind. You don’t have to tally them, worry about them, or feel guilty about them. They are there – so just let them be there. (Isn’t it nice to have something you don’t have to do anything about?)
I Do It My Way
As you may imagine, there are thousands of “right” ways to meditate (explained to you in the thousands of books, apps, courses, and videos about meditation). I simply sit in a comfortable position (on a chair, not on a meditation pillow, mountain top, or beach), close my eyes, and focus on my breathing. Just noticing the breath going in and out of my body. I don’t change my breathing or try to breathe a certain way – I just breathe and notice the breath. Thoughts come up, I notice them, and then I come back to noticing my breathing. Sometimes I come back to noticing my breath within a few seconds, sometimes it’s not until the timer goes off at the end of my meditation (damn that plum cake!), but that’s fine, too. You see, one of the best things about meditation, is that there’s no wrong way to do it.
If you truly want to see benefits in your (horsey) life from meditation, commit to a week or so before you decide that A) Meditation sucks B) You suck at meditation C) I suck because I recommended you try meditation in the first place.
For those of you who want to explore meditation a little further and don’t want anything preachy or woo-woo, check out the app 10% Happier – Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics. It’s available for your mobile device of choice. 10% Happier was developed by a team led by Dan Harris, an ABC News anchor who started his meditation journey after having a panic attack… on live TV. (Kind of makes forgetting your test in the last dressage show seem pretty insignificant, doesn’t it?)
The app is part instruction manual, and part humorous autobiography of how Dan found meditation to be helpful. If it turns out you love his self-deprecating humor/actual useful advice style, check out his book on Amazon. (This is an affiliate link – when all tens of millions of my readers order this book from this link, I shall retire to Tahiti and continue to write my blog from there). 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story.
Whichever path you choose, I hope you’ll give meditation a try, and that it becomes at least a small part of your daily routine. While you aren’t likely to become an Olympic-calibre rider overnight, it will help improve your relationship with your horse – and that’s what this is all about, isn’t it?
You’ve had a long day – perhaps even a long week, month, or year – and you’re ready to head to the barn to see your horse and de-stress. Before you pull on those barn boots, take five minutes to run through these 3 simple exercises. You and your horse will both be glad you did.
1. Take a Few Deep Breaths.
It may sound trite, but taking a few deep breaths really can help you get centered and de-stress. There are a few reasons for this:
- When we’re tense, we typically don’t breathe fully. When we don’t breathe fully, less oxygen travels to our brain, and we’re more likely to make decisions based on habit or our subconscious rather than conscious choice.
- We often carry tension in our upper bodies, particularly our shoulders, neck and jaw. That tension can make us less comfortable when we’re grooming, less effective when we’re riding, and most importantly, can be transmitted to our horse.
- The act of stopping to take a few deep breaths has the effect of slowing you down and bringing you into the present moment – which is the best place to be when you’re with your horse.
Once you’ve taken a few deep breaths, do a few shoulder rolls and neck rolls, open your jaw wide (as if you’re yawning) and then let your mouth close and your jaw relax. The minute or two you’ve taken to do these are the first step.
2. Have a Goal
It’s a good idea to have a goal any time you head to the barn. Having a goal will make you clear on why you’re spending time with your horse, and give you a chance to pat yourself on the back for accomplishing it.
If you’re visiting the barn to destress, your goal can be as simple as, “I will spend 45 minutes enjoying the company of my horse. I will be fully present, and if I find my mind wandering to work or things that are stressing me, I will release those thoughts until I return home from the barn.”
Sometimes giving yourself permission to delay dealing with life’s problems while you’re with your horse is hard, but it gets easier with practice – and it’s worth it! As I covered in this post – you’ll get more enjoyment from your visit if you’re fully present – and so will your horse.
If you find it very challenging, try setting aside a half hour after you get back from the barn to deal with the situations that are stressing you. Make an actual appointment with yourself, and then when you’re at the barn, you can let go of those thoughts a little more easily by knowing that you have a specific time set aside to deal with them later.
3. Leave Your Troubles at the (Barn) Door
One of my students used to arrive at the barn stressed, and she found it very hard to unwind during her lesson until I made a suggestion. When she arrived at the barn, I asked her to imagine taking her stress and leaving it in a box just outside the barn door. She found this hugely helpful.
It became a little ritual for her to stop just outside the door, close her eyes, imagine her stress as a physical object, and “see” herself putting it in a box. Although slightly self-conscious about the whole thing at first, she soon discovered that once that stress was in the box, she always “forgot” to pick it back up on the way out, and the rest of her day was more enjoyable as well.
I had another student who felt her stress was wrapped around her, like a cloak. Once she started using visualization to remove her “cloak of stress”, she also found it easier to unwind and enjoy her time at the barn.
So the next time you need some equine therapy to relax and recharge after a tough day, take 5 minutes to prepare for your visit using these 3 simple exercises, and you and your horse will both get much more out of the visit.