Easier Movement, Happier Horses

A Simple Way to Improve Body Awareness

March 07, 2024 Season 1 Episode 63
Easier Movement, Happier Horses
A Simple Way to Improve Body Awareness
Show Notes Transcript

Ready to improve your body awareness?  Mary Debono guides you through a transformative body scan exercise designed to enhance your body awareness and melt away tension.

Discover how subtle shifts in your own body can lead to a more harmonious connection with your horse. This practice will not only improve your riding skills, but also leave you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.

You'll also hear about our exciting new Move With Your Horse online group coaching program at the end of the podcast. https://www.marydebono.com/joinhorse 💥

Key Takeaways:

  • Body awareness is crucial for riders to improve movement, reduce tension, and enhance their connection with horses.
  • The body awareness exercise involves lying down comfortably and observing breathing patterns, followed by focusing on specific body parts with mindfulness.
  • Gentle movements and visualization techniques can help promote relaxation and release tension.
  • Transitioning mindfully to sitting and standing integrates newfound awareness into everyday activities.
  • Developing body awareness contributes to a harmonious relationship with horses and improves overall well-being for both rider and horse.

💥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/h63

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. 

Hello. As a rider, you know how important body awareness is. Well, today I'd like to give you a simple and really effective way to start to enhance your body awareness in a case we're meeting for the first time. My name is Mary Debono and this is the Easier Movement, happier Horses podcast. And I'm so glad you're here. So, body awareness,

yikes. So many people don't realize that they're kind of lacking in body awareness. And maybe, maybe you take lessons and maybe your trainer tells you to do things and you're not really sure how to do them, or what parts of the body she's talking about, or exactly how to move that area or coordinate your different parts. Very, very common. Another reason why we really wanna have better body awareness is because,

you know, I talk a lot on those podcasts about these maladaptive or inefficient habits that we have around our movement, around the way we sit, the way we stand, the way we walk, the way we ride. You know, different ways of maybe holding excess tension in certain parts of our body. And those habits, they're unconscious, right? They're,

they're habitual, of course, they're a habit, so they kind of fly under the radar. You don't know you're doing them. But when you improve your body awareness, you suddenly start to get insight into those type of habits that are actually harming you and interfering with your ability to ride well, for example, and creating lots of stress and, and strain on your body and potentially injuries.

So let me give you, again, a really nice little exercise, if you will. And what's really great about it, you'll, it's, it's great if you're tired. In other words, it's, it's super simple. It does involve, I mean, best case scenario is you're lying down when you do it. However, you could also do this sitting in a chair.

Please do not do this. Do not be following along if you're driving your car or operating any kind of heavy machinery, if you're dragging your arena or something like that, please wait till later to finish the podcast. But I wanna just dive in and give you this, this little body awareness lesson. Okay? So start by finding a comfortable position. So again,

if you can do this lying down in your living room, you know, maybe on a carpet or some kind of mat someplace where you'll be comfortable, if you wanna do it sitting, if lying down is not feasible for you, do it. Sit, you can do it sitting. But what's really great about lying down is you're not fighting gravity. So a lot of your habits can kinda let go automatically when you lie down.

Not all of them will, and that's what we're gonna get to. But some of them will, and it's just, it could be a Better way to do this to start. However, what's really important is that then you bring this, I'll tell you all about it as we go through, but you can bring this exercise then to sitting and then to riding your horse and other activities.

But it's nice to do it in the most comfortable way at first, where you're, again, not fighting gravity. So if you can comfortably lie on your back with your legs long, that's ideal. Now, maybe it's not easy for you to have your legs straight because you feel tightness in your back. And that case, I would say bend your knees and,

and stand your feet. Or this is even better, put some kind of bolster or like a folded blanket or something behind your knees to help reduce the stress in your back. So find a way to be comfortable. It's really, really important for this exercise as well as all the different movement lessons I share with you that you're comfortable and safe. So,

in other words, don't do anything that's painful. Don't do anything that's unsafe for you. I always say it's good to check with your physician before you start any movement program. Even this one, even though this is like, you're not gonna be moving much, actually, okay? But again, just be comfortable. Now, you might, some of you might need a little bit behind your head,

like a little bit of support. Not usually a lot, but maybe have, I like to use for people folded bath towels. 'cause you can adjust the, the, the width of them. So if you feel like there's a little strain on your neck, put something under your head, okay? The idea is to really have better body awareness. We want to get rid of all the 10 as much of the tension,

unnecessary tension that's in your body to start with, because that's a distraction. That's a distraction that's actually gonna limit your ability to be aware of your whole body. Okay? So we wanna limit that. So do whatever you need to do to have yourself comfortable on the floor. Okay? So again, maybe you need some kind of bolster under your knees or,

