Posture for Riders—On the Ground and On the Horse
Constance Clare-Newman always had good posture. She had stood up straight and pulled her stomach in since she was a little girl in ballet class. She pulled her shoulders back and held them strong when she rode dressage horses professionally for 10 years. So when her back always hurt and she was diagnosed with sciatica, she knew it wasn’t from her posture.
But she was wrong. All that pulling up and and holding back and squeezing inwards created muscle strain and contraction that pressed on the nerves and stressed the discs.
Constance learned that the “right way” to hold yourself turns out to be the wrong way. After going to many doctors, physical therapists, (who prescribed the usual medication or exercises) Constance came across the Alexander Technique.
Referred to Alexander lessons by the artistic director of the company she was dancing for (Anne Bluethenthal & Dancers) her back pain drastically reduced and she started dancing with more freedom. Her riding also improved, as she used her new springy spine to move “through the back.”
Constance realized that her way of holding herself and moving was all about what it looked like from the outside and not at all what it felt like on the inside. “Easy balance and a long spacious spine just feels so good, I wanted to share it with everyone, which is why I did the 3 year Alexander training and have enjoyed teaching ever since!” (There are about 20 schools and 700 teachers in the U.S.—and many more in England where the founder, F.M. Alexander practiced.)
Now Constance teaches others to balance easier and drop off some of that effort of pulling up and in and holding themselves in place. “As people learn to let their anti-gravity reflexes work for them and release upwards, they realize they’ve been using way more effort than necessary. As they find their natural balance, they start to have more ease of movement and less compression through the whole musculo-skeleton system, which leads to less pain and more ease of being. Riders really respond to this on the horse too, finding the right amount of effort—not too much, not too little.”
About 98% of back pain is “use related” says Constance. “This statistic comes from the medical community. And it means that almost all back pain comes from using your body in a not-so-great way, whether that’s exercising in improper form or letting your stress keep you scrunched up or even from “sitting up straight with your shoulders back.” When you learn the simple Alexander principles of movement, you can apply them to everything you do, from sitting at a computer, to cooking dinner, to riding.”
The principles may be simple, but they are not necessarily easy. And it takes a while to integrate them into your life, just like it takes a while for a horse to learn to use his back well. Constance says “Most people need about 10 lessons to get a good start on changing the way they stand, walk and ride. Those new neuro-muscular patterns have to be practiced.”
The Alexander Technique works much like classical dressage–through establishing the ideal relationship between the head, the neck and the back while in movement. This “core” of the body supports the limbs and provides the structural environment for breathing and the internal organs. While learning to access this natural relationship between the head, neck and back from the inside, students learn body awareness, spatial awareness and movement awareness so that long-held patterns of movement, posture, breathing and muscular tension can be changed.
The Technique is usually taught one-on-one because the guiding touch of the teacher helps the student to learn new sensations of internal space and easy balance. Students leave an Alexander lesson feeling taller, lighter and floaty.
Constance also teaches small groups of 4-6 riders in workshop form. Workshops include ground work and work on the longe so riders can practice new patterns and movement while not worrying about how the
horse is going. Workshops are usually scheduled for a weekend or consecutive afternoons.
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