Monday, July 6, 2015

Which YTT is right for you?

I can only tell you my personal experience and hope it helps you make your decision.  I already knew my priority was to go the source and that meant traveling to India.  I wanted to be as close to the culture and origins of Yoga as possible.  Second, I wanted knowledge.  I felt pretty comfortable with the whole teaching part of the course, I wanted the content, and not just the physical anatomy of each asana, I wanted to know the philosophy behind each pose.
I was bound by the time of year I could travel to India, so that was an easy parameter for me to plug into the equation.  For my second YTT I wanted to learn more about Yoga Therapy;  aha!  My second parameter.  And thirdly I wanted to go to a working Yoga clinic to learn and see yoga therapy in play.  I chose Andiappan YTT in Chenai.  Guruji runs a school and clinic and offers 200 and 300 hour YTT for teachers and therapists.  To this day I remember my time there fondly and refer often to my notes taken in class.  The training I received has been invaluable to me in my personal practice and in my teaching career.
My third training ,which completed my 500 hours in YTT, had to be in the mountains of India, again near the source of Yoga, and I wanted more yoga philosophy and literature to be part of the training.  I researched several schools until I came across a review of Association for Meditation and Yoga in Rishikesh that praised the teacher and the course content. All my criteria were met.  Rishikesh is a holy city in the foothills of the Himalayas, the Ganges run through the city, and the YTT offered the topics I wanted to learn. As with my first and second training, this course further deepened my own practice and has given me the skills and knowledge to better guide the yoga students that share yoga with me.

Knowing how I researched my own YTT training I want to be as clear as I can when describing the YTT our school offers.  I planned the curriculum to reflect my priorities in teaching and in content.  My hope was and is to offer students an opportunity to live a yoga life style for those 2 to 3 weeks they attend the YTT course. 

 I firmly believe that  Yoga must  be experienced.  Side by side with each lecture class we offer real learning demonstrations, practicums and student teaching opportunities, from Day one of the course.

As Patanjali in the Sutras states one needs " right knowledge, right wisdom to practice yoga."  And, an often quoted adage by BKS Iyengar, "Words cannot convey the value of yoga – it has to be experienced."

Why do we share yoga with our  friends and horses?
Because it is so much fun!

The yogic path to connecting with your horse
The practice of yoga is like our relationship to horses, both require us to harken back to or childhood days of endless curiosity, spontaneity, and complete lack of self-consciousness.
Our young rider and yogi comes to class each week with a ready smile and an air of joyful eagerness.  He gently reaches out to the horses to kiss and pet them.  He doesn't think first and act later.  He trusts his own feelings and  acts out of  joy and instinct.  He is only 4 years old and probably cannot articulate the concept, but as his teacher and guide, I can see that his relationship with our horses and his own sense of self-confidence and self-awareness has grown steadily as he spends more and more time with the horses, mounted and on the ground. 
Horses respond  to emotions of happiness, contentment, acceptance, and peace.  These are all emotions we strive to cultivate through our yoga practice, on and off the mat. Just like this young student,  we will find a greater depth of connection to ourselves and to our horses when we let go of our "adult" ego and become like children again.
Can we approach the challenge of our yoga asana practice with endless curiosity?  Not  to find out if we can do the more advanced  asana but to explore how we feel as we challenge ourselves .  Can we use our curiosity to open ourselves up to undiscovered possibilities?  Will that curiosity be ego driven or selfless?
Can we allow ourselves to be open to the learning of the moment?  to revel in the spontaneity of our efforts?  Will we see the moment as an opportunity to change direction all together;  the challenge we thought we were addressing now becomes unimportant as we allow ourselves to be aware of other subtle actions at play.
 As we lose our ego can we look at  this asana differently?  Perhaps we can approach the asana from a perspective of our breath?  Can we view this asana more holistically? Will our efforts become  guided by our instincts now instead of our ego consciousness?
When we delve deeper into our Yoga practice we allow ourselves to remember our childhood's love to explore, to act with intuition, and to lose ourselves completely in the moment. That is YOGA.
Horses are always experiencing that "moment."  They are always in a state of Yoga, or oneness.  They freely offer us the  opportunity to share this experience with them, we just have to be aware of the invitation. As we do on our yoga mat, when we approach a training objective with our horse, let us try to be curious and open, let us let go of any set rules and trust our intuition, and let us try to merge our ego with that of the horse and become one with him.
For example:  When teaching a young horse to move in a straight line and gently round his body in a turn, sometimes the lesson becomes not  about the horse's body position and balance but more about our ability to initiate and maintain a two way dialogue with our horse. 
 As riders we are constantly communicating and listening to our horse.  We develop the skills to listen, understand and react, all in a timely manner, to what are horse is signalling to us.  To do this we must practice Yoga, the art of oneness and union.  We consciously allow our inner child to run free.  Our sense of curiosity becomes a willingness and openness to explore.  We let go of preconceived notions and welcome spontaneous moments of learning to enter our raining sessions.
I don't know why, but horses are generous and will give back more than two fold what you give to them.  So let yourself go.   Let your ego fly away.   Let your sub-conscious merge with your horse and experience the joy of oneness with this beautiful and noble creature.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Yoga, Horses, and Young Kids:  a Winning Combination

