How regular yoga practice helps my riding
Back in October, Johnny suggested we attend a beginner yoga workshop at a nearby studio. We were struggling to maintain a regular exercise routine; short days made jogging or walking unappealing, and neither of us were very good at getting up to drive to the gym before work. I’ve always liked yoga, but have a hard time staying motivated to practice at home. I thrive in a group fitness environment- working out alone at home with a DVD doesn’t work well for me!
We enjoyed the workshop tremendously, and signed up for a discounted one-month package of unlimited classes. The studio offered evening classes three days a week, which worked well for our schedules. We found a weekend class we liked, too. After our monthly package was finished, we signed up for a year’s worth of unlimited classes. The two of us have been attending classes four days a week since.
I’ve noticed subtle differences in my riding since making yoga a regular part of my life.
The physical benefits are obvious (to me, at least). My balance has improved, both in and out of the saddle. I sit more evenly on both seat bones and contribute less to my horses’ natural unevenness. Practicing yoga has improved body awareness. I can feel when one hip is further forward than the other and when I begin to collapse on one side. I give clearer aids and more effective cues because I can better control which parts of my body are doing what. My body is stronger and I have better posture. It’s easier to keep my shoulders down and my core engaged. I’ve increased my range of motion and flexibility, too.
Yoga has had mental benefits, too. I’m more relaxed and patient with the horses. Don’t get me wrong- I still get frustrated when Candy has a meltdown at a ground pole for the millionth time. But now I don’t pick a fight and make it a problem; I take a deep breath, stay relaxed, and let her figure it out. I find it easier to stay focused, too. I’ve learned to block out distractions and pay attention to what I’m doing and what feedback my horse is giving me. Yoga’s also made me more forgiving. I struggle to find the balance and strength to work toward advanced poses like Dancer or Crane; I’m sure Candy is also struggling to find balance and strength sometimes.
Yoga isn’t competitive, and every person in the classes I attend is at a different place in their practice. I try not compare myself to others; everyone has strengths and weakness. The same is true in riding. I can find satisfaction in improving my dressage scores even if I’m not winning (or beating anyone else). And I don’t have to compete to enjoy riding my horse- it’s fun to trail ride and hunt.
My favorite aspect of yoga isn’t any of these things, though. It’s that I’ve found a form of exercise that doesn’t make me feel like I’m punishing myself. I don’t dread going to class the same way I dread jogging. It inspires me to make other improvements in my life, like eating healthier, moving more, and making better choices about how I spend my free time.
Do you find a particular type of exercise helps your riding? Are you a yoga enthusiast, too?