I was standing in a twelve foot square box watching 1,000 lbs of horse circle around me, eyes wide in bewilderment, while I gently pressed into her shoulder.
She’d been standing quietly while I palpated her muscles, indifferent to the pressure after a lifetime of primping, pampering and spiffing before competitions.
Until I hit that spot. It was a hot one, in more ways than one. As soon as my hands brushed it, her head shot up, eyes widened and she started moving.
There was nowhere to go, really, since we were in a stall, but that didn’t stop her from dancing around me.
Her prancing went on for about a minute, maybe two, while I kept feather-light pressure on her shoulder.
When she finally stopped circling, she lifted her nose and let out a groan that I have never before or since heard emit from any horse’s body.
I would describe it as inhuman, but that doesn’t really apply in this situation…
The muscles melted under my fingers and heat radiated out of the mare’s shoulder. She relaxed, dropping her head, licking, chewing and taking deep puffing sighs.
She’d let it go. Whatever had been stuck in her shoulder – likely some sort of old scar, either from overuse, an early life accident or even birth trauma – had released.
That mare had always had a sticky right shoulder, from the time she was a year old. After her profound release, the shoulder was markedly improved…that very day.
The old scar was just gone.
And this is the lesson horses (all animals, actually) can teach us.
Horses aren’t limited by a world view. They have no story around their trauma, no concept of good and bad to limit their movement.
If you find their hot spot, they’ll do their best to let it go. They don’t always know how to do it on their own, which is why they need some help, but they’ll work with you, and when they find the release button, whoosh! It’s gone.
People, on the other hand, have all kinds of stories about our bodies.
We believe that posture can be “good” or “bad” instead of understanding that the body is a living process, in constant flux, changing in response to your current needs.
We look in the mirror and we don’t see what’s really there. We see a distorted version of ourselves with chunky thighs and distended abdomens, and we tell ourselves a tale about a weak-will and a lack of discipline.
We want to be perceived as confident and in control by others and so we yank our shoulders back and suck in our guts, holding our spines ramrod straight and moving like robots.
We hold onto our old injuries, our emotional scars, our family heritage, rooting them in the very cells of our bodies.
The stories are innumerable, each one rooted in time and place. People who grew up in the 1950s have different stories than those born in the modern day.
When you work – through bodywork, stretching, movement, or any other path of release – to let go of your physical muscles, you also have to take a good, hard look at why you’re holding onto that tension.
Because when the physical tension is gone, the story you’ve spun still remains. And since the mind and body are simply counterparts to one another, to fully release that tension, you have to shift your story about it.
Because an hour on a massage table or an afternoon of yoga won’t negate a lifetime of beliefs.
It’s funny – I was just thinking about this last night. Well, not in your eloquent, wisdom-filled way so much. But in my own way.
I’ve been trying to change my posture for a few months now to avoid so much tension in my lower back. I’ve been doing some stretches to help, but mostly I’ve just been trying to be conscious about it. When I took the dog out the other night, belly full after a great dinner, I noticed I was sinking into my lower back again. And when I set my spine back up letting my upper back hold me and allowing my shoulders to relax, I realized that my full stomach felt disgustingly large…. I felt fat. And self-conscious. And it dawned on me that I’ve been sinking into my lower back for years and years because I’ve been trying to hide my stomach.
Writing those words down, it almost aches as my emotions run crazy deciphering why. Our first thoughts are almost always truthful… let me briefly tell you the story that popped into my head when I thought “why am I trying to hide my stomach?”
When I was 9, I was in ballet class with some friends and afterward we were all goofing about in our leotards. One of my closer friends stuck out her stomach as far as she could, arching her back and grinning, “I can make myself look pregnant!” I gently pushed my stomach out, just the littlest bit, testing the waters and before I could even enjoy the game my friend blurted, “You can do it too! You look SO pregnant!”
And ever since, I’ve been worried about what others think of my waistline. I’m not fat, but I’m not built to have completely flat abs. I’ve always envied women who do have flat stomachs. When I seek to get healthier in my life, it’s always with the mindset of shrinking my belly fat.
I don’t think I’ve come to a lesson or profound moment of transformation yet, but just realizing where my posture comes from is causing me to think.
Thanks for another really fantastic article, Sukie. They’re always insightful, but they’re even a pleasure to read because the words flow so beautifully. I very much appreciate your writing style.