EMHH Episode 29: How Relaxation Creates Healthy Movement in You and Your Horse

Sep 01, 2022

Want to get rid of a common cause of stiffness, soreness and fatigue? In this episode, you’ll learn a NEW way to use relaxation to improve suppleness, generate more power and enhance well-being. And this works for you and your horse!

It's likely that you and your horse have excessive tension in certain muscles. You’re overworking some parts and underusing others. It’s an incredibly common problem!

It’s something that humans and horses do unconsciously, out of habit. What may have started as a healthy response to an injury or some other stressor, has become a maladaptive habit.

This unnecessary muscular work is a common cause of stiffness, soreness, fatigue, weakness and damage to joints and muscles.

In today’s episode, we’ll explore a new way of looking at relaxation(it’s not what you think!)and its importance in being able to use your muscles powerfully and effectively. You’ll know how to apply these concepts to both you and your horse!

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Hello, would you like to know how to get rid of a common cause of stiffness soreness, fatigue, and weakness, as well as it's a common cause of damage to joints and muscles, this applies to both you and your horse? So you're interested. I thought so. And the other bonus is that what I'm about to share with you is super fun.

You'll feel really good. Your horse will feel really good and you'll feel more connected with each other too. So all good stuff. And what that is, is learning a way to use relaxation to create healthier movement and all the stuff I'm going to talk about applies to you as well as your horse.

Because horses and humans and dogs, and certainly, other species as well, we often create inefficient movement habits. We don't even know we're doing it. It's like they just become these unconscious habits that we have not only just about like how, what our posture is, but how we move through the world, the way we coordinate our parts. And very specifically for this episode so way we kind of hold on to excessive, muscular tension in certain muscles.

So it's like we overuse some muscles and way underuse other parts of our body. This leads to a lot of damage over time. Again, it's also stiffness, soreness, weakness, all those things. And you might wonder like, well, why do we do that? Why do we in horses? Why do we develop these inefficient habits?

And it's often actually an intelligent response. So don't get mad at your nervous system. It was actually doing a good job. Maybe you had something happen a while ago. Could have been when you were a kid, maybe you hurt your foot, or it could have been just a few weeks ago and it hurt. So you limped and that limping was certainly a good idea, right?

And so your nervous system recognizes you're limping to get rid of that pain, right? You're not stepping so hard on that foot. That felt good. So it often holds on to what I call an echo of the limp. So it's like a little bit of that limp remains active in your nervous system.

So when you're limping, for example, maybe you're overusing or tensing like a certain part of your lower back or, you know, the upper back or the one side of the neck, or obviously, the other leg is taking greater weight. You know, so little things, so maybe start stressing around the other hip joint. So over time, this becomes pretty ingrained in your nervous system.

It just feels normal. It feels familiar. So your brain doesn't discard it. And then you start to compensate because now you have other problems. Maybe now you're overusing that hip or your neck is bothering you. And it just goes into this downward spiral and again, our horses do the same thing. And they have even more reasons than we do to develop inefficient habits because they have to deal with us, with maybe being started poorly, being written in an unbalanced way, a wearing tack that doesn't fit, right?

You know, maybe they have dental problems. Maybe, you know, someone's jerking on them, you know, or their hooves are imbalanced. So many, so many things can go wrong with the horses. Thanks to us.

It is probably to our ignorance, but nonetheless, the horse suffers. So the horse learns to compensate to maybe invert the back a little bit, to reduce the pain, hold the head up high, to try to get away from the pain a bit. You know, any number of things use one side of the body more than the other. I see that a lot.

So that could be caused by something, you know, that we did inadvertently usually, but they also horses can have their own injuries. I worked with a horse a number of years ago that had a chronic suspensory injury. I think it had been 10 months, nine or 10 months. It still wasn't healing. It was getting worse. A number of vets were called in to consult. All three vets that were consulted said.

This mayor is never going to get better. She's never going to improve. And luckily the horse person heard about me. Someone said, well, why don't you give this Mary Debono person a call? She did. I went and saw her horse. And what I noticed was that the injury was on the left front.

So the left front suspensory that horse was carrying so much for weight habitually on her right side on her right legs. Now, when she tried, she limped appropriately for the left front injury, but her habit, her longstanding habit was actually too, excuse me. She carried more weight on the left side, left side. The injury was on the left and she carried more weight habitually on the left side.

I was getting ahead of myself on you. You'll find out why in a second. So she carried more weight on that side and it kind of didn't make sense, right? Because that's the side that was injured. And you can actually, if you, if you run your hands over her body, very, very carefully, you can tell that there was a lot more muscular work, a lot more tension, and the whole entire side of our body.

And when I pointed that out to her person, the person said, oh, actually she's always sweated more on the left side. Like I've noticed that for years. It also turned out that when I did, did a little more digging and explained my findings. She said you know what?

