Being MINDFUL is to be aware and attentive, showing careful attention. But, to what extent can MINDFULNESS be applied? To an extent that can change lives. Mindfulness practice is an effective tool for stress management and overall wellness that benefits emotional and physical health and relationships. It can be described as attention-based training that helps a person to become more open and aware of the present moment, of their thoughts, feelings and emotions, and it happens without judgement.
Mindfulness practice stems from Buddhist tradition, but has found it’s way into Western medicine and psychology as an intervention for healing mental and physical conditions, which can include depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, chronic pain, anxiety and addiction. It can be effective training for anyone from athletes to CEOs, from patients to prisoners.
Mindfulness includes activities like breathing techniques, sitting or walking meditation and mindful eating – actions that quiet and clear the mind and literally re-train the brain to operate more effectively. It builds strength of the mind and creates the ability to make better decisions and alleviate stress. A person can begin to recognize their habitual patterns and learn to respond in new ways.
Dave Smith of the Mind Body Awareness Project in Nashville has been practicing Mindfulness for the past 20 years specializing in programs for incarcerated and at-risk youth and adults. He found partnering with The Sage Horse a natural fit and recognizes the horse as a valuable medium to allow someone to experience awareness, intention and trust, all key in learning this valuable practice. During the last workshop with The Sage Horse, Dave pointed out, “What she was doing with the horse clearly shows the difference between attention versus intention.” He also stresses, it’s a practice you develop over time. “If you’ve spent 43 years being this way and you’ve spent four days meditating, don’t expect change right away…it will show up when you need it.”
One of the leaders in mindfulness practice is Jon Kabat-Zinn, an international best-selling author, scientist and meditation teacher. His mission is to bring mindfulness to mainstream society and much of his research focuses on mind-body healing and the effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on the brain, immune system and other areas of the body. Kabat-Zinn identifies the key components to mindfulness are attention regulation, body awareness, emotion regulation, and sense of self.
Kabat-Zinn says, “Mindfulness isn’t about getting your way or meditating so that you can be better at something. My definition of healing is coming to terms with things as they are, so that you can do whatever you can to optimize your potential, whether you are living with chronic pain or having a baby. You can’t control the universe, so mindfulness involves learning to cultivate wisdom and equanimity— not passive resignation—in the face of what Zorba the Greek called the full catastrophe of the human condition.”
He adds, “Recent studies from Massachusetts General Hospital have shown that eight weeks of MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) can actually produce thickening in particular regions of the brain important for learning, memory, executive decision-making and perspective-taking: all important functions to have at optimal levels when you are under stress or experiencing pain. Also, certain regions get thinner like the amygdala, which involves threat and fear circuitry. If the amygdala is getting thinner after you’ve been practicing mindfulness for only eight weeks, I find that pretty amazing.”
We’re in a new age of NEUROSCIENCE and BRAIN PLASTICITY. The brain has the continued ability to change and we have the power to change it. In 2005, the Society for Neuroscience gathered including leading scientists and the Dalai Lama who stated, “The concept of neuroplasticity suggests that the brain is highly malleable and is subject to continual change as a result of experience, so that the connections between neurons may be formed or even brand-new neurons generated.” This points to the important factor of EXPERIENCE on the brain and its greater impact for learning and change.
VS Ramachandran, a preeminent neuroscientist, in his book “The Tell Tale Brain” states, “It is well established that experience modifies the brain by strengthening or weakening the synapses that link neurons together. This modification process is known as learning.” There is research and viable science out there that explains the positive effect of “experiential learning.”
The horse is an animal that exhibits behavior based on the moment and reflects the environment around them. When incorporating horses into mindfulness practice, they are a natural facilitator in helping humans gain self-awareness and to recognize their own responses to the environment. When working with a horse, which could be simply leading or moving the horse, or walking with the horse, the horse becomes a reflection of it’s handler. They are an animal of authentic behavior and the only way to have a harmonious relationship with the horse is to find our own authenticity. The horse becomes a reflection of one’s own intent and level of congruency (how aligned is their mind and body). This is also presents the opportunity for metaphor and where humans relate to their own story.
The horse’s body, because they do not judge or pretend or lie, is an accurate picture of their mind. A head held high is a heightened response to threat and produces adrenaline. A horse with their head held low is relaxed and produces endorphins. Experiences we have with horses creates the opportunity for self awareness that can translate to change of mind and behavior. And, an experiential learning opportunity has a greater and more lasting impact on our brains and mind. When working with horses, you have the ability to see and positively affect their mind muscle and as humans we can do the same for ouselves.
