Category Archives: Human health

Improving my health and fitness

Stretching shins with Hero Pose

Your legs, when positioned correctly in contact with the horse, are the most influential tools you have to effectively communicate your aids.

Yoga can assist you in developing a correct and effective riding position by improving the muscular strength and flexibility of your legs.

“Yoga for Equestrians” by Linda Benedik & Veronica Wirth

Dressage rider leg position

Photo by Douglas J O’Brien on Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Hero Pose – Virasana

vira = man, hero, chief
asana = pose
Pronounced: (veer-AHS-anna)

When I took dressage lessons I wasn’t able to hold the proper leg position until over time had stretched out the stiffness in my ankles and leg muscles. Leg flexibility is important for riding.

Muscles of shin marked with colored ink on leg

Due to an injury this summer I have a weak right knee and am stiff down my right shin over my ankle (anterior tibialis).

Hero pose stretches the hips, thighs, knees, ankles and feet. It can be a good posture to practice neutral spine and staying centered over the hip bones.

As with all exercises, it is important to build up slowly. Use a block under the hips to ease the stretch.

Hero Pose

The following video gives good examples of using props as you increase flexibility. With practice the buttocks will be on the floor centered over the hips between the ankles and feet.

Also see “Child’s Pose” in a prior post, which is similar.

If the shin muscle (anterior tibialis) is tight, then you can do a myofascial release using a soft roller.

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DOMS: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

If you exercise beyond your abilities, then 24 to 72 hours later you may experience  ‘Delayed On-set Muscle Soreness‘ or ‘DOMS’. The pain and stiffness is likely the result of tiny muscle fiber tears. The body will recover and build up strength in rebuilding the muscles after a few days. Gentle massage and stretching can help ease the discomfort. Resting the muscles is a good option.

I learned the term ‘DOMS’ on a vacation trip to Canada when we hiked 3.5 miles from the parking lot of the hotel on Lake Louise B.C. to the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse. Coming back down the 3.5 miles my legs were turning into quivering jelly. I’m surprised we managed to do the hike. We most definitely overdid that day. Two days later we were hobbling around in agony.

View overlooking hotel on Lake Louise, B.C. from hiking back from Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse

Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse Hike: View overlooking Lake Louise, B.C. (Photo by IcieMeg)


Unfortunately I’m finding it is very easy to over use my muscles. Two weeks ago I made myself rather sore twice with DOMS. I slathered on Ultra Strength BenGay, used my heating pad and took Ibuprofen.

First overused my upper legs. Our ground is a mix of red clay and sand intermixed with sandstone. I was out in the yard noting more small sandstone rocks brought to the surface by wind and rain. I usually bend to pick these up. My bending over muscles are good from poop scooping chores. I decided to use deep knee bends because am needing to practice this exercise to build up the muscle strength to help me mount my horses from the ground. I managed about 15 deep knee bends while walking around the backyard picking up the stones. A couple of days later paid the price with pain and stiffness in my legs that made it painful to even walk.

Little girl trying to balance on a ball (Photo by Sharon Mollerus on Flickr)

Photo by Sharon Mollerus on Flickr (Creative Commons License)

My legs being sore didn’t prevent me from sitting. Another day tried sitting on a stability ball as my office chair for about 2 hours to work on my posture and balance. I had no idea that I was overdoing so badly because sitting on a balance ball is hard work. It didn’t feel like hard work, but my muscles were firing constantly to keep my balance. This resulted in very sore shoulders and stiff neck with a headache, as well as areas on my back and hips.

Being so sore, the main exercise for last week was only to spend a few moments during the day to stretch out my right knee and shin, as well as practicing balancing on one foot. From my prior post of “Yoga on a sheet” I had noted that my right knee and right shin to ankle and down over top of my foot is very stiff. I can’t think of why this part of my body became so stiff and why my left side isn’t stiff. I did injure my right knee this summer, so maybe that is the reason.

In upcoming posts I will discuss how to stretch out the shin muscles and about using a balance ball as a chair.

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Chillout: Help to relax when feeling overwhelmed by life

Some days life fills me with stress, depression or anxiety. A person pushes my buttons, a deadline looms, miss someone who is gone, worry piles up about making ends meet, or seemingly for no reason at all. I have to mindfully remind myself to “chillout” by taking deep breaths and to stay focused on accomplishing the next small task to get through the day. If I was a horse, I’d probably be a spooky sort who jumps at what another more laid back horse would take in stride. When my horses get jumpy, I quietly assure them saying softly “You’re okay. You’re fine”. We need to tell ourselves this too.

