Yoga for Equestrians

Yoga for Equestrians

Submitted by: Jaclyn Sicoli
Phone: (609)651-6526
Email Address: pomdressage(at)gmail.com
Date Added: 4/13/2020

PUBLISHED IN DRESSAGE TODAY MAGAZINE

Recently a very special young student ask me, "Miss Jaclyn, do you think yoga will improve my riding?". Suddenly the earth shifted underneath me and I was given a soapbox. It took almost 30 minutes to explain each way my riding has benefitted from practicing yoga. So here is my pitch:

1) Breathing- We are all continuously breathing. Practicing several different types of yoga breath trains your body to control the tempo and depth of your breath. In ujjayi breath you breathe slowly through the nose into the back of your throat creating a snoring sound which lifts the throat, making your neck and chest expand and become warm, this breath is an ideal warm up for exercise. Alternately, pranayama deep breathing flows into the bottom of the lungs and stomach helping to slow and calm the body, this breath is ideal during times of tension and promotes relaxation of the ribcage and shoulders. While performing hours of yoga each week the body's awareness of the breath improves, giving you control. There are many physical and mental benefits of controlling your breathing.

2) Body and Muscle Awareness- Riding requires advanced control of your body mechanics. Have you ever been asked to change your position on the horse, while in motion, and found yourself struggling to command your body into action? As an dressage instructor, I have learned to accept that individuals have strength, mobility, and awareness limitations which can prevent proper riding. If you are required to alter your position and movement in a particular way while riding your horse, you may need practice, while dismounted. If riding is the only time when you are asking your body to perform certain positions and movements, then you will find it harder to succeed. Yoga provides postures which make you aware of your muscles and skeleton and how to control the mechanisms of movement.

3) Core Strength- If you were asked to stand properly with your body straight and in alignment would you know how? Yoga promotes the same core position as riding. Practicing yoga strengthens the muscles which elongate the spine and allow us to stand straight. The core muscles are constantly at work when the body is seeking balance and are vital for balance while riding. Without control of this muscular skeletal system it is very easy to stress and injury your body and spine while riding.

4) Flexibility- During the sitting trot your hips can be your lowest common denominator. Do you have trouble stretching your leg back away from the knee block of your saddle? Do you experience pain and popping of your hips during your warm up or ride? Do your horse a favor and get supple. Many riders sit at a desk or in a car for hours each day creating tension which works against proper riding position and relaxation. The deeper muscles of the hips and back need time to relax and open up. A few hours of stretching each week will change your ability to sit properly.

5) Mental Focus- Riding requires intense mental concentration, feel, and focus. Awareness of your horse's movement, breathing, and mental/emotional state is easy when your mind is calm. Alternatively, it can be very dangerous if you lose your cool when your horse needs you. As the brains of the operation and leader, the rider has a responsibility to remain mentally flexible. Training your mind to remain free of distraction is an important skill for every day riding. Having control of your thoughts and emotions during a stressful event or moment can be crucial to staying safe. Perhaps the greatest gift of yoga is this training for your mind.

If you stayed awake for that list you are a definite candidate for yoga practice. It's true that the postures, vocabulary, and practice of yoga will greatly improve your riding, and it's important to me that I fully explained those benefits to my student and to you. But, please don't imagine me staring at the ceiling while my yoga instructor chants away. My favorite yoga practice comes in the form of a 1.5 hour 26 posture class in a crowded room heated to 105 degrees at 30% humidity in front of a large mirror. There are more styles of yoga than there are riding disciplines. Find the one that is right for you. Now I am getting down off my soapbox and I suggest that you hit the mat.

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