Today we had a major breakthrough in our yoga and horseback riding class.  Our youngest rider came today for his one hour class.  He arrived eager with a smile on his face and, as usual, a million questions;  porque?...  This young boy is curious about everything!

When he first came to us he was afraid of the horses, the dogs, and the cats.  He would cling to his Poppi and shy away from the horses.  The first time he actually rode one of our horses was a great feat for all of us.  Today, after just 3 classes of riding solo in the arena he asked if he could trot.  Previously he was adamantly opposed to doing anything more than a slow shuffle with the horses.

With a smile, and of course many questions, we rode together on Centella, our 18  year old mare, in a trot around and around our arena.  What a joy! and then he even cantered for a short time.

Usually after riding in the arena we take a walk around our garden, with one of us walking beside him at all times.  Today we did something special;  with his riding helmet on and on a lead rein we walked down our driveway and onto our small country lane.  This was his first trail ride!  He asked if we going far or near.  He asked why he had to wear a helmet.  He asked why Centella was walking close to my horse, Half-Pint.  He asked why and when he could go further.  He asked why the road was hard.  He asked why we had to turn around and head home.  He asked and asked and asked.  This kid has an insatiable curiosity about life.

Afterwards he happily helped take off the riding pads and halters and lead the horses to the pasture after saying "muchas gracias" to both of them.  

This young rider has come a long way.  In our yoga and horse back riding classes he is learning confidence in himself and his own actions and he is learning how to communicate and bond with another animal.

Congratulations Matty, good job!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

What is meditation and how to do it?  Oftentimes just the word "meditation" is intimidating.  We have images of  either ascetic and skinny Indian men sitting motionless in a cave or we have beatific images of a rotund Buddha sitting contentedly under a tree.

For me, as I travel my own yoga journey, meditation has come to mean true mindfullness in every moment.  That moment can be during a sunset dance meditation on the beach, or a quiet moment with my horse.
Being aware of each breath I take and  being sensitive to my own emotions  for me defines a large part of my  yoga practice.  Meditation is part of the practice and the goal of the practice.

Just as yoga is the practice and the goal.  The observance of Yoga and of Meditation give us the tools to go further into our practice and deeper into our meditation but these observances are complete in themselves and as such are the goal.  Your practice is your achievement.

There is no sudden arrival at your Yoga, or Union.  You experience it every day.  As BKS Iyengar said, yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory, do it and all will come.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

As a retreat guide what I learn while “on the job.”

Every time we offer our Yoga in Harmony with Horses retreats ( that is me and Terry Lillian Newton of Kindred Spirits) we gain just as much or more than our guests.  In our most recent retreat I received the gift of letting go of my inner dis-harmonies and realized the joy that act gave me.

We had just ridden one and a half hours in the morning sun through countryside and steep hills.  With the help of our ever cheerful volunteer we unsaddled the horses and left them in a shady spot as we hiked through the jungle to the hidden waterfalls and pond.  Our guests marveled at the verdant foliage and jungle noises.

