Most of us are hunching over keyboards and huddled in front of computer screens even more than we were before this whole pandemic thing was, well, a thing. Add a good dose of world-gone-crazy anxiety, and the tension in our arms, shoulders, and upper back could support a suspension bridge during what once was rush hour.
It’s a year that calls for all-hands on deck when it comes to wellness of body and mind, and yoga teacher and horsewoman Cathy Woods has an easy prescription of yoga postures to help us ease our tight muscles and worried minds, so our horses don’t get tight and worried, too. Here she teaches us one exercise we can all use in and out of the saddle.
Improved balance and focus; better reaction time; increased range of motion; more strength; greater flexibility; fewer injuries; boosted immune system? Yes, please!
Yoga postures can help with all these—and more. Through the use of postures, you can more fully experience and fine-tune your body, thus creating better overall health and increased awareness, on and off the mat.
All yoga postures have value, whether you ride horses or not. However, some have more benefits for equestrians. Riding requires the use of specific muscles—some more than others. Equestrians need to focus on developing strength in their legs and core, open hips, and a supple, healthy back and spine. The postures that follow focus on these areas. Of course, you must not neglect other areas of the body, since everything interconnects.
As a horse person, you probably are doing other physical things besides riding, such as lifting saddles, cleaning hooves, pushing wheelbarrows, carrying water buckets, picking up feed bags, and hauling hay. These are other good reasons to keep the body strong and flexible.
As we get older it’s typical for balance to become more challenged, flexibility to decrease, and strength and bone density to diminish. In addition, our reflex time and coordination becomes compromised. It’s not uncommon to hear about older people taking a fall around the house or when performing ordinary tasks. Doing yoga helps us to stay strong and healthy for longer.
Due to ever-increasing scientific research on health and longevity, more people are taking fitness of body, mind, and spirit seriously. My local riding group has members well in their seventies. They are an inspiration and a testament to how self-care can improve quality of life.
Here’s one yoga posture you can do on or off your horse to keep shoulders and shoulder blades relaxed and tension-free, as well as relieving upper back tightness.
How to do eagle arms
This is a good stretch to do before you ride, as well as when taking breaks. It’s not uncommon to feel tightness in the shoulders and back from using (engaging) those areas while riding (holding the reins and keeping a proper seat).
Start by extending your arms out in front of you.
Then, place one arm on top of the other, crossing at the elbows, and intertwining by bending at the elbows. You may or may not be able to touch hands, since each body type is different. However, stay crossed at the elbows.
Remain stationary in the posture for several deep breaths. The arm on top is getting the deeper shoulder stretch.
You can incorporate a little movement to deepen the experience if you’d like: Exhale as you lift your intertwined arms up, keeping them crossed at the elbows (this will dictate how high to raise them), and inhale as you lower them. Do this up-and-down movement with the breath several times.
Do both sides, taking turns with which arm is on top. When you release and unwind your arms, notice how the shoulder and shoulder blade you just stretched (the arm that was on top) feels different from the other. You may want to shake out your arms before repeating the pose on the other side.