or bend your knees, something under your head if you need it. Don't do it if you don't need it. Sometimes people will even put, like, again, they'll get like, like a hand towel or even some socks or something and put them under their shoulders. Maybe they feel like their shoulders are really tight. So take a moment, you could pause this podcast,

take a moment and get yourself situated. Okay? I'll be waiting for you. Okay, so thanks for coming back. Now you can have your eyes closed, you can have a soft gaze, whatever is most comfortable for you. But I would encourage you also to, like, if you have a belt on, you might wanna take the belt off,

take your glasses off if you're wearing them. The more the looser the clothes, the better. Okay? A lot of times we wear clothes that are, that are kind of uncomfortable, but we just kind of tune that out. So be comfortable. Now, the first thing I'd encourage you to do is just check in with how you're breathing. How are you breathing?

Now, this is not to judge it, it's not to correct it. There isn't like one right way to breathe, correct way to breathe. Just notice and notice how much of you Moves with your breath. So you can put maybe one hand on your chest, one hand on your abdomen, what you notice, don't try to force anything, okay?

We're just getting a sense of what you're doing. Excuse me, naturally. So just notice that, notice how you're breathing. Notice the parts of you that move with your breath. Where do you feel a response in your body as you inhale and as you exhale. And then get like an overall sense of, for example, like the volume of your chest,

maybe like the width of your chest, how your belly rises and falls as you breathe. How your chest rises and falls. Again, not to judge, just to notice, okay? It's really important. Okay, so now bring your awareness to your right foot. And just notice, notice how the heel of the right foot, if your legs are long,

notice how the heel is touching the floor. If your knees are bent, notice how the foot is touching the floor. Again, if your knees, if your legs are long, if they're straight notice, if one foot is more turned out than the other, again, we're not judging, we're not trying to change it. You're just noticing. So we learn by noticing differences.

So it's actually as you should celebrate a little bit when you notice something different. So I'll be guiding you through, you know, checking the right side compared to the left in different places. And it's actually good. If you notice differences, that means that now your body, your mind, excuse me, is really paying attention. Your nervous system is starting to notice,

ah, this is a little closer to the floor here, this is a little tighter than that side. And you, you'll learn and improve when you notice those differences. A lot of times when people first start doing the Feldenkrais method, for example, they're lacking in body awareness and everything feels the same. Like they, they don't have that discernment yet.

But then the more they go through it and they start to get to pick up finer and finer details, and it really makes a big difference. This is how you develop your feel. And it's not just about body awareness for yourself, actually, you develop your field so you can actually work with your horses more effectively and skillfully, right? And it's much,

much kinder. When you have great feel you can whisper to your horses. In other words, your aides, your cues are soft because they're spot on, right? The timing is right and you know, you're able to do them in a way that you're really communicating well with your horse. So this is a great way, body awareness is not, is not just oh,

to notice more in your body, although that's really important. It's also to develop your feel. Okay? So, okay, so we're back to the right foot. So you're noticing how the right foot is, and now start to draw your attention upwards. So notice how your right calf is resting on the floor. Notice, like the width of it,

the amount of pressure, notice now behind your right knee. Now of course this is gonna be different if your legs are bent, but you can still put your attention on your right calf. Notice how the, the back of the knee Moves away from the floor. Okay? Now notice how the back of the right thigh touches the floor. Some people,

the, the back of the right thigh won't touch the floor for other people. It'll be a lighter touch, you know, lighter kind contact. So just notice what you're doing automatically and then just get a sense of length and width of the whole leg, of the right leg. And now bring your attention to your left foot. Again, notice how the heel is touching the floor.

Notice if that, how turned out or not that foot is. Bring your attention to your calf, your left calf, and now compare it to the right one. Bring your attention to the back of the left knee, the back of the left thigh, and now get an overall sense of the left leg and compare it to your right leg. Does one leg feel longer wider?

Just have a different sense of contact. It, it will not be unusual if you feel that, okay? And again, we wanna celebrate when you notice a difference, okay? So don't look at it as a bad thing. So you're increasing your awareness and therefore your feel. Okay? So now bring your attention up to the back of your pelvis.

So feel how the back of your pelvis is resting on the floor. Now you may feel that one, if you, if you listen, you know, like, you know, listen to the sensations. If you will pay attention to the sensations. Does one side feel heavier on the floor than the other? Now maybe one side feels like it's more towards the ceiling than the other side.

