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Teresa

perfect feet pt. 1 by dml82.

“The place where you made your stand never mattered. Only that you were there… and still on your feet.”

Stephen King


Since I returned from Sonoita I have been assessing my emotional state, feet first.  There is a very pointed reason for this.  A wise horsewoman and trauma survivor with a casual penchant for qualitative research pointed some really profound things about the nature of the foot and reading body language from the toes up.  In all my time focused on somatics I had never given much attention to the foot–almost none.  But I met someone who spent her life’s work noticing the nuances of human and equine body language from head to toe and with a very finite lense on the feet.  In traditional psychotherapy the feet are not a focal point but in horsmanship the foot, where it is, the angle, the flexing and all, are the language in movement between horse and rider.  So, of course, the well-versed horsewoman Shelley Rosenberg has been spending a career looking at feet in a way that I, as a therapist, never would have thought to–she can read the language of the body in a completely different way than I and, it seems, feet have been speaking especially loudly to her.

Even at a distance her acute vision notices things like toe curling in a boot and feet flexing on tippy toes.  She tells me this as she notices my toes curling in my own Mountaineer size 7’s as I sit with some dis-ease atop Max–an elderly white horse who is teaching me a lot about what my body is saying to him.  She tells me that she noticed her own toes doing this while standing, walking, or crossing her legs as a sort of last stopping point for trauma or tension trapped in the body.  She found that even the trauma survivor that had peeled back all the other layers and evaporated all the other clenching of muscles seemed to linger at the toes–hanging on to that one last muscle of control and space to prepare for danger.  A person’s whole body could be lax, she tells me, but she can read what they are really feeling with one glance at their feet.

Until she mentions it to me I don’t notice my own toes clenching, unfamiliar with the back of a horse and the gait of a trot, I had ,unknowingly, clenched my last bit of muscle and flesh–hanging on when I didn’t even realizing it.  But since she pointed this out to me all I can do is realize it; I am assessing my life in steps and flexes.  And finding it to be amazingly accurate on a personal case study level.  I am beginning to explore myself and my emotions…feet first.

I was discussing the other day the ripples and waves that are created in the self post-trauma and post-PTSD.  I have shed the PTSD of my self and have been lifted to a beautiful place where I can explore this life after Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  In the process I am attuned and aware of my “self” at a new level of clarity.  In this awareness I am learning more about the ripples after PTSD.  I am exploring those things that linger in me that are nowhere near that of a DSM-IV version of any disorder but are, what I can only describe as, the ripples and aftershocks; the behaviors and responses in body and mind that have to be undone after years spent in a state of constant fearful survival, raw and empty all at once.

This exploration of my sensory responses and my emotional sensibilities through my feet is another layer of that onion of aftershocks.  Now that I am thinking feet first I have found my toes to be a very accurate barometer of how I am feeling, even below my own first glance interpretation of myself–at the layer below conscious or superficial self and down to the muscle and bone, “subtle self”, if you will.  I wonder what we all might discover about ourselves if we spent a little more time in our toes–also the place of grounding and centering and rooting into the earth.  In yoga I have spent much of my time for myself and for students exploring rooting into the earth with every toe, from heel forward, but in psychotherapy and daily life I have paid it less attention.  Now I find myself starting in myself, in my patients, and in general, eyeing the world feet first.

Take a look down at the ground and see what you find!

“Move and the way will open.”

Zen Proverb

REMEMBERING THE RESTORATIVE: FROM CLIENT-CARE TO SELF-CARE

As someone who has guided clients through the intrinsic healing experience of yoga from yoga studio students to combat veterans I know how amazing and rejuvenating it can be.  Likewise, when I integrated yoga into the equine therapy practices I felt this light of finding a combined practice that resonated so profoundly for people that I wondered how I could bring this gift to every client I ever worked with that day forward.  Combat veterans and other trauma survivors seem to find drastic levels of healing in the experiential practices of mind/body medicine with a yogic edge and relational therapy through the silent compassion of a horse.  I had seen this therapeutic magic in action, seen the teary eyes of a modern day warrior gently petting the flank of his equine companion.  I knew this was something un-ignorable and I wanted to spread the concepts and conjoined practices to every place of pain I could, and to every person in need of connectedness. 

In my fervor, however, I had still never been a participant so I had never experienced the combination of body scans, somatic attunements, centering and grounding exercises, yoga, and horses all in one gloriously zen package.  I got the chance to see the results as a therapist and take part in the clients’ processes but not indulge myself in the participant role.  By the time I was packing up my boots and jeans for my trek to Arizona I was ready for a temporary role shift and some horse & yoga indulgences of my own.  Perphaps even a few revelations and epiphanies of my own as well.

