How we move will affect how our horses move.
Alexander Technique while riding horse. Marie and her horse, Gabriel (Dabs).
To follow the horse’s back at the walk, you must have a deep, mobile receiving seat. Your balance and mobility can directly affect the quality of your horse’s walk.
Be a spruce tree. The roots grow down from your center as the trunk grows up.
You should allow your body to extend upward from your center as your legs grow down around your horse from that same place.
– Quotes from “Centered Riding” by Sally Swift
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.
See if you notice the principles shared between the “Alexander Technique” and “Centered Riding” in these videos.
What is the Alexander Technique?
Now try a couple of Alexander Technique concepts while sitting at your desk. Become more aware of your body and what is around you. “Soft eyes”?
The Four Basics of Centered Riding
- Soft Eyes – Encourage visual and physical awareness, better peripheral vision, and improved “feel.”
- Breathing – Using the diaphragm and breathing correctly for better posture, relaxation, and energy.
- Balance or Building Blocks – Aligns the riders body for improved balance, straightness, and ease of movement.
- Centering – Using the center of balance, movement and control, located deep in the body, gives quiet strength, harmony and power, as in the oriental martial arts.
From my understanding… the Alexander Technique concepts work on making small improvements in posture by becoming self-aware of the body.
The technique teaches awareness of tension held in the body and unbalanced ways you are holding your body without your realizing this is causing stress and discomfort. With awareness (mindfulness) you make conscious efforts to make changes of how you hold and carry your body. F.M. Alexander coined the term “constructive conscious control” for the mental awareness and focus used to change the body.
Small changes over time will lead to results to build upon. Even small changes are difficult to achieve if you don’t have good control over the body due to health issues, but small increments will achieve results. Progress cannot be forced or rushed. Through repeated small efforts we change the habit of how our body holds itself and moves. The changes will feel unusual at first, but with practice will become the more natural way of moving. This more natural movement will lower tension and stress and discomfort carried within the body.
If we are in better alignment within our body, then we are more free in movement, relaxed and at ease. We can have a more focused and peaceful mind. The mind can then be more able to help keep the body in proper form. This becomes a feedback loop between mind and body.
Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi and Mindfulness Meditation seem ideal for helping to become stronger and more flexible and balanced in the body, as well as to become more mentally focused.
These same concepts also apply to how we can help a horse make small changes to their body and their movement so they can travel more freely, comfortably and able to carry a rider’s weight easier.
I have built up a library of books. These include both of Sally Swift’s books on Centered Riding. If I was going to do lessons or clinics, then a Centered Riding instructor would be on my list.
I’m inspired by Sally Swift. She used body awareness and learning how to change her body to work through a physical disability (scoliosis) using “The Alexander Technique”.
Sally Swift Bio: http://www.centeredriding.org/default.asp?pageid=10021
“At seven years old, a scoliosis appeared which became part of her daily life and was later instrumental in her development of Centered Riding. After the diagnosis and well into her twenties, she worked with Mabel Ellsworth Todd, author of The Thinking Body. Mable Todd was Sally’s first teacher in “body awareness” and encouraged Sally to explore her new “awareness”. This early training was enhanced when Sally began, and continued, to study the Alexander Technique™ and applied it to riding. Sally’s work with the Alexander Technique™ enabled her to discard the back brace she had worn for many years. “
Good review of Sally Swift’s Centered Riding method with the Alexander Technique concepts.
“One of the key concepts in the Alexander Technique is that use informs function, that is, how you do something affects the result. This idea is made even more apparent when you put a rider on a horse. Every little thing a rider does (all the ways she uses her self) affects the horse.”
Centered Riding by Sally Swift (published 1985)
Centered Riding 2: Further Exploration by Sally Swift (published 2002)