This 1:51 length song is good to play to help relax when a day overwhelms.

“Hey, you’re okay. You’ll be fine. Just breathe. ”

Take four slow deep breaths from your diaphragm. Put one hand on your abdomen, just below your belly button. Feel your hand rise about an inch each time you inhale and fall about an inch each time you exhale. Breathe in for count of 4, breathe out for count of 4. — Play the song and focus on the words telling yourself, as you would a worried horse, that you are safe and everything will be fine. Breathe in and out deeply and slowly. Get up and stretch.


Making of ZeFrank’s “Chillout” song.



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Political standing

This recent photo really jumped out at me. What is the politician’s position… related to “neutral spine”?

Poor posture…. Good posture

Newt Gingrich follows his wife Callista in Winnsboro, S.C., Jan., 18, 2012. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Newt Gingrich follows his wife Callista in Winnsboro, S.C., Jan., 18, 2012. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Don’t forget to work at holding neutral spine during the day.

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Dancing in Neutral Spine

Irish Dancing

Reel Around The Sun, Riverdance – Live from New York City, 1996

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Down Puppy

‘Lifeloveandhorses’ blog is about “optimizing health, happiness, and peace” for my horses and myself. Yoga is a good form of exercise to increase strength, stamina, balance and flexibility. This will help towards my goal of riding my horses with confidence. Even with the limited amount of yoga that I have been doing, I can feel a positive difference in my body. I realize that it is very important not to strain and to go at my own pace. Make sure you go at your pace and your abilities when doing yoga and exercises. With that in mind.. today we continue to work through the poses for my New Year goal of doing 10 ‘Sun Salutation’ routines.

Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward Facing Dog Pose

Adhas = down
Mukha = face
Svana = dog

If legs are not flexible enough, then can bend the knees. I was able to do a full Downward Facing Dog with straight legs to stretch, but the pose put too much strain on my elbows supporting my body. My right wrist also complained afterwards. I took a few days to recover before doing this posture again. I have learned that it is very important to listen to my body and to take things at my pace and avoid straining. Spreading fingers wide is supposed to help distribute the weight on the arms. Until I am stronger, then plan to use modified poses.

Downward Dog with Chair – Yoga for Inflexible People

Uttana Shishosana – Puppy Dog Pose is a cross between Child’s Pose and Downward Facing Dog. Can put a soft pad under the knees.

Even those modified examples of Downward Dog may be too difficult. A blog with good suggestions is:

Restorative yoga is a passive practice in which poses…are held for several minutes at a time, propped with blankets, blocks, and bolsters to minimize the amount of work that the muscles are doing in the pose. – Yogajournal

Supported Puppy Pose ~ Uttana Shishosana

Supported Puppy Pose ~ Uttana Shishosana

Using props of blocks, blankets, straps and bolsters to help in the poses with support is a great idea and will definitely look into this further to avoid injury as I become stronger and more flexible. Yoga doesn’t have to be strenuous. The principles can very gently stretch out the ligaments and tendons and muscles with no strain, even if recovering from an injury.

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Hip flexors

‘Lifeloveandhorses’ blog is about “optimizing health, happiness, and peace” for my horses and myself. Yoga is a good form of exercise to increase strength, stamina, balance and flexibility.


= praise (from root anj meaning honor)
Pronounced: (AHN-jah-nay-ah-sa–na)

Anajaneya pose is a type of lunge that stretches the hip flexor muscles, such as the psoas. The pose is similar to a “runner’s stretch”.

The psoas enable riders to influence their horses with their seats and legs. By mastering the use of these muscles, riders will be able to maintain self carriage, both on and off the horse.

– Tom Nagel, author of “Zen & Horseback Riding

Anterior Hip Muscles diagram

Hip muscles

The psoas is the only muscle in the body that connects the legs to the spine. One action of the psoas is flexing the thighs at the hip enabling us to raise our knees. It assists in thigh rotation and adduction, helps to stabilize the pelvis, move the lower back, and links by connective tissue to the diaphragm.

The iliacus is another hip flexor that connects the legs to the pelvis. It joins into the thigh bones with the same tendon as the psoas muscle and often called the iliopsoas together.

These hip flexor muscles lie deep in the body behind the abdominal and pelvic organs.