So the front of the pelvis maybe feels like, oh, it's a little twisted. Maybe one side of the top of the pelvis feels like it's closer to that ear than the other side. And again, just notice, don't try to change it. And now bring your attention to the lower back. So your lower back. Now, if you have your knees bent,

there may be a lot more contact of the lower back, but if your legs are straight, it's probably a nice little curving away of the lower back from the floor. And here again, we wanna compare one side to the other first, get an overall sense of like how much space is there without touching it with your hands. But just like with your attention,

notice that and then compare one side to the other because many of us have more habitual tension in one side of our back than the other. So one side might be a little bit lifted, more away from the floor than the other. So just notice that. And now bring your attention higher up. So think of the back of your right ribs, just put your attention there for a moment.

The back of your right ribs, how do they rest on the floor? Now compare that to the back of the left ribs. And again, do you feel like one side has more contact or there's just a different sense of contact? Because believe it or not, the way you lie on the floor has a lot of similarities to how you stand, how you walk,

how you sit, et cetera. Okay, so we're, we're noticing these things for a reason. And also this is a great way to, of course, to develop your body awareness. Now start to, to bring your attention to your right shoulder blade. So the back of the right shoulder blade, and this shoulder blade is this sort of triangular shaped bone.

Notice how much of that you feel, how much awareness do you have of your shoulder blade? And now compare it to the left shoulder blade. Maybe one shoulder blade has like a fuller contact with the floor than the other one. Maybe you feel like one shoulder is like more towards the ceiling than the other one. So like, like rolled forward a bit.

Or maybe you feel like one shoulder now that you're listening carefully is maybe higher towards the ear on that side. So this is why it's really important to pay attention to small things because actually small things become big things. So just notice that again, we're not judging, we're not correcting, you're just noticing you're getting to know yourself more. And when you get to know yourself more like this,

then you can change things in a positive direction and you can start to be more effective in your life with your horses and in all aspects of your life, actually. So just notice. So now let's, let's think now about bringing your attention to the curve of your neck. So your neck will kind of curve away from the floor. And just notice that notice if one side of your neck feels longer than the other one.

Another way of saying this is, does one side feel shorter? Some people are more aware of shortening than lengthening. So notice that and notice too, how you're resting on the back of your head. So for example, if you tuck your chin towards your chest, you're going to rest on a different spot on the back of your head than if you have your chin away from your chest.

Okay? So just notice what you did automatically when you were lying on the floor. So just kind of pay attention to that. And now let's put our attention on your right arm. Notice how your right arm is lying. Maybe your hands are still on your chest and belly, I would say. Now put them down by your sides if you haven't already.

And notice how the right arm is lying. Notice how the hand is placed. Is it like with the palm down, palm up? Maybe you're on the pinky side, resting on the pinky side of the hand. And now compare it to the left arm. And now very, very slowly roll your head a little bit side to side. And I'm going to emphasize,

just do it small and slow and start to get a sense of, hmm, one direction is a little easier than the other, or it just feels a little smoother. Now we wanna make sure you're not going to your limit, nowhere near your limit, because you'll actually feel more talked about this in the previous podcast episode actually, about how small movements create big changes.

If you just do a big movement, a fast movement of rolling your head from side to side, you're not gonna notice your, your nervous system won't have time to notice the differences. Remember, we learn by noticing differences. That's how you improve. So you wanna just do small slow movements. Okay, now think about, so now bring your head back to the middle.

Think about areas in your body. Like if I just said, okay, tell me one area that immediately gets your attention. If you think maybe it's your lower back, maybe it's your right foot, you know, maybe it's your left shoulder. You know, just find an area. And if you, if you're not sure, just pick something, pick something.

And now whatever that area who, who, whatever the area is, just breathe into it. And this is where you have to use your, your visualization, your imagination here a bit. So just think of, think of the breath and, and I like to give the breath like a, you know, a a a vision sort of, oh,

what am I trying to say here? Like, I picture it, that was difficult for me to come up with that word for some reason, but I picture it as like a light. And you can have whatever color you want. Maybe it's silver, maybe it's blue, maybe it's green, maybe it's sparkly, you know, whatever feels right to you.

Maybe it's purple. But can you just kind of breathe into that area and think, huh, how can I let that feel softer? How can that rest more easily? Because this is the thing, a lot of us get into these habits. We talked about movement habits a little while ago where you're holding, you know, you're holding tension that's un not only unnecessary,

but actually eventually harmful. Okay? So what we're doing here is you're, you're starting to learn how you can let go of some of that. Now the Feldenkrais method is brilliant at this, and of course we have much longer, more in-depth movement lessons that we do that really get to this. But this is a really good foundation. And again, it'll help you develop your body awareness.

