My first article on why yoga helps horseriding from 2015…..
Lots of people ask me, “What can I do to help with my riding when I’m not on a horse?” To be honest, until now, I have only been able to come up with a few exercises to give them to take home. I’m lucky – to keep fit I just ride more, but I realise that isn’t possible for everyone and I’ve never found anything that has truly helped me other than lots of riding. However, I have a new answer to that question, from now on I will highly recommend yoga. It’s something that I have tried before and dismissed, it hurt and was difficult so I only gave it one go and decided that it wouldn’t help me. So, what made me try yoga again? As you all know, I have been poorly recently, mostly down to exhaustion, so I needed something that would help me take some time out to relax, to slow down. My mum has constantly tried to get me to try it again, but as I always do, I dismissed my mum’s idea until I was ready to hear it.
I started to believe that yoga might help, along with meditation or mindfulness. These techniques seemed to go hand-in-hand, so I looked into it and started just following some ‘flows’ online. I enjoyed it and although it was still difficult because I was so tight and weak, it seemed to give me the feeling of peace that I needed. So next, I booked a lesson with a yoga instructor to check I was doing it correctly, which was a real eye opener. I realised that I never really relaxed, and that I found it hard to let go of tension and how holding that tension was so exhausting. The thing with yoga, compared with the gym or running, is you have to focus on your breathing, and the breathing in yoga isn’t easy. It’s long and slow, it’s controlled and it has to be thought about. Gradually as you start to focus, you feel the tension disappearing – it doesn’t happen instantly but what’s good is that you become aware very quickly when you tighten up again as you lose the breath. It’s taken me a few weeks to get control of my breath, to understand it and to release the tension, but I’m getting there.
So you may say, “Yes, Megan, but how is yoga going to help my riding?”. Here are four reasons to start with.
Reason 1: The breath
Well to start with, the control of breath, especially in the harder poses when you’re being pushed to your limit, is a control you also need to have when you ride. So often, riders tighten up when things get scary or hard – as the challenge becomes greater the breathing gets shallower, the shoulders tighten and the body stiffens. So what you need to do is to control your breath to allow you to stay relaxed but still strong. If the horse doesn’t feel tightness in your body, he will stay relaxed too. This means your movement can be much more controlled, the relationship with the horse is much more open and the lines of energy will flow.
Reason 2: Awareness of the body
Even though I teach posture and position and when I ride I always feel I am aware of my body, yoga takes awareness to a new level. The poses get you thinking about your strengths and weaknesses, they make you aware of where each part of your body is, how it feels, whether it’s tight, sore or relaxed. After doing yoga for a couple of weeks, when I sit on the horses now I am aware of my whole body, not only how I’m sitting but I am also aware of what parts of my body need to change to be correct. Yoga has equipped me with exercises I can do to help with any tightness, this allows me to go home and work on that straight away.
Reason 3: Strength and openness
In so many exercises, strength builds tension which isn’t helpful for horse riders, as we have to be strong but supple. If tension exists, suppleness cannot. The poses in yoga teach you strength and openness, how to be strong but stay supple. Yoga focuses on suppleness throughout the whole body which is hugely helpful when wanting to follow the horse’s movement. The poses and breath also concentrate on engaging the core muscles, which are the muscles that are needed to establish balance both in yoga and on a horse. After doing yoga for a few weeks, I’m not only stronger but I’m also so much more supple. My hamstrings are gradually relaxing and my shoulders and chest muscles are becoming more open. This all helps with my posture on a horse.
Reason 4: It reminds you to take a moment
Yoga teaches you to be in the moment, the control of the breath is all about focusing on the now, not letting your mind run away from you. It’s hard to achieve if you’re like me and have a million things passing through your head at any one second, but once you do, it allows you finally to start to relax. If you can learn this, then you can take it into your riding. Riding takes so much concentration we really don’t have time to let our minds wander, but they still do. Coming back to the breath, especially when frustration or nerves start to set in, can help you to overcome that wall that you’ve been hitting. But of course this needs to be practiced and the best place to practice is on a yoga mat before you have to worry about the horse as well!
All in all, if you want something that’s not only going to help with your riding, but also that’s going to make you stronger, more toned, more in control of your body, and more in control of your mind then take up yoga.
Give it a go, try doing it daily for a week and see how you get on. Don’t do what I did a few years ago, try it once and give up as it’s something that needs to be practiced to get the benefit, but trust me the benefits are totally worth it.