The Simplicity of Horses and Yoga

Originally published September 2017

It’s been a complicated summer, that required lots of coordination and meticulous planning. I’m not complaining – it was filled with travel (Iceland!), beautiful retreats (see the video of Cowgirls vs. Cancer!), and a big move for my family to our new “Vap Ranch”, where we plan to build a barn and move our horses hOMe with us. However, I’m all about balance, and as the summer ends that’s what I’ve been craving – some time with nothing going on. Some time that doesn’t feel complicated.

No wonder yoga and horses have exerted more of pull on me than ever.

They’re not complicated. What is complicated is all the thinking about them before hand, analyzing them after. How many yoga practices will I get in this week? Are my yoga clothes clean? Where’s my mat? Do I have enough time to ride? Where are my jeans? What did I accomplish with my horse?

In tumultuous times (personal and political), we seek simplicity, whether we know it or not. A part of us has become addicted to the rush of rushing around and the sensationalized news feed – it’s the curse of our culture, for sure. It’s why yoga became so popular. It offers an opportunity to stop rushing, to channel that nervous energy into moving meditation (and ultimately, some stillness), and come out calmer and slower. Horses offer a similar benefit, as time with a “moving yoga mat” (as I like to call them) forces you to be present; you can’t be obsessing about the past or fretting about the future while you are engaging with a 1,000 pound animal. It’s as if they look at us and say, Be Here Now, you silly human. Their equine wisdom is simple and timeless.

Back in the outdoor studio with Larry our Cowgirl Yogatography guru, unleashing creative vibes for this fall’s retreats.

Both yoga and horses require a shifting of gears: from complicated to simple. They both require that we get back to basics: particularly our breath. The breath is often the first thing to go when we feel challenged, rushed. We lose our awareness of it, it becomes light and shallow and doesn’t penetrate the body much. This triggers a “fight or flight” response, while deeper breathing cultivates a relaxation response.

A quote from a lovely book called She Flies Without Wings – How Horses Touch a Woman’s Soul evokes the simple pleasure of breathing:

We can begin with the breathing. When we pause to draw air deeply into the lungs, we lift the diaphragm, open the ribs, and rush oxygen to the spine, into the back of the neck, and along all the extremities. Relaxed, deep breathing is an instant pick-me-up for all our senses because it replenishes every cell. We don’t have to flare our nostrils the way horses do, but we can follow their example of breathing deeply enough to fuel every muscle for movement.

The simplicity of breathing. The simplicity of horses and yoga. The simplicity of savasana, of horse breath. The simplicity of stillness, good intentions, healthy living. My autumn mantra is keep it simple – I plan to actively seek out ways to simplify my life in an enriching way. Who’s with me?

Yeehaw and Namaste.