Like most people, I’ve used my body in many ways without giving it much thought. Lifting, pulling, dragging, overreaching, twisting and contorting myself to avoid having to make more movements or so I could reach something without changing position. I’ve stood incorrectly, sat all slumped and slouched, leaned and bent down without considering what my body thought about any of it, because I wasn’t listening. And when I did hear what she said, I just turned away, ignored her and moved on. Occasionally, I would actually use my body correctly, but it took the effort of paying attention in the moment.

Well, now my body is screaming,”LISTEN TO ME” and won’t take no for an answer. And of course, my first reaction is, “well when did all this happen? I didn’t know I was habitually mistreating her, behaving like a spoiled child who thought she had more where that came from. I just took for granted that if I hurt today, it was just temporary, nothing a few ibuprofen couldn’t handle. After all, the pain would last a few days or I could work through it and do what I needed to do anyway. Just how bad could it be? I’m beginning to find out.

I spend most days with horses. That’s no surprise. And I share with anyone willing to listen (hmm, that word keeps coming up), that horses are experts at reading body language in others-humans and other living creatures. They learn from an early age to pay attention to the messages of their own bodies and act accordingly. That is, unless humans step in and ask the horse to put the body through all kinds of new movements or learn to balance themselves over trimmed and shod feet. Even then, a horse will tell you what they are feeling and if it works for them. But do we always listen?

My pain began talking louder recently when I was getting dressed in the morning. I’m proud of the fact that I can put my socks on while standing, balancing on one foot while bending and reaching for the other foot raised off the ground. I use my psoas to create strength over my center (years of Centered Riding, thank you) and pull the sock up to my ankle. But, now as I stand, balance, reach and pull, I feel the limiting ache of neck, upper back and shoulder pain slowing my progress and creating what looks like a sack race contestant attempting to stay upright while hopping on one foot. Don’t even get me started with pulling my jeans on over the warm tights I wear to the barn. If one item of clothes is even the least bit twisted, I begin thrashing and cursing like a mental patient who’s just realized she’s in a straight jacket.

I’m fighting it-the changes in my body, the aging of my bones, tendons, muscles and the damage I’ve created in my body from using it incorrectly for all these years. In recognizing this fact, I am about to discover exactly what that means. It means that when the horses say to me, I can’t physically do that, I need to stop pulling or pushing. When the horses resist going forward because they don’t understand what I’m asking, I need to stop swinging the rope or stick and string like a crazy person. I need to pay attention to the message of the horse that says, as usual, “It’s not working, try something different”.

Forced to slow down the other day because my shoulder was aching from tendinitis, I learned to ask quietly, with smaller, less forceful movements or ask without using my upper body and create energy instead from my center. Horses will show you in their own body, what is comfortable, balanced and fluid for them, because it comes from a place of ease. I have pushed my body incorrectly over the years and now can feel the results of chronic “dis-ease”. But, it’s not too late. Just as we can care for our aging horses with massage, energy work, low impact movement, diet and proper hoof care, it’s time for me to take better care of this one and only body I have and make changes. My ego says, why should I? This has worked for me for a while, why change? And my body shouts back, “Because, it’s a new day and what worked 10, 20, 30 years ago, ain’t cutting it now. So get used to it.”

I don’t have to do three things at once, pick up every item in my front seat and carry it into the house in one trip. I don’t have to lift heavy bags of feed by myself or carry them across the barn, drag them to the feed bin and empty them. I can make smaller movements, get help, do more stretching, use my knowledge and experience with Alexander technique, body posture and yoga. But of course, I’m fighting it, sure that I know better than my body! Just writing that sounds ridiculous. Of course, my body knows what’s best for it and pain is it’s language.

It feels like a defeat and a realization that I don’t have the same capacity as a woman 30 years younger. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I can treat myself with kindness and compassion, the way I would if this were a good friend of mine, someone I love-because it is someone I love! If this were my horse (and it has been in the past, with my 30 year old mare, Rosie), I would love on her, take care of her and do what was best-no judgment, no criticism. Why do I have such a hard time doing the same for myself?

Change is hard for all of us, because it threatens our current self of who we are and our worth. But I’m going to make the most of this knowledge and take small steps to accept who I am as just fine. So, if you see me trying to lift a bag of feed out of my car, just run over and say very clearly, “your body wanted me to tell you that you’re not taking care of it.” And if you’re able, I could use your help. Thanks!