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INTERNAL ALIGNMENT

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Often times riders are “put” into a correct position with commands of heels down, shoulders back, back straight, sit up tall and now relax. All this putting into the proper place does is to create a false sense of alignment and holding to the point that genuine relaxation and fluidity is lost. A rider cannot hold herself into a measured position and relax at the same time. These two things are diametrically opposed. When a rider is holding onto a false position, the horse has to do the same thing through his body in order to brace the rider and himself into balance. Free movement, feel, and grace between rider and horse is completely caged. It is not possible to position a rider on a horse with a plum bob that imposes strict adherence to external measurements for alignment and then to expect to see both move with seamless artistry.

Genuine alignment is an internal feel for what is right (not what feels normal, we can talk about that later) and that rightness is achieved only through conscious relaxation of excess tension patterns and compensation habits. There are some very simple messages that you can send through your body that cultivates your body’s intelligence to let go of excess tension and restrictive holding patterns. It makes sense that if we can teach ourselves to be uptight and stiff through unconscious messages of fear, we can certainly teach ourselves to consciously relax and let go. It is not that difficult for our bodies to relax, what is difficult is our trust in faithful adherence to the practice of letting go and not expecting to suddenly get it so that we can have the luxury of going back to unconscious messages. It doesn’t work that way and it is easy to fall back into old habits. Every time I ride I work at being physically conscious and open and each time my understanding of relaxation deepens so connection to my horse gets softer and more interactive.

A fun practice:

Here are a few grounds rules, however. No nagging yourself about not getting it because that is just adding more tension. Do worry that you are not doing it right or not getting it. There is no right or wrong only letting go! Relaxation in varying degrees, some days easier than others. Struggling with balance is very chaotic and neurotic. NOTICE when you are struggling and remind yourself to simple let go and quite it! Please, know this is not an admonishment…I notice when I am struggling and fidgeting to find my way. Your horse will pick up on it and he will struggle to make sense of it! Oh, gotta love the feedback from them! So, no nagging and no struggling.

Try this next time you are riding and enjoy the feel you are beginning to cultivate: Quietly go through this conversation from your mind to your body.  Remember it is a conversation. Relax my toes, relax my heels, relax my knees, relax my inner thighs to my belly, relax my hips, relax my lower back, let go of my ribcage, armpits and shoulders and soften my jaw. Go slowly so you can notice what happens. Notice what your horse notices and build on that. Go through this conversation while riding a quiet walk and you will begin to observe that your legs will want to naturally reach down and softly wrap around your horse. Notice that as you relax your inner thighs your upper body wants to come upright naturally and as your upper body comes into place your shoulders drop long to your elbows allowing your hands to be soft and giving. As you relax your ribcage you will breath naturally and you won’t have the need to force or practice your breath. As your body relaxes it will begin to breathe on its own…after all, you are designed to function that way! Stop micro managing! You have to let yourself be and through relaxation allow yourself to be drawn into balance and alignment from an internal state of being.

Clinic Format and Costs

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Chi Gung for Horsemen Clinics

Experience “The Perfect Ride”

Clinics are interactive and dynamic. I believe The Perfect Ride is an experience of feel, listening, connecting and influencing your horse so you both go together to get the ‘job’ done…whatever that means to you as an equestrian. The Perfect Ride does not have to be left to chance, a good day, and whether or not Mars is in retrograde. Even though you are learning simple yet profound exercises to cultivate principles of relaxation and building a foundation to understanding human biomechanics, clinics are really about you and helping you get to your Perfect Ride. Chi Gung is not about you becoming an expert Chi Gung master (only if you wish it so)…it is about using the T’ai Chi Ch’uan Yang Style Short Form – Five Principles of Natural Movement to help you enhance feel and awareness of your own body/mind/spirit, to become aware  of balance through relaxation, and then relating it to having a meaningful conversation with your horse through gentle, soft and consistent body language.

Every rider wants a soft and responsive horse. We all genuinely strive to get that feel from our horse, but when we do not kinesthetically understand softness within our own body/mind, it leaves the horse guessing what the aids mean. Because our human body language is stiff, braced, incongruent and many times forceful, the horse has to work harder to make sense of the “aids”. Tense bodies and static aids equals multiple levels of indirection for horse and rider.

This kinesthetic misunderstanding need not be the norm. We can cultivate that feel within ourselves and enjoy a greater sense of real connection with our horse. We all want the Perfect Ride every time we are with our horse and why not learn to get that every time you ride?

There are two parts to every clinic. On the ground exercises and a ridden portion for those wanting to ride in the clinic.

