Easier Movement, Happier Horses

Letting Go: A Key to Healthier Movement for You and Your Horse

February 22, 2024 Mary Debono Season 1 Episode 61
Easier Movement, Happier Horses
Letting Go: A Key to Healthier Movement for You and Your Horse
Show Notes Transcript

Learn Practical Strategies to Cultivate Awareness and Release Tension

Join host Mary Debono as she explores the harmful effects of doing too much, both for humans and horses. Through anecdotes and insights, discover how excessive tension impacts movement and well-being.

Learn practical strategies to cultivate awareness and release unnecessary effort. Tune in for a transformative discussion on achieving greater ease, harmony, and vitality in your life and your equine partnerships.

💥Want to learn how to help you and your horse even more? Sign up to be among the first to know when we open the doors to our online group coaching program, Move with Your Horse! 🐴 https://www.marydebono.com/joinhorse 💥

Podcast show notes for THIS episode: https://www.marydebono.com/blog/h61

Key Takeaways 🔑

- The Feldenkrais Methodteaches how to let go of unnecessary tension and find a balance between doing and not doing.

- In horses, tightness in the back can be caused by a lack of flexibility in the rib cage.

- The Feldenkrais Method and Debono Moves help horses and humans develop a sensory distinction between engaging and not engaging certain muscles.

- Small, slow movements and focusing on initiating movements from different points can develop this sensory distinction.

- Unnecessary tension and effort in humans can be felt by horses and affect their interactions and well-being.

- Increasing awareness of how we move, breathe, and direct our attention can positively impact our relationship with horses.

- The key is to do less and find ways to make movements feel easier by letting go of unnecessary tension.

All information is for general educational purposes ONLY and doesn't constitute medical or veterinary advice. Please consult a qualified healthcare provider if you or your horse are unwell or injured. 

What if I told you that a lot of your troubles, your challenges with you or with your horse, actually stem from doing too much, not too little. And in case we're meeting for the first time, my name is Mary Debono and this is the Easier Movement, happier Horses Podcast. First of all, I'm so glad you're here. So thank you for being here.

And I'd like to explain that a little bit, because so many of us, like in our culture, we're not, do we think we're not doing enough? Whatever that happens to be, we're not, we're not doing all the things we think, oh my goodness, I need to do this, I need to do that. And especially when it comes to exercise and training.

And let me explain why too much is too much and can be harmful. And when I say exercise or I say training, what I'm actually talking about is the way that you or your horse actually embodies that. So let, let me break this down so it's clearer. Just say a, just say a person has a soreness in their back, right?

And this is going to, I'll, I'll explain how this applies to horses as well. But let's just start with a human example first. So it's very common, right? In my work, I, I see a lot of people with a lot of back pain. So they have, they have back pain and they try different things to help it.

Some people actually try a lot of different exercises to help quote unquote support the back. And I'll give you an dramatic example of this just to make a point. But not everyone's gonna have this dramatic, an example, you know, situation, a woman in her, I would say early thirties, she attended one of my in-person, horse and human Feldenkrais workshops that I was teaching.

And she looked very, very fit. Lovely young woman. She looked very fit, and she ran, she did all kinds of things. One of the things that really, really struck me was she said, I do 800 crunches every morning. Now I don't know about you, but I don't even wanna count to 800. So I was like, wow,

okay. And she was very proud of the fact that she had like washboard abs as they call them. And the other thing she had was a lot of back pain and her understanding of how to use your core and things like that. She thought that the stronger her abdominal muscles were, the healthier her back would be. What she didn't understand was she was doing too much.

And I don't mean just the fact that she was doing 800 crunches. She would've had the same problem if she was doing 25 crunches every morning because it was the way she was doing them. So What she was doing, and this is actually very common, you don't have to do 800 crunches to, to have this happen, is she had learned, her brain had learned to tighten her abdominals,

but what it wasn't doing was releasing them completely when they weren't needed. And this is where I think the Feldenkrais method shines especially well, is it teaches you how to let go. Because we, we, most of our troubles, I'm gonna say it again. Most of our troubles come from doing too much, having unnecessary tension in our body, unnecessary muscular contractions that become habitual.

So in this woman's case, one of the awareness through movement, Feldenkrais lessons I was doing with the class involved something that kind of looked like a sit-up, but it wasn't, it was much more nuanced and, and it was slower. And this poor person could not do it because she didn't have the coordination, she didn't have the subtleties of the movement.

