Random, little known fact about me: I’m a qualified yoga therapist. I’ve taught on yoga teacher training programs all over the world, including New Zealand, China and India and have spent large periods of time studying the therapeutic applications of yoga and the breath (whilst working overseas as an emergency aid relief worker in my 20’s, the second random fact for you for the day!).
AG and Indra Mohan are two exceptional human beings and my teachers in the therapeutic arts of yoga. They exude a… kindness. A calm. And the whole vortex of energy that surrounds them pulls you into their peace. It’s the glorious side affect of a lifetimes devotion to their practice, primarily to the breath and to many hours spent bringing their mind to one pointed focus. Just to think of them makes me take a long exhale.
I arrived on their doorstep exuberant and ready to push myself to the limit. Up until that time, I was used to making my body work hard. I thought I would be able to show them what an excellent yoga practitioner I was, they would be impressed with my dedication. I was sure of it.
As part of our training together, we met with Indra and she designed for us an individual practice. I was ready. This was going to be amazing. But instead of giving me an impressive practice that demonstrated all that I thought I was capable of, she gave me something… simple. Basic.
I was concerned. Really concerned. Can I also practice the other yoga I was doing? This wasn’t going to be enough.
Truth be told, I was addicted. I was used to working hard. Pushing hard. Addicted to the push, the rush, the burn. I was afraid by simplifying that I would go to seed. Lose what I had worked for. Become unfit.
But that wasn’t really it. I never sat still long enough to really how busy my mind was. My practice was not a therapy; it was an excuse. I was constantly on the run, but the person I was running from was myself.
She told me: For as long as you are here, you will practice this. Only this.
So I did. Every day I woke up to the dark, heady mornings of India. The man outside my window would clear his throat as I took my first inhale. The sounds of the village would bustle around me. The call to prayer at dawn made it feel ethereal.
I practiced simply. Each breath started before each movement. Each breath finished after each movement. The movement of my body was wrapped in the free breath in, in the slow breath out.
And then I would sit and breathe. I would follow my breath. I would practice bringing my mind to one pointed focus.
Each day I would sit on their hard polished floor for eight hours listening to them speak. At first, it was agony. My back screamed. I found it hard to concentrate due to the physical discomfort.
And then after a month, I noticed that my body felt more comfortable. I could pay attention. I could more easily focus.
The body, they told me, you can always push. But you can never push the breath. You should only practice a physical posture for as long a you are able to maintain a fluid and even breath. Once the breath is lost you have lost everything.
Our breath is the ultimate practice. It’s a noun, but it’s also a verb.
So far, far away from horses, I learned the best lesson in horsemanship from people who had never come close to the saddle.
I learned how to breathe.
If there is one thing you can do to improve your riding, to improve your relationship with your horse, it’s to come into conscious union with your breath.
Breathing out is the part we need to bring into our conscious awareness. Breathing out is the release.
When someone says “ I don’t breathe when I’m riding” what they actually mean is “ I hold my breath.”
Breathing out is the part that we need to actively participate in.
“You can force the body but you cannot force the breath”.