The horse essentially has the ability to wrap all this up in one profound experience. They are an animal that stimulates the human mind and emotions, our creativity and imagination, and discovery of who we are. And, we have the ability to make changes where necessary. Whether for some added peace and stress reduction or if you’re looking for a way to deepen your ability to face challenges or illness, mindfulness is a valuable tool to have in your daily regimen. Let nature and horses create it.
NEXT WORKSHOP: Equine Assisted Mindfulness, September 8, 2012 with Becky Bauer of the Sage Horse and Dave Smith of Mind Body Awareness Project
Hosted by The Sage Horse Center for Equine Assisted Learning and Sponsored by Integrative Life Center
Note from the author of this post, Rebecca Bauer – It was six years ago when I started to research more about the human and horse connection. I read books like “Horse Sense and the Human Heart” by two psychotherapists Adele von Rust McCormick and Marlena Deborah McCormick, “Dancing With Your Dark Horse” by Chris Irwin and “The Tao of Equus” by Linda Kohanov. I knew there was something more to the horse and their contribution to humans and society. I knew it had something to do with affecting our mind and the ability for change. It wasn’t until now I could actually start putting it into words. And, with much hope, words will continue to come…
Zen Mind, Zen Horse
Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain
Mindfulness in Plain English
The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday
Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment and Your Life
Many thanks to the Williamson Herald in Franklin, TN for the article on the Sage Horse. Read online version here. Print version was published in Thursday, July 19th edition. We’ve been fortunate to have the media contact us because of their interest in this work. The more we can build awareness, the greater we will be able to build our services and programs and meet the needs of so many out there.
Spend the day among green pastures and beautiful equines to learn more about mindfulness and the ability to tune in to the present moment and quiet the mind. Horses are constantly attuned to their environment and their behavior is based on the moment. Engaging in activities with horses allows for self-reflection, body awareness, mind-body alignment. Ideal for anyone who would like to acquire some valuable tools to help with STRESS REDUCTION AND INNER CLARITY.
Saturday, May 19th 9am – 5pm
The Sage Horse Center at Chataway Farm in Leiper’s Fork, TN
(Directions will be given at time of registration)
$125, Includes a delicious ORGANIC LUNCH provided by Joe Natural’s.
PARTICIPANTS WILL LEARN AND EXPERIENCE:
• Mindfulness of Breath and Body Sensations
• The Power of the Present Moment.
• Basic Principles of Mindfulness Meditation
• Practices to Develop Emotional Awareness
PARTICIPANTS WILL LEAVE WITH:
• Toolkit of Practices to Develop Self-Care, Stress Reduction and Inner Clarity
• Understanding of Emotional Intelligence (EI), Skills to Better Identify, Access and Manage Emotions.
No riding is involved. Those with or without horse experience are welcome and will find this a valuable experience.
Mindfulness-based interventions are becoming more prevalent in the fields of medicine, mental health and education as a way to reduce toxic stress, impulsive actions and to improve emotion regulation and overall wellbeing.
DAVE SMITH- Program Director for Mind Body Awareness Project-Nashville, MBA Trainer and Mindfulness Teacher. Dave has 20 years experience in mindfulness practice, facilitating retreats and working with a variety of groups including At-Risk Youth and Prisons.
BECKY BAUER- MS, Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning, certified through PATH, Int’l and Founding Director of The Sage Horse. She has integrated her 30 years experience with horses and her communications background to develop personal development, learning and therapy programs while partnering with mental health professionals, educators and equines.
For Questions Please Contact:
Stephanie Fultz (ILC) 615.566.1916
Becky Bauer 615.403.6261
The Tennessee Licensed Professional Counselor’s Association held their 6th Annual Conference on April 27th entitled “Waves of Change.” Rebecca Bauer, Equine Specialist and Founding Director of The Sage Horse and Susan Lutz, PATH, Int’l Region 5 Rep, Therapeutic Riding Instructor and Equine Specialist presented “Equine Assisted Psychotherapy: A Team Approach.” They gave an overview of the Equine Assisted Activities industry, as well as, discussed the value of the horse and equine specialist in psychotherapy and how the team approach creates a dynamic learning and therapeutic environment.
Dede Beasley followed with a fantastic presentation: “Facilitating Healing Through Equine Assisted Psychotherapy for Trauma Survivors.” Much of Dede’s work involves helping those suffering from trauma and where horses are brought in to allow for experiences of healing. The pictures below were taken as a demonstration of working with a client and equine specialist. Mandy, Dede’s wonderful Welsh-cross pony, and her partners faced a challenging obstacle where they learned to face the “monster” and work through fear and uncertainty.
