What does it mean to be ‘embodied’? My sense is that it is when we are consciously aware of the feelings, sensations, and movements that originate from our body. The coaching course that I am embarking on – The Power of Embodied Transformation– will surely give me a much deeper understanding, and experience, of being embodied.
One blessing of this time of social isolation has been the opportunity to babysit my now 18 month old granddaughter Layla. A month ago, she was just beginning to get her legs under her and would walk from one secure object to another. She could pick up and play with her toys with one hand at a time, not really showing whether left or right was her favorite. But I have seen over the period of four weeks the increasing surefootedness as she walks wherever she wants, and her ability to coordinate her two hands to play with her toys. At a brain level, her neurons are creating new connections at an incredible rate. She is gaining more and more control over her movements and her body in space.
We all go through stages of development where we learn how to connect with our bodies and learn to move where and how we want, gaining greater and greater autonomy. Eventually, we get coordinated enough to learn to play piano, or tennis, or ride a horse. These things are much easier to learn if we begin when we are children. I know, first-hand, how much of a struggle it is to learn how to ride a horse as an adult! Why is it so much easier for kids than for adults?
Somewhere along the way, many of us lose that connection to our bodies that Layla is only beginning to master. We ‘get into our heads’ and become ‘what we think’. The feeling and sensing connection to our bodies is lost as our rational mind takes over. The wisdom of the body is disregarded or not even perceived. Sometimes it is trauma that shuts us off from our body.
I was the poster child for ‘living in my head.’ I was not very coordinated at things like sports. I could not figure out how to engage my body when I swung a golf club. I didn’t like to dance. It felt strange and unnatural to try to move to music. I was self-conscious of looking ‘nerdy’ at high school dances and spent a lot of time on the benches along the wall of the gym while the girls who were more at ease in their bodies got asked to dance by the cool boys.
But, always, there was the yearning for a horse. I felt a connection to these animals from the time I was a little girl, and often dreamed that I went out to the barn in the morning and a black and white pinto horse was there, waiting for me. Alas, that dream never came true. Not until I was an adult and a mother did the opportunity to own a horse come along. And then, learning to ride was sandwiched in between working as a pharmacist, being a mom to two little boys, and doing our company’s financial bookwork at night. Sunday afternoons allowed for a ride down the road on my gentle gelding. However, it was always an adventure, as a plastic bag would blow by, or a bird would fly up out of the ditch, or a dog would come out of a yard, barking at us. My horse would startle and off we would go, with me hanging on however I could. It was a shear act of will that kept me going back every Sunday to try again.
Then the long road of lessons began. I realize that I have been taking riding lessons for probably 25 years. It has been a journey of discovery back to my body as I, ever so slowly, developed a more balanced seat and a feel for the bit. I was becoming ‘embodied’ again, and my horses and my coaches were my teachers. I will never forget the feeling one day when, in the trot, I felt myself connect to my Dutch Warmblood gelding in a way where I lost the sensation of my legs, and the horse’s legs became my legs. This was the ‘centaur’ archetype from Greek mythology, and I was feeling where that archetype had come from. I have never since had that same feeling, but I will never forget what that felt like. It was a moment of two bodies becoming one body, an embodied connection between species.
Equine Facilitated Learning is built on the idea of re-discovering that connection to self and to other – ‘Reclaiming Connection’ as I like to think of it! It is through beginning to sense into our body again for its innate wisdom, and creating connection with the horse, that we again become ‘embodied’.
As my granddaughter grows, I will ensure that she gets the opportunity to connect to horses. After all, ‘horse’ was one of her first words. Maybe she will be lucky enough not to lose the connection to body that many of us do.