Upon reaching the waterfalls we cooled off in the pond and started to have fun and connection with yoga poses. It was when we reached the large boulders and tall tree growing literally in the middle of the creek that I found my yoga.

waterall yoga 3.gif
Once we settled into our individual meditations I began to simultaneously chant OM.  I felt the vibrations of this primordial and spiritual sound resonate deep in my lower chakras and rise up to my heart chakra.  I was in the moment, my thoughts and body in a state of calm and relaxed awareness. 
 Peace and Harmony

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Waterhole Rituals with Linda Salinas: finding true connection with your horse when he is at liberty and allowed to be in full expression

Horses at liberty, no tack, no restraints, they are free to make their own choices, to decide if they will interact with us or not.

Horses at liberty:  a beautiful concept.  How do you view your horse?  More importantly how does he view you?  Is he always in a halter and tack when you interact with him?  Does your horse have the joy and freedom to just be a horse when he is with you?  

With the spectacular background of Volcano Arenal  we sit in a meditation circle to begin our day

The Water Hole Rituals, formualted by Carolyn Resnick, are a simple and elegant group of behaviors that people can emulate with their horses to forge and enhance their connections to them.  The premise of the rituals, as I interpret them, is to 1.  allow your horse full expression at all times, and 2.  to abide by the "rules" of herd behavior, that is we take on the role of lead mare.

As lead mare we are charged with the responsibility to protect and lead our herd, at all times.  How does a lead mare guide her herd?  She guides from behind, with clarity, integrity, and swiftness.  Horses are prey animals and herd animals.  They are on the look out for predators and they are searching for the security of a lead mare to keep them safe.  

Once a shy horse, leery of human contact, Apache now  seeks contact, he trusts his curiosity to initiate and maintain connection

Linda Salinas guided, coached and encouraged us in a 5 day clinic to appreciate and learn how to "lead" our herd.  In order to lead your herd you first  make a connection with your horse.   When he initiates the contact he is in full expression of his freedom of choice.  We can build upon that first contact to deepen our connection so that he sees us as the source of security and comfort, and  joy and play.  As a yoga practitioner I like to look at this as the true Yoga expression of Union.  In Yoga this union is often expressed as the union of body, mind, and spirit.  There is harmony and a connectedness among all things.  

Two curious beings

What do we do with this connection?  Well, that is up to you.  The rituals are tools to help us connect with our horse.  Whether you are a competitive or casual rider,  this true connection will enhance all your activities together.  Your horse will be your happy and willing partner, always curious to see what next fun adventure you two will have, whether in the competition arena or the trail, or your backyard.


To learn more about the Water Hole Rituals see Carolyn Resnick and Linda Salinas.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Yoga horse pranayama in Costa Rica

Pranayama and your horse
As practitioners of yoga and natural horsemanship we practice pranayama because we want to enhance our self-awareness and deepen our connection to our horse.  

What is the practice of pranayama?  It is the practice of self-awareness through breath control. We know that when we breath slowly and deeply we connect with our parasympathetic nervous system and this promotes relaxation of both our thoughts and our muscles.  Just through the control of our breath we can "will" ourselves to relax.  

As practitioners of natural horsemanship we know and appreciate that horses are intuitive animals.  One way to deepen our connection to our horse through breath is to do a modified child's pose next to our horse with our hands on his back.  In this position we can feel the rhythm of our horses' respiration and in turn he can feel our breath as our bodies gently move in time with each other's  inhale and exhale.

Another technique is to first tune in to your horses' respiration.  Take note of the rate and force of his breath.  Now try to match his respiration with yours.  Once you are in synch with his respiration begin to slow and deepen your own breath.  Try to make each inhale deeper and each exhale longer.  As you continue with this pranayama your own emotions and physical body will begin to relax.  Note the changes in the respiration of your horse.  He will follow where your breath leads. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

yoga and natural horsemahnship Costa RIca

There is a lot of good and bad literature out on the web these days about natural horsemanship.  I find it confusing so I imagine a lot of other people do too.  I find it useful to read, read and read some more about the practice of natural horsemanship and then put the theories into practice.  Having a young horse like Half-Pint makes it fun turning book learning into real riding experiences.

