“…sometimes I think this body has a mind of it’s own.”  Auberge by Chris Rea, English singer and songwriter (great music by the way)

This line always tickles my funny bone.  It seems true and humorous sometimes … then those other times we pull out the ibuprofen.  It certainly seems true when we are riding and can’t get the left leg to stay put, the shoulders feel tight topped off with an aching back. All of these things are the body’s response to excess tension, doing the right thing by holding you together to lessen its pain. This is all in varying degrees of discomfort and that is what keeps our riding from being relaxed and in our athletic control.

Let’s banish some of the myths and misconceptions about what it means to relax. The ability to truly relax is a result of the Five Principles of Natural Movement working in harmony with body/mind/spirit.

Relax – Relax is not the same as collapse.  Collapse is what you do after a long ride! But if you were to tell yourself to relax collapse is what you would do. That is a misconception about relaxation. Ultimately relax is a lively upward movement throughout the entire length the spine. In order for that to happen the soft tissues need to let go of excess tensions holding the body in restrictive compensation patterns. So the mind gives a signal and the body responds in the best possible way it knows or has learned to do. Just because it feels normal doesn’t mean it is correct. That is why the body has a mind of its own. That said … you can take back control with a little practice of the principles and learning how to let go of restrictive habits.

“Sit up, heels down, put your leg on the horse, hold your shoulders back and keep your elbows straight, now breath and relax!”  WHAT!!??  I could never do it.  In an instant my horse and I would be a non communicating wreck of frustration and tension. It is impossible to relax every part of your body at once, you will either collapse or create other tension patterns. And that is the way that works which it is not efficient, comfortable or allowing for communication through feel. Two tense bodies are out of balance and insensitive to receiving messages.

We want two beautifully soft and relaxed bodies communicating in harmony and balance… come on … it is possible!!!  Relaxation is a practice and if you can practice letting go of one piece at a time then the whole will learn to connect itself one piece to another until your entire body is alive and full of chi – because it will no longer be held up by bracing caused by fears and traumas. When you can relax, you can feel, when you can feel, you can communicate with your horse. And that is a goal of most riders I know.

Exercise: Start with your shoulders, say to yourself,  “relax my shoulders,” this allows them learn to find their own place without you “putting” them someplace. (they don’t need to be earrings!) Remember this – just because you let go of them once doesn’t mean they can remember the message – you have to remind yourself over and over again to relax your shoulders. It becomes your mantra. This is why we call it a practice and through practice you get better at relaxing your shoulders and they learn to maintain their relaxed place for longer periods of time. You will soon begin to notice just how much tension is used to hold your shoulders “on”. When you let go of your shoulders, (I promise they won’t fall off) you will feel a warmth spread throughout your body because you are allowing for a greater circulation of chi and your hands will become soft and quiet as well.