Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The practice of Yoga and the Art of riding Classical Spanish Dressage

This is a good follow up to the previous blog that spoke of the 8 limbs of yoga and how they relate to riding. 

Recently I began riding in a formal arena again after more than 10 years and after swearing I would never do another 20 meter circle ever again.  In the past I had trained with some wonderful teachers here in Costa Rica.  They were and are skilled riders and teachers.  I purposefully left the life of arena riding and formal dressage lessons so many years ago because I felt something was missing from my riding.  That something was a true and honest connection to my horse.  This was not the fault of my teachers.  I was not ready to understand and reach out for that connection at the time.
After many years of trail riding, mostly bareback and bridle less, I experienced that joyful and trusting connection true horse people have with their equine partners.  I could not articulate that special relationship I developed with my horse but instinctively I knew this was what had been lacking in my previous arena training.
A true connection with your horse is simply an honest two-way conversation between you and your horse.  It doesn't have to be mystical or magical, although sometimes it certainly feels like it is!  It is the product of learning about general horse behavior and physiology.  It is the natural result of becoming more aware and sensitive to one's own energy and how that is transmitted to and reacted to by your horse.
The practice of Yoga offers us daily opportunities to learn and experience lessons that we take to our horse training sessions.  In yoga, as in dressage riding, mental preparation, soft mindful breath, mental conviction, and a gentle approach are the foundation to achieve union in Yoga and in Riding.
That is the attitude I  bring to my yoga practice and now to my riding lessons. Every 20 meter circle, diagonal , or transition is an opportunity to forge and enhance my connection and communication with my horse.   Knowing that my breath, mental resolve, and gentle manner are positively and constructively received by my horse has improved my riding.

Combining yogic principals to your classical dressage training

        The beauty of Yoga is in its timelessness.  It is as applicable now as it was 6000 years ago.
The practice of Yoga is to find harmony and oneness.

       Yoga is a light, which once lit, will never dim. The better your practice, the brighter the flame.
B.K.S. Iyengar
A yoga practice gives us the tools to experience ourselves this blissful union and bright light.

     Classical riding is a type of Yoga.  It is a true expression of two souls not only communicating but dancing as one.

         “Equestrian art is the perfect understanding and harmony between horse and rider”
                                                                                                                                                   – Nuno Oliviera

     We strive to approach both practices with an open heart and mind.  Just as we use our intellect to help quiet our mind during our yoga asana practice we take that same calm and quiet mind to help us "hear" what our horse is saying to us.  When our bodies are still and our mind is quiet then only can we hear and understand what our horse is communicating and respond accordingly.  When our own emotions are controlled yet open and aware; it is in that moment that we are ready to communicate in an honest fashion with our horse.  It is in that perfect moment that we can ask our horse to learn or perform a particular movement.

   A yoga practice shows us how to be masters of our levels of energy.  We can control whether the type of energy we put out into the world is soft, calm, determined, or chaotic, frenetic, angry, or sad, frustrated and anxious.  When we work with horses we constantly monitor their energy output and adjust ours.   Sometimes it is just the opposite, we first adjust our energy level and persuade our equine partner to mirror it.

   The 8 limbs of Yoga as espoused by Pantanjali more than 5000 years ago is a blueprint to achieving this perfect harmony and union within ourselves and with our horses.  We follow the Yamas and Niyamas in order to learn and perfect our moral behavior , personally, and within society.  The Yamas and Niyamas are a list of do's and don'ts, much like the 10 commandments.  As we perfect these behaviors we begin to practice yoga postures, yoga breathing, and the first steps leading to meditation.  These are, yoga asanas, yoga pranayama, and yoga pratyahara.  Through these practices we condition the physical body  and begin to gain control over the mind.  The last three limbs are dharana, dhyana, and samadhi.  Dharana and Dhyana are stepping stones to achieve self-realization or samadhi.  Dharana is one-point focuss, a type of mind exercise to help steady and quiet the thoughts.  Dhyana is comtemplation;  finding the union in your thoughts and in meditation.  

     The observance of the 8 limbs helps prepare us physically and emotionally to work with and ride our horses.  We become masters of our mind and masters of the type and intensity of energy we expend.  We communicate with our horses more with our mind and levels of energy than we do with our physical aids.  Classical dressage training and riding are founded on this precept.

     "The apex of perfection in equestrian art is not an exhibition of a great deal of different airs and movements by the same horse, but rather the conservation of the horse's enjoyment, suppleness and finesse during the performance, which calls for comparison with the finest ballet, or performance of an orchestra, or seeing a play by Racine, so moving is the sight of perfectly unisoned movements." ~ Nuno Oliveira