Trauma can result in a person’s response to avoid a situation and revert back to a protective state, or, as Dede labels it, a “flip-back.” Working with horses can help address a person’s emotional response when reminded of a past traumatic experience. The relationship that begins to establish between the horse and client can represent a past relationship and mirror the client’s own response to that relationship. The horse gives feedback to the present emotional state of the client and as the client recognizes this feedback and learns to regulate their emotions they also begin to reestablish trust. Trust, being the key factor that the horse has instinctively helped establish for the client.
More on Dede Beasley here.
Many thanks to Franklin Life Newspaper for the article on The Sage Horse. For those in the Franklin, TN area, look for it in your mailbox or on stands! Here is a link to a copy of the article:
Integrative Life Center is an organization that is especially supportive of experiential therapies including equine assisted psychotherapy, which has been recognized as a leading alternative to traditional talk therapy. A precursor to building their equine program, ILC chose to spend some time out on the farm with the horses themselves. The group of eight engaged in activities that gave them insight into their own personalities, leadership qualities and the ability to exercise positive communication skills and teamwork. They’re a group who does so well at helping others it was a chance to experience some of their own personal development and cohesion among their group.
Some time in the barn allowed everyone to become familiar with the horses. Finale and Paramore were the big boys in their stalls entertaining with their usual antics. Especially Paramore who constantly attempts and succeeds at opening the stall door himself. The participants spent some time outside the barn getting comfortable leading Rocker and Poco and then moved on to the paddock where the real teamwork began.
We did the brain/left arm/right arm game where three people interlocking arms, the center person, the brain, had to instruct the right arm and left arm to put on and buckle a horse blanket. Communication skills a must! Leading exercises were a great way to learn to work together and they did so well, all eight of them were able to lead Poco in various patterns together and harmoniously.
Not only did this bring up issues and characteristics to learn about themselves, they easily recognized where this would be valuable for clients, how it applies to different situations and where interventions come in. Many thanks and appreciation goes to our most wonderful teacher and partner of all, Poco.
“I’ve been on this planet for more than half a century and I have yet to see a human being invent a version of themselves that’s superior to the original,” writes Wyatt Webb in his book, It’s Not About the Horse.
Webb has been a therapist, horseman and leader in equine assisted psychotherapy programs for over 20 years. He goes on to say, “And, much like the horse, humans don’t like phonies, either.” He’s referring to our humanistic response of presenting ourselves how we want others to see us while hiding our true emotions, a result of fear, pain, self-doubt or an unresolved past. Forget the issues that need attention, we just want to appear strong, be liked and accepted by others. Stand in the presence of a horse, however, and they will require that the mask come off.
It’s a great gift the horses have – that reflection of our energy as we approach their space while they pull out from us what lay beneath our disguise. A horse will move towards calmness and congruency and back away in confusion from a person whose emotions and behaviors are not aligned. Whether it’s good or bad underneath, addressing it is the first step to growing and healing. What better way to discover it then being with an animal so true in nature we can’t help but open up, be lifted in spirit and become more grounded.
Horses do come in all colors. Some equines are solid as a rock, secure, with a strong foundation of training and intelligence; they expect the same from us. Others come from unstable conditions where they have experienced fear, pain, abuse and neglect; they look to us for leadership, safety and strength. Then there are those that appear solid and calm on the outside, but surprise us with some impulsive action. They are an animal whose behavior is real. That behavior brings out in humans what is real and what is not. We discover who we want to be or don’t want to be – on real terms.
Equine assisted therapy not only touches on weaknesses, but taps into our strengths. By confronting the former and fostering the latter, we can build a better foundation for personal growth, healing and happiness. Let the horse create an outlet for your authentic self to flourish. It will be a much more rewarding story than a made-up one.
We are happy to announce a new partnership with Integrative Life Center in Nashville, TN. ILC is an outpatient center offering programs for recovery and transformational healing. They provide an integrative approach using therapeutic experiences such as group therapy, art and movement, psychodrama, experiential-based therapies like equine assisted psychotherapy, massage, acupuncture, yoga, tai chi, meditation, introduction to 12-Step recovery, and mindfulness for issues like eating disorders, drug and alcohol dependency, behavioral addictions, mood disorders, trauma and more.
ILC and The Sage Horse will be working on building the equine assisted psychotherapy program for clients, as well as co-sponsoring a series of continuing education workshops for professionals interested in integrating equine therapy into their practice.