The first portion I call  Ground Work For the Rider and it really isn’t a bad thing!! Trying to align ourselves with external measurements and postures leads to frustration and sore muscles. Put your legs here, pull your shoulders back, push your heals downs and sit up straight are all examples of alignment from the outside. It finally doesn’t work because it lacks relaxation.

T’ai Chi and Chi Gung alignment is an internal sense of what is right for you through relaxation and true relaxation is an upward, light and balanced presentation of your genuine inner self that strings together the entire body like a strand of pearls. Movement is invoked from the inside not forced from the outside. Interactive discussions of Chi Gung shows you how this simple practice is a perfect fit for riders. Hand in glove and only a few minutes a day. (Sounds like a info-mercial I realize, trite but true.) We discuss biomechanics of movement so you really feel how your hips rotate and  how your back supports you upright naturally thus allowing your shoulders to sit quietly upon  your ribcage. We don’t have to micro manage our bodies at all once we understand a few simple things. Practicing these simple yet profound chi gung exercises teaches  you to embody the Five Principles of Natural Movement and then take them to your riding. Through understanding alignment of our inherent design from the inside, these movements begin to bring awareness into areas the seem to be “lost” which shows up as tension, resistance and immobility especially of the hips and spine. The Five Principles of Natural Movement  have roots in the Yang Style Short Form tradition of T’ai Chi Ch’uan where in sparing; balance, timing and feel are the cornerstones to health, flexibility and peace of mind. I believe if you can stay in balance, you can help another be balanced as well. When you get a direct experience of what constitutes fluid and efficient movement then you can practice how to dynamically move with your horse which ultimately effects how fluidly your horse can move with you. The beautiful thing is it is a never ending practice…you only get better the more you practice.

The other part is a ridden portion where I help mounted riders learn to relax their body/mind, become aware of how they hold tension and bracing then show you where and how to let go of excess tension in walk, trot, and canter. As you ride, you can learn to let go of excess tension so your  body becomes integrated and you are then able to enhance your feel of you horse. By cultivating feel, you learn to listen, connect, follow and influence your horse without resorting to forceful aids. Riding becomes a mutual body language that is based on relaxation. Relaxation teaches you (and ultimately their horse) to become fluid, balanced, soft and responsive. You will learn a simple routine to help you learn and practice…relax. Works every time.

The weekend looks like this: Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday morning is spent doing “ground work for riders” exercises and discussion and study of the Five Principles of Natural Movement. Experience what relax really means, learn how to cultivate those principles in your own body so you can then apply them to your riding. A rider can increase awareness and through awareness enhance feel, timing and balance. There is no end to how much a person can learn to relax. Relax is not the same as collapse and not the same as “sit up straight and relax” and an understanding of the difference will make your riding much more fluid, dynamic and interactive.

I have plenty of room in the clinics for people who want to do just the exercise and lecture portion of the clinic. Even if they do not ride they will gain a greater understanding of biomechanics from the inside out leading to a greater sense of feel and balance which they can immediately apply to their riding.

Riding is in the afternoons and depending on the time and number of people that wish to ride will determine the time we need. I usually work with the riders for one hour. I don’t like to work with more than 3 riders at a time. Depending on how many people want to ride will determine how many we can take in the afternoons. If we have 3 hours of ride time (with in-between break times) we could handle 9 to 10 riders each afternoon during the clinic.

Friday pm, Sat/Sun am  Usually 9 – 12 Three hours Ground Work for Riders theory and exercises

Sat/Sun afternoon mounted classes (each rider gets a ride both Sat and Sun)

Lecture, Exercise and Ridden portion  $350.00

Lecture and Exercise and observation of ridden is $200.00

Minimum of 5 people doing the entire clinic.

Please contact me for information on setting up a clinic with your riding friends in a barn near you.

T’ai Chi and Chi

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T’ai Chi is about chi, energy! The daily practice of Chi Gung or T’ai Chi (TCC) is about letting go of the excess tension that we hold in our minds to our muscles to our body language and that excess tension is broadcast all around us. I call it white noise. In the human realm we have learned to ignore it in others, somewhat, and we have definitely learned to tune it out in ourselves. In the horse realm, horses would tell you most of their riders are screaming at them through the unconscious body language they are projecting. How do we stop screaming at our horses? We practice TCC! Does the mind affect the body and does the body effect the mind…absolutely, both are true. That is not the question here. The question is, “how do I become more aware of what I am broadcasting and learn to become quiet and consistent within myself?” When you can learn to relax your body through the gentle exercises of Chi Gung, they can have a calming effect on your mind because you use your mind to consciously make the movements. By listening to the effect the movements have on the body the mind becomes calm. We call this taming the wild horses of the mind. When I can see more clearly the wild ponies of my mind, I can practice letting go of random thoughts, when I can let go of random thoughts, the ponies of my mind become calm. When my mind becomes calm, my muscles can let go of excess tension. Then the cycle begins again. You have to learn to think in circles!  Much better than the vicious cycle we unconsciously project. TCC is a practice and practice means patience, dedication and discipline to work at it everyday. Everyday work brings you to a life time of calm. (p.s. rethink the meaning of discipline, it doesn’t have to mean beating yourself into submission with a stick!)

