Horseback Riding Has Boosted My Body Awareness
Recently, someone mentioned that I seem to have heightened body awareness. I’d never really thought about it, but I guess I do pay attention to how my body moves (or doesn’t), my range of motion, and how different activities affect my pain levels and mobility.
I don’t think I was always this attuned to it, although growing up as a competitive athlete meant I did have some focus on my body’s condition and fitness level.
Today, I’d say that my awareness is much more nuanced than it was as an athlete. Back then, I would look more generally at my body as a whole, whereas now I notice minute changes and differences in both my overall condition and in specific joints, movements, and exercises.
I think this type of focused attention is mostly due to horseback riding. As I’ve written in previous columns, riding correctly requires a deep connection between a horse and its rider, and an understanding of how and why a horse is affected by the movement, energy, and balance of the rider.
Delving into this area of horsemanship has encouraged me to take stock of my body and how it feels as I ride, knowing that my own imperfections can impact my horse if I’m not careful.
As an analogy for my nonequestrian readers, think of sitting with your feet straddled across a bench or a chair. If you’re holding a weight in one hand, your body compensates. Pay close attention and you’ll notice that the points of contact between your seat and the chair change for you to balance the additional weight.
Now imagine the chair is a living, breathing animal, and those shifts in your weight affect their ability to move. It would be like asking a person to jog or run with a 10-pound weight in one hand but nothing in the other. It wouldn’t be natural or comfortable, and eventually, your muscles and joints would be in pain. That’s why it’s critical for riders to stay balanced and considerate of their horses.
That realization pushed me to pay closer attention to myself. While I never intended for learning this awareness to help me combat Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, I think it makes it easier to notice trends in what helps or hinders me, what might be triggering a pain flare, and what might help to improve it.
Although riding certainly has given me a head start in being attuned to physical nuances, this can be achieved in other ways, too. Noting changes and patterns has helped me figure out some warning signs, so to speak, that a pain flare might be coming, or that I’m sore from physically compensating for an injury or other issue. It’s a useful tool to have in my EDS toolkit!
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