But just say, how can this feel easier? How can I rest more fully? I like to imagine that the floor is coming up to support me. So, so play with that image a little bit. Are you really resting against, are you allowing the floor to support you? Or are you kind of holding yourself in places away from the floor and feel,

how can you let that go? And when you think you've let go, let go a little bit more, you know, really play with that and breathing into it is a nice way to do it. Another way that might be helpful for you is to actually increase the tension there. So for example, if you feel like, hmm, I can't really,

you know, let go in my left shoulder. And of course like I said, we have much more in depth Feldenkrais lessons that will address those things specifically. But in the meantime, think, okay, what if, what does it feel like if I increase the tension in my left shoulder? So in other words, if I pull it away from the floor even more and I hold it for a few seconds and then I let go.

Now that can be helpful because it's kind of like getting your brain to do the opposite first so you can really start to control it more. So try that, you can try that with your toes, you can try that with, you know, really Virtually any part of your body. So you can do that. You can actually increase the tension and then decrease it if you find that helpful.

Don't do anything that's, you know, crazy and painful or anything like that. You know, it's not, this isn't a hard thing that you're really struggling to be tense, okay? Please don't do that. We're just talking about increasing the tension a little bit to bring your awareness there and your ability then to control that. And to allow it to let go.

Okay? What's really important is that you stay present with these sensations. Just starting to notice, just asking the questions. How can this feel easier? How can I rest more fully? Right now your brain wants to answer those questions so it starts to seek solutions. And you, this is how you really develop present moment awareness. You know, mindfulness,

which of course leads to better body awareness. So focus on the sensations, not if you find that you're getting these thoughts like, I don't know if I'm doing this right or What is this gonna do anyway, or some other thought you may have. Just let the thought go. Just let it go. Don't judge it, just let it go. And then come back.

Just gently bring yourself back to focusing on your sensations. Okay? And, you know, you can even think of, it's a nice thing to do too, is like a ripple, if you will, like tightening from your toes all the way to your head, like in a wave, and then doing a wave downward. And, but make sure you're doing the release part of it.

So in other words, if you think of tightening the toes on each foot and then the calves, you know, kind of working your way up and then work your way down and just think of like how as you tighten and release, you're, you're creating another wave. You're creating a wave of relaxation. So how can you do that? Can you create a wave of relaxation through your body?

And now just, just let that all go. Let it all go. Just notice how you're lying on the floor. Now notice if your contact with the floor has changed, maybe some parts that were lifted away from the floor. Now make more contact with the floor. Notice your breath. Notice the sense of fullness in your chest and abdomen, the amount of,

of volume of air you have. Now, again, without trying to force anything, okay? Just let it unfold. And think about how you can use your breath in that very intentional way to like send it places, to send it. Places to think of like, ah, I wanna relax my right ankle a little bit more. How can I just picture?

Just imagine that I'm sending my breath down there. And again, you know, maybe you wanna, you wanna give it a, you know, a, a color. You wanna make it more real, like where it's easy to imagine. So you want it, you want to see it. So maybe you give it a little sparkly color or something you think how it could go down in there and just quiet everything and just to bring more life at the same time to it like more awareness.

So how can you use your breath to increase your awareness? And now, so just again, let that all go, let it go. And now just again, very slowly roll your head a little bit, side to side slowly. And notice if that's different now than it was in the beginning of the scan that we're doing. Did something change? Notice as you roll your head,

if you maybe feel a response in your upper chest, you know, it's really nice and we have a lot of wonderful Feldenkrais lessons around this of improving the movement of the ribs, for example, especially the upper ribs and the sternum. And that improves how you roll your head. And then when you roll your head, you feel that response, that lovely harmony in the chest.

That takes a lot of strain out of the neck, by the way. So it's really kind of cool. But just notice, come back to the middle. And now I'm going to say this before you do it. So just, if you don't mind just waiting for just a moment when you go to, to sit and stand now I'm going to encourage you to do it in a specific way because many of us we're lying on the floor and then we like lead with our head and neck.

So we start to tense everything when we come up to sitting and standing. I'm gonna encourage you not to do that. So great way to do it is to actually roll to one side, roll to one side or the other, it doesn't matter. And push yourself up with your hands and just sit for a bit. Okay? Sit for for a little bit and then slowly come to standing please.

We're gonna do something in standing. So before you, you, you know, log off here, just stay for a moment please. And now notice how you feel in standing. Notice how your feet are contacting the floor. Notice if you have more awareness of your feet and hopefully you don't have your shoes on. I probably should have said that in the beginning.

