. . . about how to live well as a human.
Besides being beautiful, powerful, and all the other things we adore about them, horses are usually very direct about what they do and don’t like during a bodywork session. Here are some things they’ve taught me that apply to being human as well, and especially apply when things are tough. Those are the times when we most need ways to bring ourselves back into balance and become centered inside our cores. I am writing this as I grieve my beloved father passing away in October. He had a good long life, and died a beautiful, peaceful death holding our hands. This was a great blessing and privilege to share. And still I must do my grieving. Part of our human work is learning how to care for ourselves. It makes things go better for us personally, and for those around us, too. I chose these photos because Tank is pure love and I feel complete joy and connection when I am with him.
Presence is most important. Not a technique or words, but who we are and how we show up. Am I grounded and really inside my body? I never once met a horse who cared whether or not I have a license or which method I learned. They care about how it feels to them when I stand next to them and how I touch them. We humans are the same, but have the habit of paying more attention to words and less to the feedback in our bodies.
Healing takes its own sweet time. Yep. Grief has been teaching me that big time, but so have the horses. One lovely gelding named Whirly will turn around and look at me if he needs me to pause during bodywork so he can release. A lovely mare named Roxy went into a very long, deep internal process during bodywork, and I simply stood next to her; after that, nothing else was appropriate. Some days I need to cry, other days, not so much. We are all individuals, and have different rates of healing and ways of processing.
Healing and learning happen in a place of relaxation, not stress. What choices can I make for myself to stay relaxed, or maybe more importantly, to return to relaxation after tension has occurred? This is the shift between parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. Horses do this all the time, and we see them release (lick and chew, yawn, shake, sigh, etc.) when they return to parasympathetic (rest, digest and relax.) I often yawn or my stomach gurgles when I shift back to relaxation.
Fight or flight comes from our reptilian brain, not our human/mammalian forebrain. We go to fight or flight under duress, but caring for ourselves calms us, settles us, and brings us back to our rest and digest place.
Small comforts help settle our nervous systems. A nap in the sun with companions, a cup of tea, a good scratch at the withers, a friendly hug, a hot bath, nibbling at grass, and then it is often possible to go on with restored good humor. Try it! Understanding what is going on when we ‘lose it’ under stress, and then learning what works to bring ourselves back into balance is a basic life skill. This is a process of personal discovery because we don’t all find the same things settling.
We need our herd, or tribe. We take turns resting or being watchful, or cleaning up after our dinner. Sharing our lives, our experiences, our hopes and dreams as well as our fears is an important part of our well being.
Movement moves energy for horses and for people. Emotions are Energy in Motion. Anything that makes me sweat will work. Shouting and cheering at a sports event works too.
Do what affirms life. For me that means spending time with horses, walking with my dog in the woods, live music and dance, and connecting with friends.
Sometimes listening and witnessing makes all the difference, and nothing else is needed. Holding space for another often supports them to find their own way.
Let’s normalize kindness and compassion towards ourselves and others across our diverse human and species experiences. It is one way that we can change the world heart by heart.
What have you learned from horses that has helped you to be a better human?
Release. After I published this, the horses helped me to see that I’d left an important one out, one that they go to very naturally, but that we are taught to suppress. It is implied several times above, but needs to be specifically called out. Horses will yawn, shake, stretch, sigh, fart, lick and chew, or whatever as the need arises.
We human animals get taught from an early age that it’s not okay to let go when the feeling moves us. This goes for physical as well as emotional release, “don’t cry,” “hold it together,” “over sharing,” are just a few of the ways we get shut down, shamed and redirected from releasing when we feel the need. As a result we learn not to release much at all, and apologize when we do. If we weren’t trained not to—or if we reclaim that way of self-healing, we could enjoy the feeling of relaxation or peace inside after a good cry. Taking good care of ourselves also means knowing who and when we can let ourselves release in safety and support.
As a naturopathic doctor friend of mine likes to say, “all discharge is good!” She is talking about both emotional and physical releases. When we get a cold, our body produces extra mucus to help carry away something the body needs to get rid of, just as tears help me to release grief when it wells up inside me. Whether we’re going through a tough time or just a typical day full of the stimulation of phones, computers, being at work, traffic, and family members, we all need to release in order to regain our internal equilibrium and be healthy.
If you’d like to read more, check out the expanded and illustrated eBook here. The link is about halfway down the page on the right side of the yellow panel.
Kissing Tank, photos by Sandra Wallin