Just as in Yoga there are many paths so in natural horsemanship are there many ways to practice your training and your interactions with your horse.  There are, however, some core principals both espouse.  As a yoga practitioner I find the first limb of Yoga by Patanjali works well to describe these common guidelines. (see the 8 limbs of Patanjali and ashtanga yoga)

What are these common guidelines?  If we put them into yoga parlance they would be as follows:

#1.  Yamas :  moral guidelines for our behaviour towards oneself and towards others
a.  ahimsa:  non-violence
b.  satya:  truth
c.  asteya:  non-stealing
d.  brahmacharya:  self discipline, abstinence
e.  aparigraha:  non-coveting
How can we apply these yamas to our horse training?

AHIMSA... First, of course, we never want to hurt our horse, physically or emotionally.  This means we educate ourselves on the proper care and feeding of our horse.  We do not knowingly use negative reinforcement to "teach" a lesson to our horse.

SATYA...In order to have a honest and truthful communication with our horse we must educate ourselves about the true nature and psychology of our horse. 

ASTEYA...In this case non-stealing means we take care not to take away the liberty and dignity of our horse in our training and care for him.  We honour his God-given right to a life of integrity while under our care.

BRAHMACHARYA...We take care not to let our ego supersede the physical and emotional health of the horses in our care.

APARIGRAHA...Similar to the practice brahmarcharya, we take care not to let jealousy or other such emotions guide our training practices.

The very definition of Natural Horsemanship encompasses the Yamas.

Further the practice of the Niyamas is also an integral part of natural horsemanship.
#2 Niyamas:  These are guidelines to individual behaviour.
a.  saucha:  purity in body, thought, and spirit
b.  santosa:  contentment
c.  tapas:  austerity, self-discipline
d.  swadyay:  self-study
e.  isvara  pranidhana:  dedication to a higher power

How do we apply the Niyamas to our natural horsemanship practices?
SAUCHA...Horses are extremely intuitive animals and they sometimes know our emotions and thoughts better than we do.  When we are with our horses we should take care to have loving and positive thoughts and actions.  We are constantly communicating with  our horse, even if we are not aware of that communication.

SANTOSA...When we are in the moment, truly focussed on the matter at hand we experience contentment and that calm demeanour is transferred to our horse.

TAPAS...Like the niyamas earlier our emotions and actions are always being communicated to our horse.  The practice of self-discipline helps to keep us focussed, calm, and attentive to our horses.

SWADYAY...The more we interact with our horses the more we learn about ourselves.  We learn about our capacity for patience, perseverance, compassion and empathy.

ISVARA PRANIDHANA:  The bond  we experience with our horses leads us to appreciate and honour a greater universal love and unity than just rationalization can comprehend.

Further in the Yoga sutras of Patanjali yoga practitioners are admonished to do their practice with the "right knowledge."  With regards to natural horsemanship that means we are called to study and learn, to read and ask questions, to always be a student of our horse's physical and psychological make up.

Here is an example, a simple one but a powerful illustration of right knowledge coupled with the observances of the yamas and niyamas in natural horsemanship.

Half-Pint has been with us almost a full year now.  He is almost 5 years old.  He is ridden without a bit, and sometimes without a halter or reins.  My priority in all our training sessions is to deepen our connection and our ability to communicate with one another.  With that goal in mind as we train together I do figures that will help him strengthen his muscles, increase the range of motion in his joints, and enhance his muscular and skeletal balance.

 He is naturally more stiff in his right turns, meaning he keeps his neck rather straight when turning to the right rather than gently arching his neck and his whole body into a banana shape.  To help him soften his left neck muscles I have to first understand the mechanics of how muscles contract and stretch.  His ability to turn a balanced right turn is directly dependent on how easily he can relax the left side of his neck.  Or you could say his ability to contract the right side of his neck.  In Yoga we know that when we contact our front quads our hamstrings automatically lengthen:  muscle mechanics of stretching.