I knew there would be mind/body practices in Shelley and Nancy’s equine program but when I received the email 3 days before leaving for Arizona stating, “Bring yoga clothes for the morning,” I nearly wept from excitement–seriously.  I had been putting self-care on the back-burner for a while; a fact that came fully into focus while giving my “Room to Breath” self-care workshop to a room full of women desperately in need of self-care a few weeks prior.  I was exhausted, I was drained, and part of me was wishing to be on the other end of the room–to be more participant than guide (although I love both roles in their own way). 

What is it about the nature of a woman that makes us constantly take from our own personal well of energy long past the time that every drip has been ladled out of it–until we are digging up moist dirt looking for water?  That is a mostly rhetorical question because I could give about 50 answers off the top of my head–ones that always come up when I give self-care workshops and ones that always resonate with me being someone who preaches far more than I practice when it comes to self-nurturing activities.

Well, I thought, I would, finally, give back to me.  And the deliciousness of yoga mornings, greeted by a dawning sun in the guesthouse of a cozy Arizona farm, was definitely enough to bring tears to my tired eyes.  Since ending yoga school for my teacher training life had caught up with me fast between a new job, private practice, workshops, and fine-tuning materials for upcoming trainings, not to mention 3 weeks of a killer sinus infection.  I had not even had time to maintain my own personal yoga practice in any way.  I needed a dose of the yogic in a big way.  I always felt the response of my body, mind, and spirit when I fell into a yoga drought–my brain got more distracted and white noise crept in, my body stiffened up, and my shoulder muscles tightened to rigid blocks of muscular tissue.  I felt distanced from any semblance of soulful peace.

CHECKING INTO THE OM HOTEL…

So, you may be wondering, what is the Om Hotel?  Is it a place? Is it a state of mind? The answer is–yes.  You create the space in a place and it becomes the conduit to a state of mind.  The place can be as simple as a yoga mat or a wooden floor or if you have a penchant for improvisation, it can even be on the back of the horse.  It can be a squared off corner of a room, or a particular room in a house, or an Arizonan guesthouse down a quiet dirt road with plenty of sunlight, soft yogic crooning, and a singing bowl or two.  The latter is where I laid myself at 9:00am on the first day of the “Riding Your Way Into a Mutual Relationship” workshop which Shelley and Nancy had crafted with the Epona Method as a base and the flavors of their expertise sprinkled throughout which, to my great delight included a very qualified psychotherapist yoga teacher at one end (Nancy) and an expertly intuitive horsewoman at the other (Shelley).

My “Om Hotel” experience began every morning for 3 days with a fluid, peaceful, and restorative yoga practice led by Nancy which was such a gentle yawn into the morning I could have spent about 3 hours in the guesthouse studio.  Nancy wove together the best of somatics and language from both psychotherapy such that the merging was seamless and helped evoke people’s true states of self without feeling invasive or probing.  Her postures were gentle and meditative, bringing the practice to a room full of horsewomen without yoga background in such a palatable way that it left them all wanting to go home and begin a regular practice of their own–which I always love to hear.

The studio walls were coated in a sunlight shade of yellow and mats were lined across the cream tile urging anyone entering to melt into the cool earth and let their yoga take them away from the external and come back to the root of themselves.  As I always like to quote e.e. cummings, taking us equine yoginis on a journey to, “…the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life.”  There were sun salutations, light meditations, restorative postures, and soft melodies; the perfect sampler of the practice to a room of beginners and one lapsed-yogini in need for a lot of softness in her practice.

The “Om Hotel” practice provided me with a return to my inner yogini with a side of self-reflection and introspection.  I loved the morning practices and relished a return to my private practice every evening, returning to the Xanadu Ranch and taking my practice to a comforting place–for muscles sore from saddle sitting and other unfamiliar farm-related aches.  Another beautiful revelation was the increasing level of yogi in each of the workshop participants leading to the creation, by Cathy (one of the participants with a very earthy sensibility and highly attuned intuition), of such equine/yogic terms as “om trot” and “spiritual legs”.  I was in love with the blossoming of vocabulary and the embracing of the yogic in the equine.  Although my ability to achieve my own “om trot” later in the week was quite a difficult thing.

