Explorations in Mindfulness (Part 1)
I have wanted to write about “Mindfulness in Riding” for some time but I have struggled to find a place to start. This is a vast topic and I could easily find myself wandering about “in the weeds”. For this reason I decided to break it down into the smaller parts that encompass the whole topic and what it means to me.
I’m a dog walker. I try to take our dog, Bodhi, on two to three long walks every day. I make a deliberate effort to be present with him during those walks; seeing what he sees, redirecting his attention when necessary, and yes, talking to him as if he understands me when he sees something new in the world around him, Three weeks ago we came across a rafter of turkeys so I explained that these were “birds”. This is a word I know he understands. I could see him processing the information as he looked at them in all their gawky glory. We have come upon this same rafter of turkeys in that same place on two more occasions and Bodhi no longer feels the need to stop and stare, but acknowledges them and keeps on walking quietly beside me. I am certain that he understands that they are “birds” and because birds are no fun to chase, they are no longer of interest to him. I have a memory bank full of moments like this, moments I might have missed if I was on my phone or otherwise momentarily absent during the time I was supposed to be with my dogs. I have noticed that when I am truly present for our walks, especially the first walk of the morning, it sets a tone for the rest of my day and I feel centered, productive, carefree and for lack of a better word, “happy”.
I will admit that I do not always practice mindfulness. Technological advances allow us to divide our attention so we can be present in so many moments, almost instantaneously, around the globe. With my daughter in California I wouldn’t want it any other way! But what about the moments taking place right in front of us? Just last night I realized that I checked my phone twice during dinner, distracted by a much anticipated email that I know may not come for another week. What did I miss? What did my husband just say? I don’t know because I was not mentally or emotionally invested in the moment. Shame on me.
Science and Mindfulness:
A burgeoning field of study has grown as researchers have discovered the potential for mindfulness to affect the structural and neural patterns in the brain. Additional results scientists are seeing are thicker cortical regions related to attention and sensory processing, differences in neural function related to emotion, more brain activation in areas that detect emotional cues, better emotion regulation, a heightened empathic awareness in advanced meditators, a faster decrease in the levels of the stress hormone cortisol after 5 days of mindfulness training/practice, and reports of less anxiety, depression, and anger compared to study participants who received simple relaxation training. Mindfulness practice reduces stress, improves emotional intelligence and awareness to help you participate more fully in relationships, and increases your overall feeling of contentment and happiness. In other words, living deliberately and mindfully has the capacity to improve your overall health and the quality of your life.
Being Mindful with a horse:
Are we mindful when we spend time with our horse? Are we deliberate with our body language when we approach them? When we touch them? When we train them? When we feed them? Are we mindful about what we are putting into their bodies and how this effects them and our relationship with them? Are we centered and calm so we are in tune with how our horse is feeling, physically, psychologically and emotionally, both during grooming and when we are in the saddle? How do we remain mindful and present when we are being coached or when we are riding with others? These are just some of the subtopics under “Mindfulness” that I want to explore as I strive to live more deliberately.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Feel free to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s to striving toward for truly “CENTERED” riding! ~ Mary
1 Lazar, S., et al. (2005). Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. NeuroReport, 16(17), 1893-1897.
2 Lutz, A., et al. (2008). Regulation of the Neural Circuitry of Emotion by Compassion Meditation: Effects of Meditative Expertise. PLoS One, 3(3), 1-10.