When Dannii Cunnane first started getting fit to be able to ride better, it was all pretty hardcore, but then she discovered yoga, and a whole new way to help her body stay supple. As some of you may remember, I started my fitness journey back in June 2017 and added an article into HubVibes about becoming fit in order to ride better. When I started my fitness it was, and still continues to be, about being able to ride my horse better than I could when I started out. As a bonus since then I’ve lost 21 kilograms – I’m riding better than ever and my horse is performing at his best. It’s been a really enjoyable experience, but I did find that my gym sessions needed supplementing with something a little more gentle.
No-one was more surprised than me when a colleague was telling me about yoga and I actually jumped at the chance to attend a session – without evening thinking about it! I’m not a very spiritual or ‘out there’ type person, and to be honest I would have once laughed head off at the idea of me ‘OMMMING’ and focusing on my breathing. I am a very busy person and I don’t have time for that nonsense…or do I? So, I attended my first session in early January and I actually enjoyed it! The class was Yin Yoga, which focuses on less moves but a longer time period of performing them – it was literally a real stretch for me (pardon the pun) but I’ve gone back every week since.
Yoga as a whole has made me look at my own body. I’m naturally a very tense person and I can’t imagine my stiff and rigid muscles being much joy on my horses back. Tight muscles obviously lack suppleness and the ability to be ‘as one’ with our horse, no matter what the discipline. It’s
hard to relax and have soft hands if our shoulders are tense and you can’t sit trot or use your legs correctly if your back is rigid and your thighs are tight.
Yin Yoga has educated me a lot on how tight and sore my hip flexors are, which means that I may have been gripping my horse with my thighs when I’ve been riding rather than using my core. I also have sore shoulders which probably stems from having a desk job and naturally bad posture. It all adds up. It wasn’t until the first move – a Bound Angle Pose, had me sweating for four minutes – until the next move was undertaken. While I was struggling with the basics, it made me try harder and hold each frame without putting too much pressure on myself. I really wanted to push through to open up these tight areas so my riding would benefit. I’ve also been attending a normal yoga class too, but it’s very fast paced – the Yin allows me to take my time and push a little further if my body allows in the longer time frame.
There is another form of yoga, known as Aerial Yoga, performed from a special hammock and while it’s not quite trapeze school, there are a few upside down movements. Like all forms of yoga though, you only perform what you’re comfortable with and the upside down part is only a small collection of movements. Saying that though, I was more comfortable with being upside down than I thought I would be, it was really great to be able to stretch out my shoulders and back a little more than Yin Yoga will allow.
So, what’s the verdict?
At the time of writing, we’re already half-way through February and I can see that yoga is really assisting my dressage seat. My horse is training and competing at Elementary level and because I can open my hip flexors better, his shoulder-in has really improved. I no longer feel stuck
through my shoulders and legs which is allowing me to move them independently and be clearer in my aids. The freedom has also had an effect on my horse’s gaits, allowing a better swing through the medium trot and collected canter which may be helped with my ability to open my hips more. While not everyone has the time or budget for yoga classes, there are options that you can do at home. Invest in a yoga mat (or towel) and a couple of blocks (or sturdy cushions) to support your body or limbs when required. I’ve been using a few online Yin Yoga tutorials through YouTube and doing them at home after riding or an evening at the gym. The online tutorials allow you to Yoga at your own pace, only stretch as far as what’s comfortable and choose your own time and place to practice in.
Hot tip: don’t be discouraged if you’re not flexibl. With practice your muscles will loosen up and you will become more agile and flexible.
Dannii stretching during Aerial Yoga…