Five years ago, she hurt her right front leg. She was involved in a traumatic incident. She injured her right front. So she started overusing the left side, right? And with that was intelligence. The horse needed to let the right front leg rest and recuperate. But then even after that leg healed, she still carried an echo of it.

She was no longer limping conscious, you know, obviously, but she was overusing. She was keeping her entire left side tighter. And that created over time, this damage to her left front. Suspensory is so very interesting. So she was never really giving her body a chance to heal from it. I was able to very, very gentle support and hands-on movement to help her get rewire or retrain her nervous system to feel that she would be actually more comfortable.

It would feel better to be more evenly balanced. And she went on to heal beautifully and lived a very, very wonderful long life. Completely sound. Okay. So it's those kinds of habits that we have to a certain extent, the horses have to a certain extent doesn't have to be that one, exactly that your horse may have, or you may have, but something else, maybe you keep your shoulders one or both shoulders really tight.

Hey, that can be quite problematic. Now you might say, I don't ever remember injuring a shoulder. First of all, it could be something that was below your level of awareness. Maybe like a sense of fatigue, not an outright injury, or it could have been something you learned to cope with an emotional strain.

So it was like an emotional stressor. Maybe it started when you were a kid and there was like some conflict in the family or something at school or whatever. And you learn that it was sort of like self-soothing to tighten your shoulders kind of distracted your nervous system a little bit from the emotion. So there are all sorts of reasons why we or our horses develop these compensations horses also develop them from feelings just emotionally stressed because we know how close, you know, how the body and mind are really they're one thing, right?

Each affects the other. So it's very, very common that, you know, for humans and horses and again, dogs, et cetera, to have places where there's excess, muscular tension that you don't even realize. And that's creating all sorts of having in yourself and in your horse. It also affects you emotionally because when we're feeling tense, even if it's not like that, we're actively worried about something.

But your body has this level of activity noise, I call it the nervous system that is not conducive to a relaxed state. Okay. So very important for you and your horse to learn how to let go of this excessive muscular work. So when we're talking about relaxation in this context, okay, because you know, I'm titled this podcast, like how relaxation creates healthy movement and you and your horse. We're just going to talk about it in very simple terms. Okay. So let's think about muscles.

We're going to just, again, I'm keeping this super simple, just say the resting state healthy resting state of a particular muscle is say, oh, about 12 inches. We're just making this up, about 12 inches, a particular muscle. And when you want to contract it powerfully, it gets shorter than that. Right? And that contraction is what then pulls on the skeleton and creates movement.

Again, this is for humans and horses, right? Similar principles are at work here. So that's great. So you go from 12 inches to say eight inches. Okay. When it's contracted once powerfully contracted again, we're just making up these to make it simple. Now saying you have a habit of keeping that particular muscle partially contracted that you have this habitual tension in that muscle all the time.

So now instead of your muscle going from 12 inches to 8 inches, it can only go from 10 inches to 8 inches. Cause it's already short. It's already too short. So you don't have the power. You don't have the power that you would have had if you started from a place of relaxation or a healthy resting state of that muscle.

So you have this partial contraction. Also, if that muscle is contracting in such a way that it's pulling on other parts of you. You can create a lot of soreness against stiffness damages, et cetera. It's also probably kind of fighting if you will. It's contradicting another muscle. You know, muscles often work in antagonist and agonist pairs.

So for example, just to give you a common example, if you're rounding your back, you're looking down, you're using your powerful flexor muscles in front of yourself. Your back muscles have to let go to allow that. Now it's very common for humans and horses to do what we call co-contracting. It's not good.

And what's happening is that when you want to round the back, your back muscles are not completely letting go. So you're having this fight all the time. This is why you see so many horses not able to properly round the back and engage the hind end and keep the neck nice and soft. Okay? So they end up overusing some parts and people pull on their mouths or kick them or try to get the two ends together.

But they're the horses unable to completely round, round the back and a healthy way because the back muscles in the belly muscles, so to speak are fighting each other. We do that too. So a lot of people have trouble, for example, lifting their head, like if they're lying on their back and they want to just lift the head without the help of the hands, it feels too effortful for them because their back is like mat their back muscles are like pulling on that area.

And so they don't, they can't just use the flexors powerfully because again, the back and the front are fighting each other. There are many other ways that show up too. It's not just about lifting the head in many other ways.

And, as a matter of fact, I had a gal in my class years ago, an in-person class. And she was very proud of the fact that she did, you know, a tremendous amount of crunches every morning. And she had a six-pack or a 12-pack, whatever it was. And she could not, she could not actually fold her chest properly. She had kept, she kept so much tension in just one single plane of action with her abdominals.

