Certified Ayurveda practitioner and Amrit Yoga Nidra teacher, Marc Holzman talks about how, on a dude ranch vacation, he discovered that combining yoga and horses has profoundly deepened his understanding of both.
Let’s talk about yoga. Let’s talk about horses. But more to the point: let’s talk about how, on a dude ranch vacation, a horse named Geronimo taught me about yoga and how, co-incidentally, my yoga practice deepened my understanding of horses.
I’ve been teaching yoga for well over two decades and have studied under a multitude of esteemed masters, from India to Indonesia.
So I hope you can imagine the great humility with which I admit that my most wise teacher, thus far, has been… (drumroll please…) a horse on a ranch vacation!
But allow me to start at an earlier point in this yogic story.
What is yoga?
The ancient Sanskrit word ‘yoga’ means: ‘To unite, yoke, join’ and we find the earliest source of this word in the oldest sacred texts of India dated approximately 2000 BC.
But if physical yoga poses didn’t migrate to Western culture until only the 19th century, then to what exactly were the sages referring, 4,000 years ago?
What exactly were they having us yoke ourselves to?
It certainly wasn't a downward facing dog pose!
The essential response really boils down to how we – as individual, embodied human beings – can yoke ourselves to something bigger than just ourselves.
Of course, we can call that ‘something’ whatever we wish: God, source, consciousness, presence, whatever.
But the fundamental consideration is how to reconcile our human existence with something greater than our human existence.
According to yoga, the means to reconcile with something greater than our human existence is meditation.
That concept may seem backwards to some considering that today, most people do not begin their yoga journey with meditation, but rather through some aspect of the physical body (usually asana practice) in response to an injury, general tightness, or simply the desire to become more fit.
And there is no shame in that – after all, that’s how I started.
From this perspective, we can circle forward to my very first ride on Geronimo, the horse destined to become my four-legged guru.
I was leading a yoga retreat at Wyoming guest ranch, Bitterroot Ranch, and since I was going to teach my riders yoga later that day, I raised my awareness to take careful stock of the muscles being engaged in mounting the horse (gluteus medius) and then, at the end of the ride, the importance of opening the pectoral girdle after sitting in the saddle for so long.
And that was the focus of my first ride.
But what about my experience of Geronimo? While self-preservation and safety are real and necessary components of horseback riding, my beginner’s insecurity was so great and inwardly-focused, that my experience of the ride excluded its very provider – Geronimo himself!
Like an apprehensive beginner walking into a yoga class for the first time, I met my first ride on a ranch vacation with a tight, narrowly-focused mind, wanting only to get through the experience unscathed and not even acknowledging Geronimo’s being.
So tucked into my own thoughts and concerns was I, that I don’t even remember seeing the gorgeous, sprawling Wyoming vista that unfolded in front of me over the course of that two-hour ride!
Connecting with the horse through yoga
Photo credit: Alice Chan
At the guest ranch, over the course of the week that followed, I amassed more physical experience on horseback, which enabled me finally to exhale; to sync with Geronimo on more subtle levels and to unify – to yoke – with the entirety of the encounter.
And, after my experience on a dude ranch vacation, as I continue to appreciate the nuances of riding, I’m excited to share with you in our next instalment, more wisdom gleaned about how yoga and horses converge on the path of self-discovery.
Did this inspire you to do some yoga on your ranch vacation? Here are some more ranches with yoga.
Original article written by Marc Holzman, certified Ayurveda practitioner and Amrit Yoga Nidra teacher
Co-written, edited and created by Kate Hammaren; luxury and adventure travel writer, editor and world traveler.
Marc is a certified Ayurveda practitioner and Amrit Yoga Nidra teacher with over 20 years' experience teaching Hatha Yoga and Meditation.
He currently lives in both New Jersey and Paris, for greater access to the workshops, teacher trainings, and retreats he teaches across the globe. He can also be found in the ethers via his many classes streamed on Livekick.
His signature Ayurveda health coaching program, Evolutionary Habits, has been accelerating the wellness path of students since 2012.
To find out more, visit Marcholzman.com or connect on Instagram @marcholzman
Banner photo credit: Alice Chan