THE PRANA EQUUS IN ACTION…

Prana, in yogic terms, is the vital life-sustaining force that is the root of our root and is embodied in our breath–life begins and ends with breath and, in my study, how we breathe says a lot about how we live.  The same can be said about how we ride.  Our breath acts as a barometer for our emotional experience and while riding your horse, part of the communication in the “mutual relationship” and the language we silently convey to the horse, comes in the forms of movement and breath.  Much like in yoga it is in the movement and breath that all communication and all of the emotional experience is acted out.  So to find your yoga in the equine is crucial in my opinion–and luckily, it seems, it also is the same for Nancy and Shelley’s work and workshops.  I loved how much they integrated body awareness, emotional experience in the body, and our body and breath language into their workshop–for me it proved to be even more revelational than I expected.  And resonated so much with the work I had been doing integrating the two practices together in my own little South Florida pietry dish of life.

My riding, I have learned, brings out all of the survival mechanism responses and discomfort spoken in physiology which I will discuss more in the next few posts.  This was a vital deepening of my own body awareness and attunement to how the oldest of habits die hard.  I carried my om with me and my breath skills as much as I could but my personal mounted equine work definitely tested my yogic capacities.  

I am one of those people for whom it is difficult enough to, say, tie my shoes and chew gum symultaneously let alone find my horseback seat, balance, breath, and hand placement–this I am going to need to work on.  Perhaps I need to chew gum and tie my shoes more often to build the tactile multitasking.  For now I am going to try a few oms to recalibrate my brain after an already long week–even longer while reminscing and longing for days spent alongside roundpens, on horseback, or on a yoga mat.  There is something diminishing about the return to an office-based week and paperwork-laden life.  Here is hoping all of you find a little bit of “The Om Hotel” in your daily life!

Stay tuned for the upcoming posts in this series:

  • RUNAWAY BRIDLE: THAT WHICH IS LOST & FOUND AMID HORSES
  • FEET FIRST: A HORSEWOMAN-STYLED REFLEXOLOGY
  • REFLECTIVE ROUNDPENNING & BOUNDARY GOATS
  • ….& ending with a NEW interview with yoga & equine enthusiast, Margaret Burns vap of COWGIRL YOGA & BIG SKY YOGA RETREATS!

“The infinite is in the finite of every instant.”

Zen Proverb

Pegasus on Pont Alexandre, Paris by Max London.

O for a horse with wings!

William Shakespeare


SO THIS IS YOUR PASSION?

I am sitting on the plane trying to whittle out the nuances of stories, looking for a way to bottle the last three days of experiences in the container of words.  It’s hard.  The woman next to me looks anxious and I brace myself for another flight next to a severe flight-o-phobe but instead she asks me why I was in Tucson while staring with curious amusement at the large and stiff ring of rope I am trying to stuff below my seat.  I say, “Horses,” but seeing that she isn’t quite satisfied and her eyes, still shifting between me and my lasso ring, are asking for a little more than a one word description.

I pause, thinking how to encapsulate what I was doing in Arizona, knowing that whatever I say could be less than enlightened.  I tell her I am a mental health therapist and I work with horses to help people through emotional problems but admit that I am trying to learn more about riding and horsemanship for my work.  She pauses and then in rich rolling espanol she says, “So this is your passion?”  Both question and answer, as if something in my eyes or the tone of my voice revealed the not-so-hidden-truth.  I smile, sigh a deep ujjayi breath, and say, “Yes.”

THE PRELUDE…

I knew in going on this journey out west and into the mountain-ridged skies of Arizona that I would be confronted with many things: emotional truths, passions envisioned, and dreams taking flight.  I set out from West Palm Beach prepared with pen in hand, yoga pants in tow, and hiking boots–yes, I still had not yet managed to get myself a good pair of riding boots.  I knew there would be yoga, creative exercises, mindfulness, and riding.  It was a yogini-equine-therapist-writer’s dream!  Although, before even landing I was already very nervous about the riding.

My riding experience was limited to the blissful summer camp experience and a variety of trail rides in a variety of countries; all with horses that were either spastic or sleepy from being over-riden by clunky tourists (like myself).  All my therapeutic “horsemanship” came from face-to-face time with my four-legged counterparts, not bottom-to-back.  I remembered the little girl who fearlessly cantered on her last day of summer camp and I hoped to rediscover some of her bliss–but I was afraid that age had only instilled skepticism and fear where imagination and bravery used to reside.  But as my stomach flopped with daydreams and fantasy I was hoping there was as much childlike excitement to outweigh the adult mind’s pesky critical thinking.

