Do you ever talk to yourself? Do you ever listen? It’s hard to avoid the messages from the voice in your head because they’re overwhelming sometimes and repetitive. But, there’s actually a better messenger-your body. It’s a known fact that there is a short but important delay between feeling something in the body and registering it in your brain as a thought. It is in that short space of time that you have the power to CHANGE YOUR MIND!
Working with horses, I’ve discovered that their ability to sense their internal and external environment is so much more attuned than ours. A feeling of alert or alarm may elicit a turn of the ear or raise of the head, but when the body senses fear or true terror, you can be sure that a horse will move their feet and possibly high tail it out of there in seconds. Their nervous system is wired to respond quickly and without delay-as prey animals, horses have to be on the lookout at all times for potential predators looking to have them for lunch.
Fortunately, though, it is possible to give horses more experience with their feelings of fear, teaching them to think through to a less dramatic conclusion. And this is a real plus when the horse is then asked to work with humans. With repeat exposure at low levels of alert and alarm, they understand that the body’s message of RUN OR FREEZE IN PANIC can be changed to IT’S OKAY TO STAND STILL CALMLY (unlike predators, horses rarely respond to fear by fighting back) This allows them to avoid behaving like a wild animal, concerned only with survival! When the horse remains calm, he is better able to process information and engage with consistent and predictable behavior, creating a safe environment for horse and human!
Every moment in our life is an opportunity to check into the messages of our body before the thoughts in our head take over and send us into survival mode. Our thinking brain is so much larger and more developed, though, and can hijack our responses, reinforcing the feelings of fight, flight or freeze. Like a thought that says, “that tension your feeling in your back means you are losing control of the situation and need to avoid engaging at all cost.” or “that comment you just heard is about you and you need to raise your voice, cross your arms and yell back in defense of your ego.” Sometimes these thoughts get repeated over and over until they become habit even when they have NOTHING to do with what’s really going on!
Last week, I was driving back from a quick trip to the grocery store for lunch and was stopped at a red light anticipating a right turn once it turned green. I was in a strange neighborhood, working miles from home and so looked at my GPS a couple of times to make sure I was heading in the right direction. Apparently, my hesitation to make a right turn on red was annoying to the person in the car behind me. They honked their horn and startled me into pulling out into traffic after making sure it was safe to do so. I continued heading toward my eventual destination and noticed the driver moving closer to my back end. After a few minutes of navigating through several roundabouts, I pulled through the last one just a few blocks away from arriving. I curved to the right and the car behind me came up quickly and curved to the left barely avoiding me, laying on the horn the whole way. With my window open and a smile on my face, I reached my left arm out and waved repeatedly as if recognizing an old friend.
In the past, the sight and sound of someone speeding up and driving closely behind me, honking their horn, would have created tension in my body, with short shallow breathing and a pressure in my chest, while thinking, “what did I do wrong and how can I get away from this?” It wouldn’t matter that I was safe in my car and had not done anything illegal or unsafe in my driving, not to mention that the behavior I was witnessing had NOTHING to do with me. But, unfortunately, it was a habit, begun long ago whenever I sensed conflict in my midst.
Learning a different response has meant listening to my body first before the thoughts take over. So, in that few seconds of delay between a feel of tension and the negative beliefs creeping in that said I was the problem, I chose to stop, take a DEEP BREATH and do something different. “I’m cool, the driver of that car has a problem and that has nothing to do with me”. As I waved out the window, I thought, “have a nice day” and meant it. The driver’s impatience and aggravation most probably began long before I entered the picture. The fear in me, though, if left to spin out of control, would have continued. It would also have disrupted my ability to stay focused and return to calm in preparation for my afternoon class.
I may never totally stop reacting with tension when there is conflict, even one that is anonymous and out of my control, but I can CHANGE how I react. Like the horses, I’m tapping into my senses and my body’s message of alert or alarm and keeping it at a level that allows me to remain calm and focused. The more I practice this in minor situations like the aggravated driver, the easier I can apply it to the more serious instances that bring up real fear. This means that I have a way of taking control of my life through my breath. What could be easier…and healthier?
So next time your body talks, take note. It’s a message that reflects years of habitual reaction, most that are outdated and of no use in your current experiences. The first time you meet the horses you will notice that your breathing and body tension are easily recognizable to them. They are the first messages the horse hears, and you can be sure that he is listening intently. His life depends on it and so does yours!
Learn more about how Life Lessons with Horses can change your life through the way of the horse!