At first glance yoga isn’t an obvious complimentary fitness activity to horse riding. But as I’ve discovered over the last two months, it’s a perfect way to build strength, physically and mentally, and develop awareness (and therefore control) of your body.
Every pose and sequence in yoga requires core strength. From the moment you hit the mat you’re asked to engage the same muscles that are critical to securing a good dressage position.
Many poses increase flexibility, particularly in the hips. They also stretch your hamstrings. If like me you’ve struggled to open your hips, bring your legs back or lengthen them, check out the appropriately named, “hip opener” poses.
One aspect of yoga that has helped my riding more than any other form of exercise or sport, is the awareness. In yoga you concentrate (or focus with your breath) on parts of the body as you maintain a pose.
I’ve always been a little insensitive to my body and struggled to “feel” what I am doing. On one hand, my lack of awareness gave me a relatively high pain threshold, but the other I was often oblivious to what Abbey was doing or where I was going wrong.
Although I’ve only been practicing yoga for a couple of months, I’ve already developed a new, deeper relationship with my body; I notice when muscles are tight, I can feel when my body isn’t doing what I’ve asked of it and I’ve a greater awareness of how Abbey is responding to my aids. My teacher also frequently corrects me, often when I think I’ve achieved perfect straightness!
Like dressage, yoga is about quality of movement. So while you might repeat a sequence of poses (or vinyasas as it’s called), or work towards a more difficult pose, it’s all about working correctly – with core engaged and often, with length through the spine.
Because you practice each pose on both sides (sound familiar?!), yoga is highlighting where I’ve differences in my left and right hand side. Some poses I can do with ease on the left but not-so on the right. I can feel where the restrictions or tightness is, and work to even it out.
Mentally, yoga is helping me calm down and relax. Learning to find a focused ‘chill’ is proving useful when riding too. When Abbey tenses because she’s seen something scary, I can breath, relax and control. This sense of calm travels down my reins and, I’m sure, calms Abbey too.
In yoga you’re encouraged to notice and acknowledge any areas of tightness and to use your breath to relax and soften. This, I’ve found sometimes work on Abbey too, especially during warm ups when I feel Abbey is struggling with a movement because her body isn’t yet stretched enough to do it.
Yogis dont ‘do’ yoga, they only ever practise…I think this concept is useful with dressage. As a natural perfectionist, too often I get frustrated that Abbey and I aren’t doing a movement like Charlotte Dujardin can, but by thinking that we’re just practising, I can relax and accept what we’re both able to give that day.
Which….is another yoga concept. Every day is different and your body is also different each day, depending on how you slept, what you’ve eaten or even, what you did yesterday. Understanding this and doing only what you can do in this moment is all you can ask. In time and with practise, you will achieve the pose/vinyasa/dressage movement.
Although I’ve only been practising yoga for a 6 weeks, I’m already hooked. I feel stronger, more relaxed and more flexible.
If you’ve been inspired too, find a local teacher and speak to them about going to a class. It’s worth it, especially when you’re starting out. A good teacher will check that you’re moving correctly, can show you easier/harder variations of poses depending, and will ensure your using your core.
I’ve discovered a yoga channel by Adriene on You Tube and am thoroughly enjoying working through those. The foundations course has been very helpful.
Finally, I just want to say a big ‘thank you!’ To Lucy Holtom of Living Your Yoga, for introducing me to yoga and inspiring me each week through her great classes!