CHASING DREAMS TO THE BORDER OF MEXICO.

In the southeast corner of the southwest, an hour south of Tucson and less than an hour north of Mexico sits the unassuming town of Sonoita where the biggest restaurant is gas station adjacent and you can map out every constellation in the night sky.  I had chased my passion all the way to the Mexican border and found bliss on the first morning waking at the Xanadu Ranch, named by the owners since they had carried the sign and their horses from Ohio to New Mexico and finally settling on a large stretch of land in Sonoita.  Three black horses grazed in the tall dry grasses and the quiet of the air and the laziness of the hammock out in front of my door made me think I could spend days just hammocking my way to a higher state of being.

I had come out here to commit.  To commit to the dream of mine that included horses, yoga, and healing–something I believed in so strongly and had seen impact people so profoundly but I wanted to experience it at the other end of the lunge line and see what my clients saw.  In creating Prana Equus I knew I was giving myself over to my dreams but in coming out to Sonoita I was giving the dream wings and seeing what magic might come from seeing a space of healing outside of my own little cul-de-sac space with Angel Smile Farms and Maurette in South Florida.

I think the first morning, 9:00am, sun brightly shining through the windows of Shelley Rosenberg and Nancy Coyne’s yoga house on the property of their home and their barn, breathing in unison with my workshop-mates Deb, Cathy, and Ann at the direction of Nancy Coyne (MD, psychiatrist, and yogini-du-joir) I realized this was a special space and I was about to share a wonderful three days with a beautiful mosaic of souls.  Maybe horses can’t sprout wings like the golden Pegausus in the photo above but my dreams and my work with them felt like they were already taking flight to new and beautiful lands–in my mind and on the ground in every deep ujjayi breath.

So. This is my passion.

Nancy whispered softly with a little hint of jest, “Welcome ladies to the Om Hotel…you can check out, but…well you know the rest.”  I felt like I had come home inside and out.

CHECK OUT THE NEXT POST IN THE SERIES “GREETINGS FROM THE OM HOTEL”…UPCOMING!

30 Days of gratitude- Day 16 by aussiegall.

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person.
Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.

Albert Schweitzer


Hello All & An Early Happy Weekend!  Between being sick with a sinus infection since this past weekend and back to the doctor for a second time this afternoon for a nebulizer treatment of albuterol due to serious bronchial issues from a secondary infection I have been a bit of a sick-ful mess this week.  I was, as well as the rest of the sick staff at my job, pretty much ordered to go home and get well which I hope to do!

I have been left with little time, energy, and unfevered brainspace with which to write this week and I missed it.  I really relish the reflective moments on this blog and love to share in the community of the blogosphere!  Next week promises to be HEALTHFUL and BLOGFUL if I can get myself back on track internally and externally to do so.

I had my clients in group today end the week with a statement of gratitude to begin their weekend and I would like to do the same and go back to my enjoyable past time of a Friday LIST! Yay!  Fevers make me a bit punchy and jubilant–when not coughy and curmudgenly (also aliteration inspired apparently).  And I think ESPECIALLY when we feel low and depleted it is important to reflect on the metaphorical food that feeds us.  The literal food that feeds me today is pizza and sinus medication.

10 THINGS I AM GRATEFUL FOR RIGHT NOW ARE….

1. …A husband that will bring me soup on a tray and a seltzer in bed when I am hacking up my lungs.

2. …A wonderful holistic community in South Florida that continues to amaze me with the passionate professionals in mental health and beyond that are working to bring care to people : mind, body, and spirit.

3. …Sunshine.  I don’t think I even want to take for granted to wonders of sunshine and the plentiful sun of South Florida.  To be able to take a therapy group outside and by the beach is an amazing blessing.

4. …To be able to teach what I love to those who want to hear about it.  The other day I mentioned to a co-worker that when I was a child I wanted to be a teacher and a detective.  She replied, “So you sort of did that then didn’t you?”  I laughed and thought that is true–as therapist alone I am sort of an investigator of the psyche and teacher of coping skills.  It is even more rewarding that I get to be part of an academic sphere even beyond that–giving back what I learn as therapist-detective-teacher with my clients to other passionate professionals.

5. …Family.  I have an immediate and extended family and circle of friends that, especially hearing so much about the painful family histories of my clients, I know how lucky I am to have a system of support, caring, and mutual respect that many people struggle long and hard to find one tenth of the same.