Stretching the hip flexors is important for horseback riders, as well as for runners.

Yoga instructor Sage Roundtree describes a Low Lunge exercise.

This is an interesting interactive tool for learning about the human anatomy.

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Bend at the hip joints

‘Lifeloveandhorses’ blog is about “optimizing health, happiness, and peace” for my horses and myself. Yoga is a good form of exercise to increase strength, stamina, balance and flexibility.

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

ut = intense
tan = to stretch or extend
asana = pose
Pronounced: (OOT-tan-AHS-ahna)

Uttanasana is used as a resting position between the standing poses, as in the Sun Salutation series. There are also seated variations of this forward bending pose.

My basic understanding of the pose:

  • Stand in Mountain Pose – neutral spine & neutral pelvis.
  • Think about the structure of the hip joints in the pelvis. Exhale and reach your chest out and down bending forward from the hip joints, not from the waist, keeping the back straight. Do NOT lock the knees and can bend the knees to ease the stretch. Do NOT bounce and do NOT strain to bend farther than your body is comfortable while keeping the spine straight. Bending half way over is called “Ardha (half) Uttasana”.
  • Breathe and relax into the stretch (for example, 30 seconds to a minute).
  • Exhale lifting the body keeping the spine straight returning to Mountain Pose.
  • Relax and breathe in Mountain Pose.

Using a chair for forward bend:

My husband is unable to bend far enough to lean on a chair. My suggestion is to practice using a wall as a resting spot. I am able to do “Ardha Uttasana”.  I can feel the greatest stretch in the back of my legs (ham strings), as well as my stiff right knee. Bending forwards sitting in my office chair with the spine straight works an upper body stretch without stretch in the knees and lower legs.

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Reach for the Sky

‘Lifeloveandhorses’ blog is about “optimizing health, happiness, and peace” for my horses and myself. Yoga is a good form of exercise to increase strength, stamina, balance and flexibility.

Upward Hand Pose

Urdhva = raised (or upward)
Hasta = hand
Asana – pose
Pronounced: (oord-vah hahs-TAHS-anna)

Like most asanas, the principles of movement in Urdhva Hastasana break into three parts: entering the pose, being in the pose, and exiting the pose. Whether you are practicing it individually or as part of a flow series, the pose should be executed with these principles in mind.

My basic understanding of the pose:

  • Begin in Mountain Pose – standing in neutral spine & pelvis.
  • Inhale and stretch your arms over your head.
  • When you are ready to exit the pose, slowly exhale and bring the arms down.
  • End in Mountain Pose.

The single biggest gift you can give your horse is becoming “live weight,”, whether on the ground or in the saddle. A horse can feel the difference if you’re braced against him or moving with him. When you learn to re-balance your body while remaining upright over your feet with your joints moving freely and without clamping on the horse, you can truly be “in sync” with his motion.

– Peggy Cummings

Peggy Cummings in her book “Connect with Your Horse from the Ground Up” gives examples of slumping vs arching. This is a good video of a woman demonstrating proper sitting / standing in pelvic neutral vs slumping or arching, as well as showing the structure of how the pelvis connects into the spinal column and legs.

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Change a habit

I’ve reviewed in the prior posts of the blog the basic structure of the joints and spine. With this knowledge we can visualize the alignment of the skeleton in the body to improve how we move.

Sitting in neutral spine and pelvis, then how do we properly get up and down from a chair in alignment with the least strain on our body? The method of movement suggested by the Alexander Technique requires strength in the legs to lift the body, but won’t strain the back and neck.

Lelia Calder gives a lesson in “The Alexander Technique” in the following video discussing some basic principles and teachings.

In the chair you should sit on your hip bones (ischial tuberosity) and not to slump sitting on your tail bone (coccyx). Talk to your body to ask the neck and shoulders to be relaxed and free. Feel the ribcage’s movement as you breathe expanding out all around to front and back.

Stand with  your feet apart under your hips (hip wide spacing).  Pause and think to not sit your usual method. This is the “choice point” allowing you to take the time to remember you want to change a habit and do something differently.

Ask the neck to relax and the head to free from the occipital joint. Ask the back to lengthen. Use your leg muscles to lower yourself onto the chair. Bend moving the knees forward and hips bend moving back to make a squat and lower into the chair with the head and spine aligned. Muscles are not required to work hard if you are in balance and you have alignment over your spine.

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