Mindfulness - Medveten närvaro

Mindfulness eller medveten närvaro kommer från buddismen och är mer ett förhållningssätt än en metod. I centrum för mindfulness är meditation och andning, men det ingår också medveten rörelse (t ex yoga) och andra övningar för att öka förmågan att vara i nuet.  
Efterhand som du övar mindfulness ökar din medvetenhet och du upplever en större frihet i tanke och handling. Här nedan följer en engelsk text jag skrev för Ritter Dressages hemsida.

                       Att vara uppmärksam med avsikt i ögonblicket utan att värdera det. 
                                                                 Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D

                                                    Wherever You Go There You Are


The concept of mindfulness comes from Zen Buddhism and is a way of living constructively in connection with ourselves and the world.  In 1979 the experienced meditator and doctor Jon Kabat Zinn introduced what is today known as mindfulness to his patients. The therapeutic effect of mindfulness was obvious and is confirmed by many scientific studies, which has been undertaken over the years. Nowadays it is also widely practised as a means of personal development in areas such as the business world, for artists and in sports like riding.


In Sweden mindfulness became popular in the ninties. I was working at that time as a  Feldenkrais and riding instructor and found similarities between my work and mindfulness. My curiousity grew and led me to a basic course, followed by an instructor ´s training. The philosophy in Feldenkrais and mindfulness is much the same. However, in Feldenkrais the main tool is movement based lessons in combination with hands on sessions. At the core of mindfulness is meditation, but you also teach other exercises to raise awareness, including mindful movements. When it comes to the movement part I tend to alternate between teaching yoga and Feldenkrais in my riding courses.


In practising mindfulness (as with Feldenkrais)you  have to bring your whole being into the process. In my opinion this is exactly what all of us need to do in order to be a true horseman or woman. 

It isn´t enough just to listen to some audios or read an article , you must do the work. And doing the work requires a totally different approach to what we usually think of as work or practise. It is not about taking control or forcing in order to progress. No, it is more like taking a step back, observing and allowing whatever you think, sense and feel to be present - connecting to the core of who you are. From this place within more possibilites become available.


Coming back to our senses time after time, again and again


What I especially like with mindfulenss  is that there are so many short practices you can easily integrate into your daily life. You can, for example, choose to meditate for 5 minutes in the stable before you ride. 

Or maybe you could choose one of the attitudes to focus on for a set number of days. The attitudes are the foundation on which you build your mindfulness practice. There are 9 and each of them influence the others: actaully not unlike the training scale we have in dressage. If you work on one of the attitudes it will soon lead you to the next.  Spending time with horses is perfect for exploring the attitudes further and it will at the same time improve your riding.


Foundations of mindfulness – the attitudes


To observe and become aware of our thought patterns and conditioned behaviours when it comes to reacting to inner and outer experiences without evaluating we may be surprised when we discover how we constantly label and evaluate people, horses, situations and, not to forget, ourselves. Good emotions -  bad emotions,  too stressed, too laid back, talented – not up to it etc. When we cultivate non-judgement we will more seldom end up feeling bad about our latest ride. 


Allow things to unfold in their own pace. Let go of the need to control other people or situations for a particular result. 
In dealing with horses of course a lot of patience is needed. We all know that, at least intellectually, but when we are in the middle of an inner or outer struggle it can be quite a different story. Often our idea of how long it will take to school our horse to a certain level, or to load him onto the trailer is not in accordance with reality. The time schedule of the horse is very different to ours. Can you step back, be quiet, breathe in and out,  before you take another approach/ direction?


Beginner´s Mind
Be willing to see everything as if it was the first time, with curiousity and vitality. Allow yourself and others to be new in every moment, being fully present instead of being clouded by preconceived perceptions. 
If you have participated in some of the Ritter courses you have probably heard Thomas too mention the concept of Beginner´s mind.
Before your next ride ask yourself; If I knew nothing about my horse, in which way might this training session be different? 


Creating and being in contact with your inner sense of  trust by being present in your body. Believe in what you sense, your experiences and your intuition. 
Some horse trainers claims that there way is only one way, demanding of their students to do exactly as they are told. For some people it can feel safe to get all the answers without having to do their own thinking, but  unfortunately it often leads to setbacks. 
In order to learn from the inside you need room to explore and grow in your own time, finding your own path. A true master has the experience to help you follow the path of classical dressage, but without the need to control. You are allowed to find your own path, in your own pace, learning from the inside.  With this approach you may become your own authority in all aspects of your life.


Experience the present moment without striving to achieve anything in particular. This doesn´t mean you can´t have goals. It means that you are not attached to them, which makes it much easier to stay present, listen and act accurately upon the answers you receive. 
A common sign of striving is when tension appears in your body and you are caught up in stressful thoughts. Maybe you think about an up coming show, or a canter that is progressing too slowly. Instead of using the time you actually have productivelyyou ride with a divided focus and tension in your body and mind. 
The non-striving rider still needs commitment and a regular practice, but fully present he takes one step at a time.


