Alignment is one of the core things I work with my clients on. Whether it’s in the saddle with their horse, or on the ground in various contexts- stacking our joints efficiently is a big part in effectively moving, performing and living a healthy life.
One thing we often forget about when it comes to alignment is how much it is affected by our psycho-emotional state. Psychosomatics is a growing field where we actually are beginning to see significant connection between how we move and physically exist, and what’s going on mentally/emotionally. A common example is rounded shoulders and a forward collapsed postures generally relate to anxious, depressed, or fearful emotional patterning, whereas the opposite, open chest, broad shoulders and a “head held high” appearance imply a confident, open demeanor.
This is paramount when it comes to our work with horses.
Body language is upwards of 80% of how we communicate to those around us- this includes our horses. Our emotions and subconscious beliefs deeply effect how we present ourselves in our physical bodies. In fact, it’s one of the ways I assess clients when they come to see me with pain, dysfunction, or wanting to improve their overall performance. Looking at someone’s posture and basic movement can gives me valuable clues as to what they may be processing or subconsciously holding onto. I believe it was Dr Joe Dispenza who has been quoted saying “our body is our subconscious mind”.
When we think of our conscious being and unconscious/subconscious parts – most of us immediately picture stuff going on in our heads. The fascinating thing is that it’s often the opposite. Many of us are unconscious to the patterns, emotions, memories, and traumas we hold in tissues and patterns below our jawline.
For example: some psychosomatics theories talk about how certain chronic movement or tension holding patterns in the body relate to specific emotional patterns. We can get much more detailed from the examples I listed above. Flat footedness, collapsed knees, and inwardly rolled hips can signal a subconscious belief of unworthiness, lack of internal efficacy, victim mindset and anxious tendencies. Rigid postures and chronic tension often relate to rigidness and trouble adapting to change in life, unresolved traumas emotionally or physically, and difficulties with connection.
What are the common things I see with riders? Many of us struggle to maintain an open hip position and find ourselves collapsed forwards. Similarly, many of us struggle with horses who reflect anxiety, struggle to keep rhythm and are reactive. This can create a vicious cycle. A fearful rider will feed a anxious horse- even if the rider doesn’t consciously feel fear or anxiety. Our horses communicate via body language and therefore whatever we are saying with our subconscious is what our horse is hearing and responding to.
The nervous system works in cycles and patterns, always related to our survival. Our posture is a direct reflection of these patterns and cycles- which means the way we are living now is likely a direct reflection of patterning set in our developmental years (age 0-7years). How those around you moved, spoke, what they believed about themselves and others, how they interacted with you and themselves.. all these things were are base point for patterning. During those developmental years, the prime learning system involves mirror neurons in our nervous system. These fascinating systems essentially reflect and mimic what’s going on around us, patterning our speech, movement, emotional patterns and subconscious default for the rest of our lives. We never lose our mirror neurons physically, however not many of us are conscious of their capability for helping us rewire our very selves throughout life.
Those patterns we are unconscious of dictate how we operate in life. Themes emerge in our relationships, self talk, horses, and health. How we move adjusts to reflect these patterns. Our horse’s can be amazing partners in helping us rewire patterns; simultaneously they shouldn’t have to burden our lack of awareness.
How do we go about changing and rewiring our alignment and our patterning? Depending on where people are at, sometimes the easiest place to start is the alignment. Most riders I work with find themselves being pulled forwards, ahead of their center of gravity. Most also don’t have a rooted connection to their feet in the stirrups. Metaphors for tendencies in our society to be ungrounded, disconnected and overburdened? Maybe… regardless.. we start by opening ourselves up (physically and otherwise).
Sarah and I talk about this a lot on our podcast, “Your Horse is Not The Problem”. It all begins with an openness and an awareness. Can I tell you what’s going to work best for you? Not really.. but I can offer some suggestions. Next time you ride, spend the first few moments connecting into your breath. See if you can feel your horse’s breath underneath you.. better yet, before you get on.. sync your breath to theirs. Our breath is an uber powerful way to connect into and to moderate our nervous system reactions. Changes in your breath will tell you something.
I’m all for goals- but when it comes to awareness and accomplishing our goals- realistically we have to let go of the linear process. Instead of having a goal orientated riding session, hack around once in a while and just see what you notice. What happens when you lean back from your hips, more than you think you want to? What about if you ride like a jelly fish and relax everything you possibly can? Play. Learn to feel, not to do.
Diving into this type of work is often best done with some form of facilitation. It’s extremely difficult to become aware at first of our patterns without having them pointed out to us in a constructive way. This facilitation may come in the form of a good and honest friend, a therapist, a coach or clinician. It’s worth the time and resources to find someone you jive with, that will challenge you and help you turn more inwards with your inquiries.