So for example, when you round your back, and I'm gonna relate this again to the horses in just a moment, but when you just say for you're standing or sitting someplace, you can do this. If you look down, like do it right? If you can do it right now, if you look down and round your back, feel the weight,

go onto the back of your seat bones, right? The pelvis, top of the pelvis, Moves back seat bone, you're on the back of the seat bones, the back rounds, right? And you look down, that's one way to do it. And you maybe you felt, or maybe not, depends how much you've been doing this. If you are,

you, you might be able to feel how your sternum and ribs actually go. They fold, they kind of go in and down. Okay? That's really critical to being able to move your back in a healthy way. Okay? So what happens as you round your back is that the front abdominal muscles, these flexor muscles, these powerful muscles, they engage,

they actually start to work, right? And the back muscles can let go and you could round your back. Now, what if you wanted to do the opposite movement? If you wanted to look up to the ceiling, for example, right? Now, some people may do it just by lifting their head and straining their neck. We don't wanna do that.

We want to think of the pel, top of the pelvis. Now moving forward, going onto the front of your seat bones, okay? And now arching your back, but the whole, you know, the whole spine a little bit, right? Having that sense of extension, here's what's important. The belly comes forward and the, the sternum and the ribs come up and forward as well.

And then the neck can freely, you know, lift your Head up to look up at the ceiling. So this is really important. Now what if you did something else? So, so let's try that in a, in an overdoing kind of way. If you have a habit of constantly clenching your abdominals, which many, many, many people do,

at least to some degree now, try looking up, but keep your tummy muscles, so to speak, contracted. So in other words, pull in your abdomen, pull in your abdomen, and now look up, pull it in. So what happens if you pull it in? You can't use your back muscles properly, right? You can't. So you're constantly,

you know, if you're pulling it in, you can't allow the the belly to come forward. The now your back muscles are fighting with your front muscles, so to speak. So you have this, you're fighting with yourself, so you want to look up, but your, your belly muscles are stopping you from doing that in an easy way. So now you overuse your,

your neck. That's one example. So that stems from having some degree of contraction there all the time. And again, there, there's, there's degrees of this, right? So that person that I mentioned that was in my workshop, she had a very high degree of contraction in her abdomen all the time. And it was creating havoc on her back because it creates so much strain on the spine when you do that because she's,

she's fighting herself. Like, literally, it's like you're fighting yourself. So this is what I talk about when I'm saying that you're overdoing. So even something like, you know, just say you, you're sitting some, you're at your desk and you find that your shoulders are starting to creep up around your ears, right? That's a symptom of overdoing.

You have that tension there. That's not helpful, that's not necessary. And it's actually harmful. Moshe Feldenkrais, the originator of the Feldenkrais method, he used to call those parasitic contractions, right? So there are contractions that you're doing usually unconsciously, and they're actually taking away from the movement in the woman's case with the, the tight abs all the time,

right? What she was doing was, yes, she was definitely had parasitic contractions, but it's like she was, when she was co contracting. So anytime she was trying to use her back muscles, like literally her back muscles, she was also engaging her, her front muscles, if you will. And that was, she was co contracting. Makes it very difficult and again,

puts a lot of strain on the body. Now horses do this to some degree as well. And this is just, I'm just giving you one little example here. Like, there's many other parts of the body where this same thing is happening. It doesn't have to be about the back and the belly, but with the horses as well. So with the horses,

I often see, just like with the humans, that they're not engaging the rib cage to round the back, right? So I mentioned earlier about with, with, with you, with when you're rounding your back, you want the sternum and the ribs to go like in and down, like you can think of folding your chest. That's going to make the movement of the back much healthier.

Same thing when you're looking up and you're going into extension, you want that sternum and ribs to come up and forward. Okay? So you need the support of the whole body, right? You want the pelvis to move, you want all these pieces, but so many of us are not doing that. We don't make a distinction between doing and not doing.

Okay? So this is why in the Feldenkrais method, when you're doing these movement lessons that we teach, we do the movement slow and small, especially in the beginning. So that you make a clear distinction between, okay, I'm using that now, I'm not using it. And you start to train your brain to fully relax a muscle. Okay? Now with the horses,

what I see very often with, for example, tightness in the back, 'cause it's a common thing. Now, there's many reasons where a horse can be tight and sore in the back could be hawks and stifles or bothering them. I mean, there's many, many different reasons, but this is one I see a lot is that they don't have the flexibility in the rib cage.

So just like you, where I said, oh, when you round your back, right? The sternum has to go kind of, and ribs have to go kind of down and in, right? For the back then to be able to round correctly and the, the back muscles to be free. The same is true with your horse. Now they have a different orientation to gravity.

So you would, you can get on all fours and play with this and feel how, yeah, that has to happen, right? The neck has to be free. What what's happening with a lot of horses is, especially because of saddling and you know, girth issues, and I have a whole thing, a whole approach I do about helping horses get over being girthy,

by the way, or cinci, because that's a big, big problem. Not only that it's uncomfortable for them, but it sets them up to, to have poor movement and unhealthy movement. So what happens is they have a lot of restriction, many horses have restriction around the sternum and the ribs in different ways, thoracic spine. And so they're not getting that support of the rest of them.