To allow and accept what really is going on right now, instead of resisting what actually is (and striving to be where you are not). It is an active on going process. 
With life changing events like someone’s death or a disease, you often go through periods of denial and anger as a natural process before you can come to terms with reality.  However, how common  it is to waste time and energy on the most simple and obvious instead of seeing the situation or topic clearly? 
If it is raining just when you are about to ride it doesn´t help to complain about the weather or the lack of an indoor arena. Either you ride anyway, or you choose to do something else. 
It doesn´t mean that you should tolerate injustice towards yourself or someone else. Nor does it mean you can´t be involved in important matters such as the climate crisis, or poverty. But when you have a sharp picture of what is happening instead of a mind clouded by judgements, prejudices and fear, you can act with clearly directed power and the possibilities of change are bigger.


Letting go
In observing your mind you will discover certain thoughts, feelings and even situations you dearly want to hold on to. Sometimes because they are pleasant, sometimes out of deeply rooted habits even though they don´t serve you anymore.
The opposite can also be the case. You try to push away thoughts and experiences to protect yourself from unpleasant and painful feelings. None of these strategies work if you want to be true to yourself and proceed forward.
Next time you are holding on to a thought or feeling,  or trying to push something away, stay with it for a moment and observe it. Then let go of it. Be prepared to repeat this many times.
With some patterns you may need to go deeper before you can drop it and stay in the present moment. Pay more attention to how it feels.  Does it evoke any sensations in your body? Does it have a particular shape, colour or feeling? 
Letting go is a way of accepting things as they are. From another perspective we practice accepting and letting go every time we do a scan of ourselves, lying on the floor , or in the saddle. When we pay attention to each part we may get stuck on a tensed neck, then we can practise accepting we are stuck, let go and and move on to the shoulder or another part of ourselves. 
In my own riding experience I can get stuck with a certain exercise and fall into striving or trying too hard. Using the concept of accepting my striving and the thoughts connected to it helps me to let go and move on to something else. A pause, another exercise, or just call it a day.


Bring attention to everything you can be grateful for. From early on in our life it is common to be brainwashed by society to focus on negative things and this can gradually grows into a habitual pattern. By practising gratitude on a daily basis you will rewire your brain to search for the positive insetad. I recommend you to read Shana Ritter´s blog ”How to cultivate a positive outlook in your riding” to further expand on this attitude.


Be generous to people and animals by being present and give them your full attention. How often are our thougths somewhere else when someone is talking to us? Or are we perhaps on the phone with a friend as we are grooming our horse? Listening to a podcast when riding? To me being present is a way of showing respect to others.


               Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them. 

                                                             Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth


How to start a practice – a little goes a long way

It is not enough to understand the connection of mindfulness in an intellectual way. You need to make a commitment to practise and keep to the path. Better every day, than doing 45 minutes some Saturday when you feel inspired.

Sitting in awareness

The mindfulness meditation is very down to earth, nothing fancy. It is a non doing, which sounds simple, but can be quite challenging in the beginning. 

Regular meditation is shown to thicken the pre-frontal cortex. This brain center manages higher order brain function, such as increased awareness, concentration, and decision making. 


You can practice everywhere. On a chair in the kitchen, or cross legged on the floor. In sitting or standing, in the stable, the field or during a riding session in the indoor arena. Whenever you feel the need to return to your senses.


Start by paying attention to your breathing, without changing anything. Just be with it. Probably some thoughts appear. Observe them. Can you accept that they come and you can let them go? Are you judging yourself beacuse you have a busy mind? Can you accept your judgement and let go of it?

After a minute or two you will probably notice an urge to do something else,  finding it boring just sitting like this.  But just stay with it! 
Do you ”check out” ? Where are you then , and how do you experience it? What do you do to return to yourself? Does this happen when you ride as well?


Meet whatever comes up with curiousity and kindness


Mountain meditation
Sit in a comfortable position and observe your breathing. Imagine that you are a mountain -  massive, rooted and still. Your pelvis is the base of the mountain, your head the lofty peak. The season changes, the weather as well. Sun, rain, snow and storm come and goes, just like your thoughts.  Be aware of your stormy mind, remain the mountain. 

”I breathe in, I am the mountain. I breathe out, I am stable”


Choose one of the attitudes and practice it for a week. What do you become aware of about yourself in relation to each of them? Remember, all your discoveries are equally important.


My meditative life
I usually meditate more than once a day. I have one regular 30 minute meditation, but I do more whenever I need.  
There are the days when I am emotional, irritated. I sit down and tune into myself. Where do I sense my anger? How do I sense it and how does it look?  It is a hard dark ball in the middle of my belly. From it comes a sound, like a growling dog. I tense. My face shrinks, a raisin. 
I judge myself for being angry. For not being able to let go NOW. Can I accept my judgement of my anger. Yes,  I accept and let go. I breathe and feel. Observe and breathe. It slowly fades away.  I connect with myself again. I am ready to meet my horse. 
Other days I feel fine and just want to prepare myself mentally by sitting for 5 minutes in silence. The perfect warm up to understand and embody what Thomas explains in a video!


Recommended reading


Jon Kabat-Zinn

Wherever You Go There You Are
Full Catastrophe Living


Eckhart Tolle
The Power of Now
A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life ´s Purpose


Thich Nhat Hanh

The Long Road Turns To Joy
You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment


Disclaimer: The tips and exercises in this blog can most of the times be used on your own. However, if you at any time feel overwhelmed, or if you are having psycological problems of any kind, or going through a very stressful period, don´t hesitate to consult a psychologist or doctor. 


Jon Kabat-Zinn is Professor of Medicine Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.