You see, what we have trained ourselves to do in this culture is to grab something and have a short burst of satisfaction and  move quickly to the next and to the next and genuine satisfaction is never achieved. Can you imagine what this must sound like to your horse? How is she to make sense of this when she has never been shopping in Target, or has had to drive through traffic on a Friday afternoon? Do you see what I mean? When you are frazzled it becomes noise without any sense to it to your horses. They have no concept of our lives outside the barn. Horses feel our energy, energy is their reality. They do take it personally, believe me!

I have a mustang and he is very sensitive to this. In fact he is teaching me the finer things in my energetic life. One day, I got a late start to a lesson and it was “hurry up, we gotta go! Actually that should probably be in all caps! He stood outside the trailer and I know he was thinking, “I don’t like they way you are asking me to do this! I know how to load in a trailer, but I don’t wanna!” I remember at that point when I recognized his reaction, I let it go, which is a T’ai Chi practice in and of itself. He immediately got this look on his face as if to say, “that’s better. I’ll load now”. Crap! He really had my number. Lesson learned but I still have to keep practicing that.

If you are genuinely interested in being a calm, quiet, and confident leader for your horse, then practice these simple exercises and develop the discipline to become the safe place your horses is looking for you to be. Don’t make your horse have to figure it out…that is not their responsibility. And besides, this is just ONE little benefit of TCC. I will share more.

Please ask questions, I would love to hear from you. Please share with your other equine friends.

 

 

Keep Body Upright

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Body Upright

The Principle of Keeping The Body Upright

Stand up straight.  Keep your shoulders back. Don’t slump.  We have all heard these commands at one time or another.  We react to those commands by pulling our chest up, throwing our shoulders back and stiffening our spines.  Then we try to “hold” ourselves straight for as long as we can.  Soon we forget or fatigue and revert back to what feels “normal” to us.

When we are at our riding lessons we hear those same words about keeping our spine straight, shoulders back and be sure to relax while doing all that.  Our trainers see our posture is not correct and are in fact trying to help us find good form while riding.  We know that when we are riding, a correct posture is critical because it directly affects the horse’s balance beneath us.  But once again we feel stiff and unable to maintain the straight posture much less try to relax while holding ourselves in position.

Why does maintaining good posture seem so difficult and illusive? Let’s first look at why trying to hold ourselves straight doesn’t work.  The problem lies with the images that we use to create a correct and upright  posture.  If we use the image of holding our spine straight it is easy to take on the qualities of a board.   When we do this while riding, our horse has to try to balance a straight, hard unmoving stick up on their backs all the while being asked to relax, be flexible and to go forward.  You can see how this creates a dilemma for them.

The truth is the human spine is not straight.  It is a set of very complex joints and curves designed for structure, movement, and as a shock absorber.   In its inherent design, we can begin to see that it is a very dynamic structure and needs to move in rhythm rather than be held stiff and static.  T’ai Chi offers poetic visualizations to help us find our true uprightness, balance and relaxation without the tension of “holding” ourselves together or trying to force unnatural alignment.  We don’t ask our horse to stiffen and hold his back in order to carry us.  Instead we help train his back to be strong, resilient and flexible so that movement and energy travels through his spine unimpeded.

Imagine for a moment our uprightness as a form of two-legged.  For us bi-peds, the alignment starts at the bottom of the foot, our first contact with upright.  Feet should have our weight equally distributed side to side and front to back.  The ankle, knee and hip joints should have a slight bend and not be braced and straight.  The sacrum should be relaxed and just hanging down toward the ground.  Liken our lower back, to our horse’s croup, the pelvis is in neutral neither tipped forward nor held backward.  Our spine is gently stacked one vertebra on top of the previous until we get to the base of the skull.  The T’ai Chi classics say to “pluck up the spine”.  The chin should be tucked slightly until the base of the skull is relaxed and the top of the head is as if suspended from the heavens.