And then you're asking them to round the back, right? Or maybe they're playing in the pasture and, and they're in that more like collected animated state, but they can't do it properly because they're not getting the full support. So their neck gets tight, the back gets tight, they get soundness problems in the hind legs, stiffness in the shoulders, et cetera.

It, it creates a whole cascade of problems. And why, because they're not, they don't have a sensory distinction between, okay, I, I need to use these muscles and now not use these muscles, use them, not use them. And it's very quick. It's not like we're talking about being completely flacid, right? It's like small, small muscles even,

right? That we're keeping constantly contracted sometimes. So this is really, really important. So it's very important that when you're doing something, and again, when with the Feldenkrais lessons that I teach, we go deep into this because this is what you need to set the foundation for healthy movement. So to get started with this, so if you're not yet in my program,

which by the way, I'll be opening up another cohort, I'm so excited of move with your horse that's coming in beginning of April, 2024. Very excited about it. We have all kinds of new resources and super fun. So if you're not not in there yet, what I would say is play with this idea of doing really small movements, like something as simple as lifting your left shoulder up towards your ear.

Maybe hold it for just a second and then let it go. And now before you lift it again, okay, think, is it, did I really let it go? Like, did I really? Now some people would they find it helpful to actually purposely kind of like tense the muscle up and then let it go? You can try that and that can be helpful,

but it's also really nice to just say, okay, I'm gonna lift it and I'm gonna think about, is there any place else I can let go? Maybe I started to tense my neck when I did that or some other part and now I'm going to let it go and let it go way, way down. You can even use imagery. I find imagery can be really helpful.

So you can think of your, like your arm length in lengthening down almost like a cartoon character, like kind of, you know, getting really long into, almost into the floor. And that may help it really let go, right? And then you can just play with, okay, I'm gonna take a pause before I lift it again. So before you lift the left shoulder again,

you pause for a moment, right? Then you're gonna lift it and then be really clear, like, where do I start that movement from? So this is really important to think about where you initiate the movement from. We do this with the horses too. It's really kind of cool. Like we use our hands, I teach this in the, in the course we use,

you can use your hands to help the horse change where they initiate the movement from. But you can do this yourself with just putting your attention on it. You can think, okay, if I lift my left shoulder, where exactly how exactly do I initiate that movement? Now, if you do the movement quickly, you won't be able to feel it because your brain needs time to feel it needs time to feel what you're doing to like take in the information,

the sensory information, but think, well, can I change it? What if I think of the top of my shoulder moving upwards? What if I think more of like the bottom of my shoulder blade moving up, you know, change where you initiate it. We have lessons that we do like on your side where you're moving the shoulder blade, but you're doing it by changing your breath,

okay? And so the breath is what initiates the movement at times, or we're thinking about the ribs, which are affected by the breath, of course, and that's what's moving the shoulder up. So again, what's really important here is that you're thinking about fully letting go in between the movements. So like taking a little mini break in between the movements.

So again, with the, with the programs I teach, with Move with your Horse, you learn how to use your hands to help the horse let go of these unnecessary or parasitic contractions as well. And they learn to have that sensory distinction between engaging that area and not engaging that area between doing and not doing okay. This is what allows them then to have freer more elegant,

healthier, more powerful movement. And the same is true for you as well. So think about that. Now let's go back to the example about the, about looking up, right? Looking up to the ceiling. So really think about, well, can I just let my belly be really free, right? Can you let go of any unnecessary tension in the belly?

And so then the, the back muscles, right? The extensor muscles can be used and you can feel your weight shift more to the front of your seat bones, right? So you, you feel the top of your pelvis coming forward. And maybe that's enough. Don't even look all the way up to the ceiling, just do these little bits of movement because you can improve the movement at the initiation point.

That's where you have the ability to change the trajectory of the movement, if you will. Once you commit to doing the movement, it's very difficult to provide meaningful improvement to that movement. Okay? So think about that, like start to just whatever you're doing, like maybe you're gonna reach for a cup of coffee or something, okay? How do you initiate it and then play with that.

