I underestimated the importance of deep breathing, especially in stressful situations. With every deep breath, our nervous system calms down a little more. It is our most vital and necessary activity we have some control over. In unfamiliar and tense situations, I quickly flatten my breathing, unconsciously.
That’s what I’ve experienced while working with the Cowboys in Canada, BC. We would spend hours on horseback, covering huge distances for either fencing and or cattle work. Working with the cattle is tough. Unexpected problems resulted in long rides often through rough terrain. One day we were looking for a group of bulls who had run off into a pine forest. The forest was heavily infested by the bark beetle. Weeks before, they had nothing to withstand a strong storm and so the ground was a maze of massive trunks. Spiky and sharp branches pointed in all directions. I’ve heard horror stories of accidents in these situations. But while looking for the bulls I got myself and my horse deeper and deeper into this mess.
The responsibility for me and my horse made me anxious and I felt overwhelmed by stress. My horse balanced us between the razor-sharp branch tips. An accident seemed almost unavoidable. What am I doing to my horse?
There was no way through this maze without any of us getting hurt. I remembered my yoga practice. It is said that who controls his breathing controls his mind. So, I got off my horse to feel the solid ground underneath my feet and began breathing deeply. Slowly I felt my mind and body calm down.
The breath creates a bridge between the body and the mind. Through calm, conscious breathing the body senses that everything is alright. The trick is to keep your breath calm and deep even in stressful situations. Active breathing gave me the opportunity to control how I felt in that situation. The deep breathing began to regulate my nervous system and I became calmer.
For what felt like an eternity, I climbed over trees, trying to keep my breath deep ad steady. I cleared the way by kicking off long and spiky branches. My horse waited patiently for me and jumped over cleared trees. Step by step. Gap to gap. I am mostly grateful to the calm temper of my horse in this situation. I underestimated the horse’s trust and the power of deep breathing.
Easy Breathing Exercise
Sit up straight on your horse, feel your sit bones on the saddle. Focus on the expanding of your chest on inhale and pulling your belly in on exhale. Then feel for the rhythm of your hose’s walking gait. Inhale for 4 steps. Now hold your breath for 4 steps. Then slowly exhale everything out for 6 steps. Repeat this exercise for about a minute and feel what for what has changed. We have spoken with yogi and horse manager Julia Dittrich about this topic.