Exercises to Find Your Centre
By Amanda Barton
A SERIES OF EXERCISES TO HELP FIND YOUR CENTER
FINDING YOUR CENTRAL AXIS
Before locating the specific point which is your center its useful to get an idea of your central axis. Dancer Andre Bernard said “ideal posture can be found when you allow the parts of the structure to balance as close to the central axis as possible”.
Choose one of the following exercises that works best for you.
1. Visualize a line of light and energy coming down from the sky and going through the dead centre of your crown, brain, neck, chest and abdomen, then exiting between the middle of your legs and continuing down all the way into the centre of the earth. Spend a short while aligning your body around this central line of energy, which you can think of as the core of your body. If you like you can gently rock your body a few millimeters from side to side in order to find the central point of right-left balance around your core, and then rock a few millimeters forward and back so that the front and back of your body can find their point of balance around your core. (Qi Gong exercise)
2. (Alternative to exercise 1) Visualize a miniature searchlight positioned between your feet, coming up through the horse and shining a bright contained beam of light up through your central axis. Imagine the light shining out of the top of your head. The place where the light touches the sky or the ceiling is directly above the place where it originated. (From Eric Franklin)
3. Visualize your central axis as a guitar string extending from a point centered between your feet to a point at the center of the top of your head. Pluck the string and see and feel its vibration in the core of your body. Hear the sound, what is the tone. (From Eric Franklin)
EXERCISES TO HELP FIND YOUR CENTER
I was working with Vicki who was riding a rather worried Icelandic horse. This little horse was hell bent on going as fast as he could while his owner was equally determined to go slowly. I’ve got to be fair to the horse here, on balance he generally had the edge in terms of speed control, and his choice was fast. We helped Vicki to breath a little more deeply first of all but right after that we talked specifically about how you can focus your attention on your center. Vicki had a number of different thoughts going on her head and she wasn’t that centered when we started out so this was a big change for her and the difference was almost immediate and profound. The horse started to breath and he slowed down as if someone had flicked a switch and found a new gear. From here we were able to progress to some other areas of horsemanship with this new calmer horse.
HERE ARE SOME EXERCISES TO HELP YOU FIND YOUR CENTER.
1. Follow the core line, light or energy of your body (see exercise 1 or 2 above) to the lower belly area, about 3 or 4 fingers width beneath the naval. This is your center.
2. Find your center. Visualize any image that you like and mentally locate that image in your center to help strengthen the feeling of this place. Examples could be a luminous point of light or energy at this place, an image of the sun or a coloured ball of some kind. Some people like to choose an image from nature that they enjoy. Choose the size of this image that suits you, this could range from something the size of a golf ball to something much larger.
3. If you find it difficult to make a mental picture you can feel the center, it may have a temperature, warm or cold, a feeling of spaciousness or a comfortable sensation. This works just as well as an image for many people. If you really want some fun you could imagine some kind of sound or music associated with your center!
4. Imagine yourself as the core of a tree. Imagine a cross-section of that tree taken horizontally just below your pelvis, the trunk is surrounded by concentric growth rings. The rings become smaller and smaller as they approach your centre, feel the power concentrated around your center (Adapted from Eric Franklin)
INTRODUCING MOVEMENT IN YOUR CENTER
Once the idea of your center as a static image has become familiar to you, and you are comfortable with a few of the exercises above, (its ideal to work with an image on and off your horse for about a week before moving on), you may enjoy adding some kind of movement to your centre. The advantages of this are to strengthen the image and feeling of centering yourself, to incorporate the idea of energy flowing in this area and to start to bring your horse and his movement into the equation. You may well find that, with some practice, you can start to influence your horse’s movement with these images and so reduce the amount of physical cues that you need to use.
1. Imagine the breath traveling all the way down to your center, remember to do a long out breath first. What influence does the breath have on the center? Some people imagine that it grows or changes in some way as you breath out. Our minds are attracted to things that sparkle, is there a way that you can bring some “bling” into your image?
2. Its natural that as your horse moves underneath you, your center of gravity is challenged and may move away from the neutral, center point we have been practicing. Visualize the relationship between the neutral point in your pelvis and your actual center of gravity during movement, during a transition for example. Merge your center of gravity back to your neutral center point once again. The relationship between the neutral point and the centre of gravity is like a yo-yo. The hand holding the yo-yo is the neutral center, the yo-yo moves away but returns again to your hand. (Adapted from Eric Franklin)
3. If you visualize your center as being round then it could potentially roll as your horse moves. Centered riding teaches that the ball at our center rolls backwards as we move forwards. You can experiment with three plastic water bottles of the same size. Place two on a table and rest the third on top. Hold the bottom two bottles as you push them along the table. What is the direction of movement of the third bottle resting on top?
I have had some great results visualizing my center rolling backwards as I prepare to move forwards and then releasing energy forwards, in the direction I want to go as I want to move off. This image/feeling works well in reverse for the back up. You can also use the same idea for lateral work. This image is interesting because it starts to release the energy stored in the center outside the body in the direction of travel.
Some people think about their center moving in the direction of travel, this can work really well for some horse and rider combinations as well. There is no right or wrong with this stuff, it just depends what suits you.
4. Move from your center. It is most beneficial to initiate every movement from your center, often we move with our head leading the movement. This exercise helps to initiate movement from the center and clarifies your intent as to where you want to go. Imagine a winch is attached from your center to the destination you are riding to. Design the details so that they are right for you. What’s your winch line made of? How does it attach to your center and to the place you are riding to? When you are ready, ride your line with the help of your winch. (Adapted from an exercise used by Mark Rashid)
EXERCISES TO DEVELOP CONNECTION TO YOUR HORSE
The horse’s center of gravity is on a line from the point of the shoulder to the point of the buttock. Its just below the 13th or 14th thoracic vertebrae, but thats going to depend on whether and how the horse is moving. If you draw a line down from the COG it falls closer to the front legs than the hinds so the front legs take 58% of the weight and back 42%. As the head and neck move forward so does the COG.
So where is a horse’s center of energy? Well a lot less is written about this than about the human center! Sally Swift writes in her book Centered Riding 2 that the horse’s center of energy is in the same place as a human’s, that is underneath the lumbar spine. However a lot of people find it useful to think about an area underneath where they are sitting (the horse’s physcial COG) as they explore these ideas.
1. As you ride imagine the horses COG or center of energy and explore the connection that this allows you to feel with your horse.
2. In his DVD, Understanding Footfall, Mark Rashid describes 3 circles of energy that are useful to think about as you are riding. Two cover the horse and one covers the rider. The front circle of energy of the horse includes the front legs, neck and head and intersects with the rider. The back circle of energy on the horse covers the hind end and legs and also intersects with the rider and the front circle. Then the rider herself has a circle of energy which will intersect with both of the horse’s circles.
As a rider we have a choice as to whether we help the horse to connect the hind and front circles by allowing the movement to come through us or we can inadvertently block this by poor balance, poor breathing, excessive body tension or a poorly fitting saddle.
Getting a feeling for the horse’s circles of energy as you ride can be an extremely useful exercise to connect the horse and rider. Remember, there is no right or wrong here, this is simply a question of what the circles might feel like to you. The idea of our own center helps as we think about our own energy circle and our responsibility to help the horse with the connection from back to front