And she also kept co-contracting her back muscles and her movement was really unhealthy. And she had a lot of back pain. She was creating tremendous stress on her spine. So of course, in the course of my program, she learned how to let that go and to move in a healthier way. And she was much happier and her movement was a lot healthier as well.

So this is the kind of relaxation I'm talking about letting go of these unhealthy movement habits that you may have started recently or a long time ago. And you're probably unaware of most of them. Okay. And the same is true with the horse. So in the work that I teach, which is based on the Feldenkrais Method, which is a form of somatic or movement education, we really dive into learning how completely let go.

So of particular areas like, so if you do a movement, we emphasize the rest in between the movement. We don't do things just over and over, just like a repetition, like circling the shoulder or anything like that. We break it down. And each of these awareness exercises that we do awareness lessons, they have very specific steps like it's choreographed.

It's a very specific sequence so it didn't, it kind of encouraged. This encourages the nervous system to let go of this excess tension, this habitual tension. We also use things like variation and non-habitual movements. Again, this gets the attention of the nervous system and interrupts your habit and what I've done over the years.

And I teach this in my move with your horse program I also teach people in addition to doing these things for themselves, I teach them how to help their horses, interrupt those habits and replace them with better options. And let me give you some examples of what we do with the horses.

You know, there's a simple scan with your hands. I call it where, you know, I teach my students how to very gently and it kind of a non-habitual way start to direct the horse's attention to different parts of the body so that they improve their body awareness. And their nervous system starts to recognize like, Ooh, that's tighter than it needs to be. Maybe I can let that go. Then I also teach them how to do what I call muscle lifts and to further encourage the relaxation of those areas.

Okay. So that's one simple way. We also do very, very specific rocking movements with the horse. Again, it's not something we just do, you know, haphazardly or, or just repetitively, we're paying attention to exactly how the horse shifts our movement. Right? We do it. You know what I call 'em same way rocking and opposing rocking.

That requires a lot of flexibility in the middle of the horse. All these things are done very strategically to help you help your horse release these unhealthy patterns, and these habitual holding places and replace them with healthy, relaxed muscles.

And again, when we talk about relaxation, it's not relaxation that like, like, like you're just like for you, like just lying on the floor, unable to move, or your horse just hanging, hanging with their head down and you know, can't move like they're so relaxed. They're kind of zoned out. We're not talking about what we ultimately want the horse or the human, right?

You or your horse to be able to get into a state of relaxed, responsiveness or relaxed readiness. So it's a way of coming from a place of powerful relaxation that produces powerful movement so that you're ready to act as the need arises.

Moshe Feldenkrais, the originator of the Feldenkrais Feldenkrais method. He used to say that healthy movement, one of the hallmarks of it was being able to move powerfully in any direction without prior preparation. So again, we're not talking about relaxation, lying on the beach, although you can lie on the beach in a healthy way too, I mean like zoned out.

You know, that may be part of this because then actually it's, well, I'll explain that in a minute. Why that kind of zoned out is also powerful, but you want to help yourself and your horse be able to get into a state of relaxed, responsiveness, or relaxed readiness, whatever you want to call it. But it means that you're able to act with healthy movement, with movement.

That's going to actually nurture your body and mind and not damage it. So back to your horse, we talked about scan with your hands rocking. We also in our program do something which we call waves and there are different ways of doing it. But basically what you're doing is you're creating a sense of movement for the horse jet, very gentle it's like super light.

It's like a light feather but through their skeleton. Okay. Now, this is something that Moshe Feldenkrais originated for humans. And I'll tell you why it's so powerful and how it can help muscles relax. So well, we also do this in, for the humans as well. We do it through active movement for the humans, for the horses, you do it with the horse, but the reason it works so well is when you create a sense of movement through the skeleton.

It's like, you're bypassing the muscles. So think about this, picture your horse, skeleton, then picture just a whole bunch of muscles over it. Don't worry about whether, you know, all the muscles or not, and the different layers and all the other tissue that's involved. Just think of, you know, skeleton and a bunch of muscles over it. Okay?

Keeping it simple here now normally, right? What happens is certain muscles contract. They pull on the skeleton and that creates movement. Your horse moves. Now, yours is standing still. And again, this is very specific about how and where we do this.

But if you create a gentle theory, gentle wave movement through the horse's skeleton, right? You can create the sense of movement, the movement travel. So the nervous system is getting a sense that things are happening. A horse is still standing still, by the way. Although you can do this in movement too. That's a whole nother story. It's a little more advanced, but the muscles are passive.

Okay. The muscles aren't actively contracting. Okay. And what that does is that gives like a free ride. If you will, to the muscles, right? It's like the muscles, just go along with that, you know, the rocking or the wave movement, they go along for the ride. So you're moving the skeleton.

If you will, relative to the muscles. One of my students put this really well. She said, wow, it works because the muscles aren't used to the bones telling them what to do, right? Cause if you think about it, the nervous system creates the contraction in the muscles, but then the muscles are what pull on the bones to create locomotion, to create movement.