I mean, this doesn't have to take a lot of time. You can kind of weave it into your day like, okay, I'm, I'm reaching for this. How do I do that? Where do I initiate it from? And then maybe try it a few times, really tiny, like actually don't, don't reach the cup of coffee, just reach towards it and,

you know, at the beginning and just think, okay, what am I doing? Okay now, now let me come back and let me go completely into neutral, what we call neutral. Did I let go of the muscular work that I was using to reach for the cup of coffee? Many times you're not, okay. Many times you're not, because we,

I'm gonna say it again, we get into most of our trouble from doing too much from overdoing rather than underdoing. So what we want to learn is to have that sensory distinction. We want our nervous system to experience, okay? We can actually let this muscle go, like we can release it. And let's think about it this way too. So there's,

there's something I mentioned earlier about the muscles if you, you know, fighting if you will, right? They're working against each other, right? We know that's not good. We know that puts tremendous strain, creates a lot of damage in the body. This is true whether horse or human and of course other animals. But there's also, if you think about it,

so if you think about a healthy, relaxed muscle, it's a certain length depending on the muscle, depending on the person or horse, but it's a, a particular length. Let's just say, you know, we just for argument's sake, we're gonna pick a muscle that at the healthy relaxed length, it's 12 inches. Okay? Making that up 12 inches,

this particular muscle. Now just say you have a habit or your horse has a habit of keeping that muscle always a little bit tense. There's always a little bit of tension there, okay? Well, now what you've done is you, that muscle is shorter, it's not at that healthy length. And how a muscle works is by contraction. So if you go from 12 inches,

say to eight inches, right? That's a, you're contracting, and again, I'm just making up these numbers, but you're contracting at a certain amount, let's just say. So when you do that, that's what gives it the power that, that ability to contract. If you are already at, if we said 12 was the healthy length, well,

if you're already at 10 and you go to eight, you don't have the power, okay? And if you're always keeping it kind of contracted, well now there's soreness building up there, there's fatigue building up there, and you don't have as much energy or your horse doesn't have as much energy, or there's, again, there's soreness. Well, now you have to compensate because that part is sore.

So your brain is trying to figure out how to make it less sore. So you're offloading your weight or your horse is offloading their weight or doing some other strange thing in their body, and now you're in that downward spiral. Okay? So things are getting worse and now there's compensations for the compensations and soreness on top of soreness and fatigue, on top of fatigue,

not good. So again, in the Feldenkrais method and in the Debono Moves work that I teach with the horses, so, so critical to have that distinction between doing and not doing. So again, you can play with this with yourself. You can just start to initiate a movement, right? And then come back from that. What is your neutral?

Can you really let go? I find the shoulders are a great one because, you know, so many of us keep our shoulders way up around our ears and we're like, hmm, that's not good. Right? But we don't know it. It's a habit, right? It's a habit and we get used to it and our brain thinks that's the way things are.

But if we say, no, no, no, we're gonna do it differently. Let's see if we can really approach this. And then, and then doing some variations. Earlier I talked about bringing your left shoulder up towards your ear. Well, what if you brought it forward and back to neutral backwards and back to neutral and down and back to neutral and then circles.

And can you pause in between each circle and really let go. Really release that. So there's so many different awareness lessons we have, you know, Feldenkrais lessons, there's so many different ways of doing this with your horse as well, but just let that kind of plant a little seed in you to remember that so many of our troubles, many of our troubles,

whether horse or human or often both, right? 'cause we all affect, we affect each other, okay? Is, is they're caused by doing too much rather than doing too little. And there, there's something I say quite often, so you may have heard this before on the podcast, but it's good to keep in mind that the way you breathe,

the way you move and the way you direct your attention, all are all experienced by your horse and they all shape your interactions with your horse. So even like your, your underlying sense of ease or effort has a direct effect on your horse. And again, it shapes your interaction with your horse. So when we have this unnecessary effort in ourselves, the horses feel it.

We, we, it's like we're transmitting that sense of unease to them, right? And they feel it, it's like you're giving out warning signals as opposed to welcoming signals, right? And again, it's stressful for us. We, our body feels like something's wrong because we're, why are we, why are we tensing these muscles unnecessarily? Again, it's a habit,

but it's a habit we can change, okay? We can get more awareness. So the, so much of the this work is all about having more awareness, having more awareness of how you sit, stand, move, breathe, how you think, all those things, how you interact with your horse. And then that puts you in a really great place to be able to positively impact your horse,

to help your horse get out of habits of movement or behavior that are not serving your horse. And that be, could be causing stress within the horse, maybe discomfort in the horse, and maybe even disharmony in your relationship. So we're looking to get more suppleness, more harmony, more confidence for you and your horse. And I would say it starts by doing less.

So think about that. Ask yourself, how can this feel easier? How can this feel easier? Where can you let go of unnecessary tension? So think about that, think about those two questions and let me know, let me know how it goes for you and maybe you have a, a comment that you wanna tell me, like what you noticed,

or maybe you have an idea for me for an, you know, a podcast in the future or video I can make for you. And I'd be happy to do that. So you can always email me, Mary at mary Debono dot com. So thank you so, so much for being here. I so appreciate you. If you like the podcast,

if you feel it's valuable, please leave me a nice review. That really helps get it out in front of more people and so more people and their horses can benefit from it. So thank you again. I can't wait to talk to you soon. Bye for now.