Study the nature of a tree. It seems to just know how to reach energetically upward to the heavens seeking the sustenance from the sun while its roots grow deep within the earth gathering nutrients from the soil.  There is an inherent yin/yang up/down balance within that tree. The branches trust that they are attached to the tree and hang gently downward without tension.  Imagine that same kind of energy line running up through the very center of our body reaching for the sunshine.  While at the bottom of our foot in the soft center spot we can grow roots that reach deep into the earth where we can gather the energy that we need as well.  Our arms and shoulders can be like the branches that just sit gently on the tree, hanging quietly and trustingly downward.

Professor Cheng Man-Ching says there are three treasures that we need to guard or pay utmost attention to if we are to truly be able to relax and remain upright in balance. Only through relaxed uprightness can we be truly in balance.  The first is the bubbling well, located in the center of the palm of the foot. The point adheres softly to the ground or takes root.  Second is the tan tien located 3 fingers below the navel and halfway into the body.  It is our center and all movement comes from there.  Liken it to a sphere that sits in the pelvic bowl.  Third is the top of the head, the spot that we suspend toward the heavens.  When these three treasures line up in a relaxed way we are upright, in balance and stable. Uprightness should be invoked from the inside out with rich visualizations not forced by outside standards or measurements.

Exercise: Let your alignment start in your feet,while standing and while riding, relax your feet and trust that they know how to hold you up or do their job in your stirrups. If you can relax your feet. you can relax your legs. and if you can relax your legs your torso will begin to let your shoulders and head sit quietly on top of your spine.  This too, is a practice. When you feel tension in your legs, start by relaxing your feet and soon your entire leg will begin to relax and hang down around your horse. The more you practice and pay attention to this the better your balance becomes while riding. You can cultivate body upright by learning to let go of excess tension when you become aware of where you are holding or protecting. The more you let go the closer your body comes to its natural alignment. Remember in Relax I told you that relax is an upward movement and a feeling of lightness through your entire body.  Upright is best invoked from an internal sense of what’s right not from an external measurement or imposed grid upon your body.

RELAX

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“…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.

 

CHI GUNG – AN ANCIENT ART FOR THE MODERN EQUESTRIAN

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Some things survive centuries for a reason … they remain useful and relevant through the times. They become classics that inspire generation after generation and even though they get modified here and there to fit the times, the ancient form remains in the spirit of the art. T’ai Chi Ch’uan is a martial art, a physical practice, and meditation from ancient China that has flourished there to this day and has been shared from Asian masters to the west. It popularity has taken root in American culture in the last century. In ancient times the T’ai Chi players were warriors, on horses, both men and women. We wear pants today because of the Chinese women warriors on horseback from those times. Its study is relevant in the equestrian world today.

Chi Gung movements are the simple exercises created out of the forms of T’ai Chi Ch’uan, Yang Style Short Form. Chi Gung exercises are the elements strung together to create the form. They are related not separate entities. When practiced diligently these movements promote relaxation, strength, and vibrant health from within.

The principles of natural movement are intricately woven into the exercises to cultivate softness, enhance awareness, and promote relaxation through imagery, movement, and practice. In dedicated practice you can become relaxed and resilient in body/mind and your spirit will take rise with a happy heart. Dynamic balance and softness fosters feel of another and when you can feel you can listen to the subtle message your horse is returning to you in the artistry of riding. Two bodies in balance are harmonious.

Perfection is a myth. Practice is the key. It is not a matter of doing the exercises perfectly. We practice to become aware, aligned with gravity, and balanced in movement. As we repeat each exercise (like riding a circle) we refine awareness, subtle balance, and relaxed strength. T’ai Chi and dressage are cousins with the same root. Balance, rhythm, timing and feel are the goals of each discipline. How could they not be good for each other?

Many exercises come and go and are just another passing fad that takes rise for awhile and then dies off for lack of spirit or shen. In the last few decades T’ai Chi for equestrians became a fad and then lost interest for the most part and I can tell you it is not from some lack of shen in the classics of T’ai Chi Ch’uan. Most teachings lack knowledge in the practical application of the principles of natural movement coupled with exercises that are not obviously relevant to the discipline of riding. Making those things more assessable will always enhance your riding skills.

T’ai Chi Ch’uan and Chi Gung for Riders is too precious of a classic to let it fade away. It takes dedication, practice, and adherence to the principles, like the principles of classical dressage to actualize results. For some it is well worth the effort. When practiced with an open heart it fortifies the body, keeps the mind agile, and allows the spirit free expression.

 

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