A few years back, I remember having a conversation with Warwick Schiller about relaxation. I had recently bought my big warmblood mare, Nadia, and I had quickly back peddled from the idea of leaping on and both of us riding happily into the sunset to taking all gear off and starting right at the beginning. Her level of anxiety showed me that sunsets were off the list at least for the foreseeable future.
It’s interesting, I told him, as we nerded out. I had a body worker out the other day and she asked what I had been doing with her. She couldn’t believe how much her shape had changed. And I replied, the only thing I’ve been doing is playing with ways I could get her to relax.
At the time, I was ignorant to the depths of the workings of the nervous system beyond understanding that in people, if you felt nervous or afraid, or perhaps were depressed, you carried yourself in a different way. That made sense to me and was obvious. We’ve all had an experience of it, both in ourselves and observationally. The way that we can intrinsically read mood from posture.
Whilst at the time, I thought what I was observing was a muscular change, from my many studies and meanderings with the body since, I now understand it to be so much more complex. I could go on about the observable changes from a musculoskeletal perspective, but what I see gets the least amount of airtime in conversations both human and horse is the effect of organ placement and internal pressure systems on posture.
Just like the rest of your body, your organs and your horse’s organs are not static entities. They are in a constant state of motion, and their position is dictated by your current nervous system state. For instance, each of the fight flight reactions (fight, flight, freeze and conservation of energy mode or collapse) have corresponding motor reflex patterns that the body arranges itself too to best fulfill the function of that response.
The body prioritizes force output in fight. In flee, its emphasis is on acceleration. When these responses are chosen by the brain, it fires off a message to the body and your entire system (and your horse’s entire system) arranges itself accordingly.
The organs, of course, are a part of this. If you think about the hugeness (that’s an official term) of some of your organ structures (heart, lungs, diaphragm, liver) where they sit within the tube of the body dramatically affects your shape. In the parasympathetic system, for instance, the top of your lungs sits high in the neck tube, pressing on the deep front line of fascia and stabilizing the neck.
In the fight flight system, they drop much lower in the torso; the bulge that we see in the torso (the “hunchback” look for want of a better term) relates more to lung placement that anything else.
In the parasympathetic system, each chamber of the body is pressurized. This, in combination with a tensile and active fascial system and organs that are spinning and vibrating means that the body is supported from the inside out; there’s a vitality to the skin, a fullness of posture, a pliability of muscle.
This is what I was observing in Nadia. It wasn’t just muscles “releasing”. It was her entire system changing from the inside out. And this wasn’t something that was forced. It was a decision of her nervous system to operate from a different template, which affects things all the way down the line; physically, mentally, and emotionally.
In my membership program, JoyRide, we are working to the same understandings. If our nervous system is “stuck” on a certain mode of operation, our movement, posture, emotions will reflect this. Your movement patterns address this at its most fundamental level. You can check it out here if you’re interested in learning more!