Armed with this knowledge , and coupled with the universal truth that horses move away from pressure , I ask Half-Pint to make a right turn with my outside left rein and leg.  My right leg is quiet as is my right rein.  Ok, this is not rocket science and all riders know how to make a right turn, the difference in natural horsemanship is that we do not use the introduction of pain or discomfort to teach the right behaviour.  Instead we use the observance of the yamas and niyamas to help us. 

I practice the yamas by closely observing Half-Pint's reaction to the lesson.  Have we first established a connection where he is ready and eager to begin our lesson?  How is he responding?  with confusion, rejection, anxiety, contentment and eagerness?  I ride without any horse tack that will introduce discomfort to Half-Pint.  The lesson is learned by patient repetition and fun figures to keep him curious and eager to see what we are going to do next. 

I observe the niyamas in the same way, by keeping my focus and awareness on the physical and emotional well being of Half-Pint.  I only keep the lesson going for as long as I think Half-Pint is enjoying and learning.  I respect his feelings and physical condition for that training period. 

Lastly, I have faith in him and me;  in the bond we have created between us. 

Yoga Horses and Costa Rica

Yoga, horses, and Costa Rica.  This Saturday we are honored to receive a training workshop by Don Javier Breton here in Cahuita, Costa Rica.  Don Javier is a renown Spanish Classical Rider and Trainer, now living in Costa Rica.  He will be demonstrating his training skills on and off the horse for us.  Kindred Spirits of Costa Rica has kindly offered the use of their horses for the demonstration but participants are all welcome to bring their own horses also.  Unfortunately I cannot bring Half-Pint; that would have been a wonderful experience for the both of us.  I'll be sure to take lots of pictures and post them to share with you this weekend.
namaste, corinne

Monday, February 9, 2015

Yoga and horses, really?

For those of you still sceptical or just still wondering about what yoga and horses means here is the answer in pictures.  Yoga means union; union of mind, body, and soul. This union expands to mean union of ourselves with the universe around us.  Here we see a beautiful and joyous union between the rider and the horse.



Thursday, January 29, 2015

Yoga practice for you and your horse.

A yoga practice is good for you and good for your horse.  Just as we experience the emotional and physical benefits of a yoga practice so does our equine friend benefit from the slow deep stretches and focussed movements.  Add to this the sharing of energy which occurs between rider and horse and you have a winning combination.

Horses respond to gentle stretches like we do; they enjoy the sensations provoked by the stretch and correspondingly they mentally and physically become more relaxed.  

The self awareness, relaxation, and heightened sensitivity you experience through your own yoga practice can be shared  and reciprocated with your equine partner.    This sharing of energy, or prana, is a unique gift horses generously give to us. There are numerous testimonials and videos of this wondrous interchange between riders and horses on the internet.  I would like to share my personal experience with you and delve deeper into the yogic connection we can all share with our equine friends.IMG_1407.JPG

As responsible riders we strive to be sensitive to the physical and emotional signals our horses are continuously communicating to us.  For example, this morning my daughter was riding our 5 year old gelding , bareback except for the vaulting surcingle and cinch.  Half-Pint ( our gelding) near the end of the training session started to swing his head back to his  left and right shoulder in an agitated fashion.  My daughter, after experiencing this a few times came to a halt and asked if something was pinching or hurting Half-Pint.  This was a great example of the rider, being present and aware and, just as importantly sensitive, to the horse’s signals.  Half-Pint was not being naughty or obstinate, he was telling his rider he was in pain.  Sure enough the cinch was rubbing him raw in two spots.

This was an wonderful demonstration of the rider expanding her own awareness to encompass her horse and interpret correctly the non-verbal cues her mount was giving to her.  My daughter’s mind and spirit was focussed solely on Half-Pint and  she was able to divine very quickly what Half-Pint was signaling.  

A yoga practice helps us to quiet our minds so that we can better practice one-pointed focus and concentration.  As we learn to silence the chaos in our minds we are able to better ground ourselves emotionally and this translates to better communication with our horse.  IMG_1410.JPG

Horses respond like to like; that is when we are calm, they are calm, conversely when we are nervous they are nervous.  Further, when we have quieted the chaos of our thoughts and emotions we can better access our intuitive senses and reach out to our horses.

So, take your yoga practice from the mat to the arena and have fun with your horse.