And just notice. But even if you have your shoes on, you can still feel the, the ground through your feet, through your shoes. And now notice how your whole skeleton feels. Like. Do you have more support through your bones? Notice where your horizon is, like where you're looking. Maybe it's different than before. Notice how your arms are hanging.

Maybe your shoulders feel softer and then walk a little bit. But again, staying with this, with this mindfulness, being aware of how you're walking the swing of your hips, right? The swing of your arms, how your feet are touching the floor, how you're pushing off with one foot and then the other. And if it's safe to do so,

you can take a few steps backwards. Make sure you check though mate, don't walk. Don't trip over a cat or a dog or a piece of furniture please. But if you can safely walk backwards a few steps, that's actually a really nice way to do something that's non habitual. And it helps actually integrate the improvements, helps you kind of soak them up into the,

your nervous system, so to speak. That's like a simple way of saying it, but adding that non habitual factor gets the attention of the nervous system. So it helps kind of solidify improvements. So now let's just talk briefly about how you would do this in a chair. So you certainly can take these little mindfulness breaks, these awareness breaks, you can call them,

or just a simple body scan you can call it. So you're sitting in the chair and you do a very similar thing. You think about how all the parts feel and you get kind of, you know, you, you take inventory, so to speak without judging. And then you start to think about how can I let go of unnecessary effort, unnecessary tension.

How can I feel lighter, softer, freer? How can this feel easier? It's one of my favorite questions for everything. How can this feel easier? And again, this is something you can take to the saddle, right? Or even if you're just leading your horse, right? It's like, how can this feel easier? Where can I let go of unnecessary tension?

As a matter of fact, let's do this. So right now, just imagine you are approaching your horse and you have a halter and lead rope. And now, and, and you go ahead and go through the motions with this. Like, so pretend you're doing it, but pretend you are approaching your horse and you are halter your horse. And now keep checking in with your sensations and with this idea,

how can this feel easier? Where can I let go of unnecessary tension? Maybe it's mental tension. Maybe you're thinking, oh, my horse doesn't wanna do this, or my horse is a windy day, my horse is spooky, whatever it is. But like, how can you let go of unnecessary distractions? So that means unnecessary tension in your body.

Un unhelpful thoughts you might be having and now you know, halt in your mind, halter your horse and now start to lead your horse. Do are you leading? Are you put, did you put the halter on differently? 'cause you have this greater sense of awareness that you, and you've let go of unnecessary tension. And now how does it feel to walk with your horse?

You can even imagine, let's take this to your grooming area, right? Take this, this process. So now you bring your horse to your grooming area, right? What is it like now to imagine you're grooming your horse? Can you let go of unnecessary tension? I know I say this all the time, but I'm gonna say it again. Your underlying sense of ease or effort has a direct impact on your horse and it shapes your interactions with your horse.

So once you can start to let go of all this unnecessary effort and tension and stress, whatever you wanna call it, that that it just seems to be a byproduct of modern life, you and your horse will benefit so much 'cause your horse will benefit from this and you'll have a more harmonious interaction. And again, I wanna just emphasize this is something that's very useful to do this scan.

It's also just the beginning, okay? In the Feldenkrais method we go really, we take deep dives into how you can improve the freedom and flexibility of your hips, for example, and the comfort and your, your, your back, you know, and your neck and your shoulders and your posture and like all the things. So, but this is a really nice way to start to lay the foundation for having better body awareness.

Okay? And we know, again, I wanna say how important this is for equestrians and not even just for riding, definitely for riding, we know that. But even again, in any interaction you have with your horse, your horse is noting how you're using yourself. Your horse is noting, as I said just a bit bit ago, your underlying sense of ease or effort.

So the more you have control of that, the more you can help shape and, and your interactions with your horse in a positive way. Like the more harmonious your relationship with your horse can be, it's when all this unnecessary, these habitual tensions that we, we carry around, they get in our way And they really can disrupt your relationship with your horse.

So this is a great way to start on the path to better awareness of body and mind. So I hope that was helpful for you. Thank you so much for being here. I just love sharing this work. And you may have heard this on a previous podcast, but I'm really excited starting a new cohort of my move with your horse online group coaching program.

And we take a deep dive into how you could improve your body, your mind, and improve your horse's body and mind as well. So it's Feldenkrais method, it's my hands-on Debono, Moves with your horse, all kinds of really, really cool stuff. If you wanna be on the wait list, which there's no obligation, but there are perks for being on it,

you can go to mary Debono dot com slash join horse. Join horse is one word all lowercase. And that link will be in the description of wherever you're watching or listening to this. Okay? Thank you. Thank you so much. Here's to better body awareness and happier times with your horses. Looking forward to seeing you again soon. Bye for now.