10.05.23: Awareness Through Movement

Today was the modified version of Paris Kern's clinic, Riding with the Whole Self. I am so glad that we were able to pull it off, and we ended up with six riders, which was the perfect number to receive personal attention from Paris but still enough of a group that we could all share and watch each other learn. We were a bit concerned about the weather for the day, but thankfully it held up very well. We got misted on a couple times, but nothing that slipping under the few overhanging branches in the arena didn't cure.
The morning started out with chair exercises working on the Awareness Through Movement concepts. The basic premise is that as we grow older our bodies get habituated to not using the entire self for movement, and only use a limited range of motion to accomplish the majority of tasks that we perform on a daily basis. We began with simple up/down range of motion, looking upwards and then looking downwards. We went through a series of exercises that are designed to help reconnect the body with the available range of motion that exists within each person. It is quite amazing to notice how much further one can move when the brain and the nervous system become more connected. We went through the three sets of directions in the morning sessions in the chairs, taking small breaks in between and noticing how much easier it was to move and walk and do simple tasks. If only I could manage these kinds of things on a routine basis. Teaching the nervous system takes so much time when old habits are very ingrained. Once we finished the up/down direction, we moved to side to side twisting, and the finally to leaning side to side, working especially hard on the ribs. The beautiful thing about the Feldenkrais Method is that the "exercises" are not strenuous or even come close to stretching at all. They are simply an awareness of movement.
We broke for lunch and then got the horses ready and tacked up and headed to the arena in a misty drizzle. We started out as a group doing similar concepts of the chair exercises. We worked on feeling our balance in the saddle, and where we were heavy and light and where we might be stiff. She had us ride with one stirrup while moving the foot out of the stirrup in rhythm with the horse's foreleg, and then switch, which helped to free up our motion. Once we went through the series of exercises, she took each rider individually and worked on one or two things that they were having trouble with. She would evaluate them doing a task, and then take the rider to her massage table and do some motion work, and then bring them to back to the horse to ride again trying the technique again to see if there was improvement.
One of the first riders was having trouble sitting her trot, and Paris felt that there was a disconnect somewhere between her lower half and upper half that was inhibiting movement flowing through her entire body. She did some work on her shoulders and upper body and the change was amazing, her horse was quieter and much more willing to go with her sitting the trot than she was previously. She looked much more comfortable at the trot than before as well.
Another rider was having a problem picking up the right lead, and had already come to the conclusion that it was something she was doing since her other horse was having the same challenge. Paris got pretty creative in her attempt to help sort out the issue that the woman was having. Firstly, she noticed that she rode fairly far in her stirrups because she wasn't putting enough weight in them at the canter. So she had the woman move her stirrups almost off her toes, and ride for a short time. When she placed the stirrups back where they belonged under the ball of her foot, she was much more secure, and they stayed there because her body had adapted to being able to 'stay safe' when the stirrups were almost falling off. Then she began to help her work on the canter. She assisted the horse in finding the right lead by actually blindfolding her left eye so that she had to tip her nose to the left in order to see clearly out of the right, which helped her open up the right side to pick up the lead. That helped her, but she wasn't quite able to do it, so she had the woman ask her to move in fairly small circles to the right, getting wider, and then ask for the canter. She picked it up on the first try. Once she got it once, she was pretty consistently able to pick it up from there. Paris did some body work with her to help loosen up some of the points that were probably getting in the horse's way, and once she got back up on the horse, it was even easier for the two of them.
Once she finally got around to me, I didn't really have anything specific to show her, I explained that Tali and I were both in rehab, and Paris commented that she noticed when Tali came up the hill she had some strange things going on in her shoulder. I explained that it was more than likely her being so imbalanced, and being so heavy on the forehand. I told her that what she was seeing was actually a vast improvement over where Tali had been even a few months before. She had me walk around a little bit, then took me to the table and did some work loosening up my neck and shoulders and ribs. It all feels really good to have someone doing body work on me, and I enjoy it quite a lot, probably more than a massage in some ways.
I got back up on Tali and it felt pretty good. I felt more centered and grounded, though Paris had to keep reminding me to keep my jaw soft. That's a big challenge for me because I tend to carry tension in my jaw, especially when I am focused and concentrating. Being able to stay relaxed and concentrate is a challenge! But I think that is true of most people, it just tends to manifest itself in different ways.
Tali did a great job, and was really fairly willing through the whole thing. Since I stayed up on her and watched the other lessons, she was very patient while we stood around for a long time. I was glad that we had the opportunity to do so, and that she was so game. I took the saddle off and was a little disappointed to find that one side had more sweat than the other, meaning more pressure, but that could have been from the way that I was sitting. I suspect I do that and don't know that it happens. Unbalanced feels "normal" which in my brain equals balanced. I was pleased that when I turned her out, I took her to the water trough, and she followed me back to the gate again. I hope she looks forward to more rides as we both improve in our strength and balance.

Next Page: 10.06.19: No Laying Down on the Job