Horses and the Heart: The Power of Connection

Frida1

In times of uncertainty we often turn to something outside of ourselves for answers. What if that something was a horse? What possible benefit could there be for our personal growth in spending time with a horse? This is what the field of “Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy and Learning”, or EFPL, is all about.

EFPL is a rapidly growing field that uses relating to horses as a means of exploring and expanding your ability to create meaningful relationships with yourself and others. When you spend time with a horse with the sole purpose of creating a connection, you learn about your own fears and thought patterns that prevent you from being truly who you are in the world. Horses will mirror back to you what you need in order to trust yourself more and have more harmony in your relationships.

Why is this so? Horses are herd animals. Their survival and safety depends on being part of a herd. Within the herd they are very tuned in to each other, sensing boundaries, safety, and trust. They need to be able to move together at a moment’s notice. And they are very heart-centered: they bond with each other and support and nurture each other. They, like humans, have a social structure and want to belong.

Horses are also prey animals; they view us humans as a predator. We have to earn their trust. When you make a real connection with a 1000 pound animal, it is a profound experience. Horses can reach a place in your heart that other therapeutic modalities may not. True connection is a state of being with no expectations or attachments. In this state we are free to remember who we are.

Horses are who they are. They are authentic. There is no mask presented to the world. They demand that of us if we want to connect with them. If we are caught up in our story, we can’t connect. When we tune into our senses and are present with what we are feeling, we can open our hearts to our selves and others without judgment. This authenticity is often a vulnerable experience. However, it is what allows for a true bond and deep connection to happen. Without this congruence we remain separate and conflicted.

Opening your heart to a horse and being received unconditionally is very empowering and ultimately connects you with your joy. When you gain their trust and respect, they become willing partners in working together towards a goal. And then the fun begins!

And as I say regularly to my clients, “May the Horse be with you.”

 

 

 

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Why Meditate?

When I was 26 I signed up for my first 10-day silent meditation retreat. My mother’s response was “Why on earth would you want to sit around and THINK for 10 days?”  Right, why would I?  The truth is, “thinking” is not what meditation teaches. I get plenty of that everywhere else!

So what is meditation? The word invites many different images: a quiet, thoughtful time of sitting in nature alone; monks in a monastery sitting for hours on end; a spiritual Yogi sitting peacefully beneath a Bonzi tree.  It is typically an image of sitting for a long period of time on a cushion, cross-legged and eyes closed. It looks really uncomfortable. It can bring up feelings of resistance (“I could never do that”; “I’m too busy to meditate!”) or fear (“isn’t it a religious practice?”).

Meditation is all of these things and none of these things. It is both an experience and a practice. The practice is one of deep concentration and focus of the mind. The experience is one of relaxation, peace and open-heartedness. It is quite simply a practice of being with what is in the moment. No religion. No expectations. No convoluted postures. You can be walking, sitting, dancing, … It is more about how you engage in the moment.

In our modern world of high speed everything, our minds are moving fast along with everything else. We are always projecting our thoughts into the future or pondering something from the past. Rarely are we in the present moment, noticing what we are experiencing. Our ability to focus is undermined by constant distractions. Meditation helps us be more focused and on purpose in our lives.

As a psychotherapist, I see how much of the suffering that people experience comes from their thinking. We trigger the stress response in our bodies through our anxious or fearful thoughts.  Being able to bring your attention back to the present moment, to right now, your story begins to lose its steam. Your body begins to relax. The fight/flight response is no longer triggered. You are home.

Neuroscience today tells us that our brains are changeable. The neural pathways that support certain habit patterns of thought and behavior can be changed over time. And what is one of the most effective means of changing a pattern? Meditation.

It is a simple practice that you can take with you anywhere.

 

Gratitude

In my work as a psychotherapist and horsewoman as well as in my personal life, I am deeply touched by the healing power of gratitude. Gratitude can shut off a stress response more effectively than any drug or other coping mechanism. When you go to gratitude, it literally changes your brain chemistry. You are shifting from lower emotional centers that are geared to make sure you are safe into a more heart-centered emotional state that tells you “All is well.” The body’s physiological response shifts from pumping the stress hormones into your system to keep you activated to whatever the perceived danger is, to allowing the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in and tell all of those busy activating hormones to go home and take a rest. All of this simply by changing your thoughts!

There are many reasons to feel unsafe in this world. Most of us are over our heads with busy lives and all the responsibilities of work, home, and family. Then add to that a health crisis, a financial challenge, a relationship drama….. and our body goes into survival mode. “I am not safe!!!” The health repercussions of this are huge, both physically and mentally. Many of our modern day diseases have stress at its root or as an exacerbating factor (cancer, heart disease, autoimmune diseases…). We all know we need to exercise more, meditate, eat better, take more time for ourselves, etc. to “manage our stress.” And yet we don’t. Our lives are too busy. It takes too much time.

In truth, it’s just that we don’t have a habit pattern established for whatever the self care is we would like to incorporate. Our brain does not imagine and recognize that particular activity as something that is “me”. I will write more on how we create new neural pathways  in a future blog post (and Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy is one way!). For today, I want to speak to how in less than one minute you can change the way that you feel. It’s all about GRATITUDE. And practicing gratitude over and over in little moments throughout the day creates a new neural pathway in the brain that allows for new choices in your life which then creates habit patterns that support your well being. You get the drift.

So right now, as you read this blog, take a moment to practice gratitude:

First, take a deep breath. As you exhale, imagine you are sending your tailbone down towards the ground. As you inhale, lift your rib cage up. Take a few of these breaths and feel the space that is created in your core. Let your head and neck lift up as well, lengthening your spine and letting more energy flow through. Then think of one thing you are grateful for right in this moment. It may be about a connection with someone you love, or an experience in nature, or a beautiful painting or poem that moves you, or an incredibly delicious meal, or anything that simply makes you feel happy.

As you focus on your gratitude, bring your attention to the area around your heart. Imagine that your heart center is expanding as you feel grateful. Direct your breath to this area: inhale into your heart center, then exhale from that center and imagine you are sending that gratitude-infused breath throughout every cell in your body. Do this as long as you would like, continuing to hold your gratitude in your awareness. Notice how different you feel when you are done. And notice how little time it takes to do this!!!

Finally, create an intention from this space. How do you want to move forward in your day from what you are feeling right now? Notice how shifting your energy affects the choices that you need to make in this moment. And then go on with your day. Return to this practice as many times as you’d like. It is EASY!!!!

For me right now, I am grateful to be writing my first ever blog post!  And I am grateful for all the encouragement and support I have received to set this up. This is a big deal for me, since I am a total non-tecchie. I love to write, and I am excited to share more with you all and to discover how easy it is to do. So for now, I send my gratitude to each and everyone of you who is reading this post and doing this exercise. May you truly enjoy this day!