And here we're going, okay, we're going to flip this a little bit, right? We're going to create a sense of movement through the horse's skeleton and allow the muscles to be passive. So the muscles have no, and the nervous system has no defence against that. It's not going to contract them and say, oh my gosh, like I don't normally do that.

I have to defend against that because that's what can happen. If you manually try to release, you know, chronically contracted muscles, the brain, the nervous system can say, oh, wait a minute. I don't let that go. That's there for a reason. I really like it, I'm really committed to that. I'm really, you know, attached to that.

It was a good response to a stressor a long time ago. I'm keeping it. So it's like you have this contradiction on your hands and creates a lot of noise. A lot of like red flags go up. If you will, in the nervous system instead, you're like, that's cool. That's fine. Let's just see if you can experience this and notice what a feels like.

Well, the nervous system, isn't going to fight that it's going to go, you know what? That feels really good. And that's less work for me. That's more efficient. And that's what the nervous system wants. Again, this applies to humans, as well as your horse and your dog and your cat and everyone else.

So these are just some of the ways we do it with the horses, again, with the humans, right with you, we go through different Feldenkrais awareness lessons that you do, you do in your living room or wherever. And you get a similar result in your own body where you can let go of these habitual holdings, this excess tension that you're carrying, and this will, the benefits will be both physical and mental.

So it's like a body and mind type of deal here. Okay. So you're retraining the nervous system kind of rewiring it. Oh, and I promised I'd get back to this idea of the really relaxed state and why that can be useful. So they have, this is something that, again, Dr. Feldenkrais, you know, knew a long time ago.

Okay. He passed away in 1984 and he was doing this since then, at least since the forties. And it's something that now neuroscience has really caught up with this idea that when you have about of learning. So when you, when you learn something in this case, learning how to move more efficiently learning to let go of these excessive muscular holdings when you learn something, and then you follow that learning with a state of deep rest, Hey, what, I'm Andrew Ubermensch?

He has the human lab podcast. He's a, he's a neuroscientist. What he calls non-sleep deep rest. Okay. When you follow it by that, that's when the rewiring takes place. That's when the neural connections really get strengthened. So you start learning it while you're doing the activity,

or while you're doing the Feldenkrais, where you're doing the hands-on DeBono moves with your horse, whatever the case may be. But it's very important to allow that real deep rest afterwards to kind of reinforce the learning. Okay. Really get it in the nervous system, get it in the brain. Okay. So it is very useful to be able to help yourself and your horse get into these states of deep relaxation, right?

But there's also the state of what I'm calling either, you know, relaxed readiness, relaxed responsiveness, whatever you prefer, but the idea that your horse can be happy, relaxed. So can you, and you're ready to act. So you're moving from, you know, you're, you're using relaxation to act. What I say, you know, relax to act.

So you're creating this healthy, powerful movement that will serve you at any age so that you'll, you'll have, you know, long-term soundness, again, horse or human, right? You'll reduce the wear and tear damage. You'll be more flexible, more balanced and way more coordinated because you'll start to be able to use the parts of yourself more appropriately.

That means that the larger muscles, the larger parts of you will share more of the work and the smaller muscles will be used to sense and refine movement. A lot of times we have, for example, excess tension in the hands or in the neck, and those are definitely part of the feet. Those are definitely parts of the body that are used to sense and refine movement rather than do the powerful movement.

So we want to, again, retrain the brain, retrain the nervous system so that you use the powerful parts powerfully and the other parts to sense and refine your movement. We go over this a lot, this idea of appropriate distribution of effort, and this applies to horses and humans.

Okay? So we want you and your horse to live happier, healthier lives. Okay? And be powerful and strong and do all the fun things. So with that in mind, I'm calling to offer a free class. To get a free class, well, it's two ways to know about it. Actually one is to sign up for my email list.

And if you sign up for my email list, you'll actually get these three free videos. This is separate from the free class, though. Okay. And to sign up for the list, just go to marydebono.com/rider. If you've already done that, don't worry. Then you're in. But marydebono.com/rider.

You might want to do it again. In case Gmail lost my contact or whatever that happens. It ends up in spam or whatnot. So do that or join my... it's better to join the list, to be honest, but you can also join the Facebook group. It's free. You go to Facebook, it's a happy, healthy horsewoman and I'll make sure there's a link to it in the show notes as well.

Okay. But Facebook group happy, healthy horsewoman. We can get you set up there and we're going to do a free class. You can understand, you could feel in your own body, how you can create the sense of relaxation that will ultimately give you this sense of healthy movement and keep you happy and healthy longer, and your horse as well. So thank you so much for joining me. I love sharing this work with you and I can't wait to talk to you again. Bye for now.