I'm going to start writing some posts about something a bit different, something I'm quite passionate about alongside dressage training. Yoga.
Immediately a lot people will roll their eyes at the mention of the word, say "I'm not flexible enough", "it's too boring" or "those people are proper weird and spiritual", but I can't even begin to tell you how much it has improved my riding. Well actually, I can, because that's what my future posts will be about!
I've always dabbled in yoga - I've done the odd yoga class at whichever gym I'd be going to since I was fifteen - and had my sun salutations nailed, knowing most of the basic poses. I've also always been quite spiritual, becoming a vegetarian as a way of not putting any cruelty or negativity into my body, and never liking to conform to expectations of who I should be, therefore sometimes being a bit rebellious but only to connect with who I really wanted to be. I've never had a problem with being open-minded either, whether it be for using crystals to help with confidence at competitions or getting tattoos that anchor me even more to what I want to represent as a person. So in a way I guess yoga had always been something I was drawn to, and as I did more gym work I thought myself to be pretty strong at it, though always saw it as a way to do some "easy exercise" if I wasn't bothered to work out properly or was tired. Obviously, I now know, I wasn't doing it right.
I started going to a new yoga centre a few weeks ago because the place I normally did my classes had stopped running. I thought this was terribly inconvenient, as I now had to drive all the way to the other side of town to this new place. It was actually an absolute blessing in disguise, because I walked out of that first class not only feeling useless and weak, but inspired, enlightened, motivated and open-minded. And no, I wasn't hypnotised or brain-washed ;)
There weren't many people in this first class I did (there never is, as they are kept small for individual attention) but I recognised one of the ladies as a cover instructor I'd had once before, who was very good. I thought it strange that she would actually be one of the students along with me. Then the guy next to me said to the teacher that he wanted to try something he saw on YouTube that day, and I thought he was joking when he explained it but then proceeded to effortlessly place himself in a complicated arm balance pose, then push up straight into a handstand, and back down into another arm balance. That might not make much sense when put into simple terms. but believe me it was jaw-dropping strength and control. Then, the same guy started to lead the warm-up - burpees, press-ups and sit-ups. I knew at that point that I should be scared, very scared, at what I was about to endure.
The teacher began by calling out different poses, and we flowed from one to another. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad, I thought, as even though I've never not had the teacher at the front to copy, I still knew the poses. Then, it was handstand time. Not the kind of handstands that you do in school and collapse on the ground afterwards, these handstands were absolutely controlled all the way up, starting with a tuck jump to fold your body vertically up, then the straightening of the legs. No, just no, that was impossible for me.
The rest of the class continued with the theme of my reaction being "are you serious" and the "comforting" awareness of the 60-something year old lady opposite me with what seemed like the strength of Arnie with a body like a feather, able to do every single pose. After an hour and a half, covered in sweat, exhausted and frustrated, I've never been so glad to come to the 'boring' part, the meditation. But no, I'm shocked with my own ignorance once again, as we carried out breathing techniques and chanting. I couldn't believe I thought I "did yoga", because this was the absolute real McCoy and I'm ashamed to say I thought I knew about it before this class.
And that was it, I was hooked. I was brought back to when I was 13 and just started proper dressage lessons with a really good dressage trainer in Sydney, and had that same feeling where I was goggle-eyed at how impossibly complicated it all really was, but I absolutely just had to learn it. The yoga instructor was very encouraging, and it's just enough to believe in yourself that you can master it just like the people you look up to if you try hard enough. I did it in riding, and I know I can do it in yoga now too.
BUT, this isn't just a side hobby for myself, this actually really, really helps my riding. In SO many ways that I never even realised until now. It's not just about flexibility and strength, but I've learnt about mindset, focus and attitude. Subconsciously I've ended up applying it to my sport, passion and career, dressage, and the results have been really remarkable!
Now that I've introduced you to this new topic, my next post will be explaining some things that yoga teaches you that you can apply to riding to make some big differences :)