6. …Yoga.  Especially lately with changing jobs and getting sick and having almost 3 WEEKS now yoga-less I am reminded again of how much yoga is at the core of my own grounding, self-care, and centering.  I gave a Self Care workshop last Friday (right before getting sick) in Delray Beach and I found myself leaving rejuvenated by the energy of the collective of women giving back a little peace to themselves–and found myself hungry for more moments of the same for myself.  I am so thankful for my yoga practice and cannot wait to stop hacking up my lungs and start down-dogging myself and my  limbs back to limber bliss.

7. …Virtual Communities & Live Communities.  There is so much power in the intimacy of a collective–whether in cyberspace or in physical presence–the healing power of communities and sharing constantly astounds me.  There is such a profoundness in group therapy–I love leading groups in collective healing and love any form of collective healing–community acupuncture, community EMDR (both which are done at my current job for patients), group equine facilitated psychotherapy programs, group creative arts workshops (like are being explored at the WISH STUDIO), and all avenues of sharing life experience and the journeys with others.

8. …The beautiful ANGEL SMILE FARMS in Loxahatchee where I cannot wait to begin presenting PRANA EQUUS workshops for self-care through yoga, creative arts, mindfulness, and equine relational activities!

9. …What I learn daily from others.  My clients are so profound–and often most profound when they don’t even intend it.  I love being able to take their journeys with them and in the process move forward on my own path with the richness of their experiences and their own revelations about life, self, and happiness.

10. Being asked to present at the 2010 National NARHA Conference in Denver!  I just found out today & I cannot wait.  Both because I always miss Colorado since I moved away in 2003 and because I cannot wait to talk with a national audience of equine mental health professionals about this integrative programming I am so passionate for–bringing yoga, horses, and mental health together in a creative package.  Check out this link for more information on the conference (I will also be speaking with Maurette Hanson at the Region 5 NARHA Conference in Alabama in August): http://www.narha.org/Conference/2010/Conference2010Home.asp

NOW ADDED to my WEBSITE at www.embodymentalhealth.com and it’s own BLOG PAGE at http://pranaequus.blogspot.com is my newly launching program called PRANA EQUUS!  I am super excited about this as I have been working towards it since I began integrating yoga and creative arts into Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy programming!

I will be working in collaboration with Therapeutic Riding Instructor Maurette Hanson of ANGEL SMILE FARM, LLC.  Check out the blog for more information and new posts here and on that blog upcoming!

YAY–exciting things on the horizon!

ALSO: I made the logo myself on my software I have been fiddling around with–thought it was worth a shot to try on a Sunday afternoon :).  It may not be the permanent solution to a logo but it encompasses the essence of what I want to convey so it is a beginning!  Feel free to weigh in on your thoughts about the look or ideas–I would love to hear!  My initial thought was to have the horse breathing colorful (pink, purple,or  grey) smoke but I lack the skills for that so perhaps another draft might integrate that piece.  Again, let me know your thoughts–on the program, the logo, and my phrase–which, yes, is an equine play on “off the mat” philosophy in a psychotherapy context!

Namaste and hope you all had a great weekend!

THE FOLLOWING IS AN INTERVIEW WITH NANCY COYNE, MD. She is a trauma therapist, psychiatrist, yoga practitioner, horse lover, and artist who has taken all her passions and made the best use of them to assist traumatized persons in healing.  She uses a combination of mind/body, creative arts, and animal-bond approaches in her therapy and has collaborated with horse professional Shelley Rosenberg at the Epona Center in Arizona to create a therapeutic program for trauma survivors incorporating all her practices and passions entitled “Horses as Healers”.

I was blown away by both Nancy and Shelly in their stories, their passion for their work, and (for my own self) having found other people out there motivated in the same direction and integrating a mix of creative arts, yoga, and equine facilitated psychotherapy for healing from trauma.  I hope you all will find as much joy, passion, and inspiration in the following interview with Nancy Coyne, MD.  I am excited to bring Shelley Rosenberg’s interview in an upcoming post–equally as passionate and poignant as the one to follow.  Enjoy.  Be inspired.  Be moved to action.

Q:  How long have your worked in the field of trauma and PTSD?  Is this your primary population in your practice?  What led you to work with this population of people?

30 plus years.  Don’t know why but people just found me.

Q:  What is your psychotherapy background?  What led you to work in Equine Facilitated Psychotherapyand train with the Epona Center apprenticeship program?

I have always studied and practiced psychotherapy-learning whatever has been current dynamic, interactive, Reichian (where I started ) CBT, DBT, somatic , and in the past 5 years equine facilitated.  Horses came back into the forefront of my life by chance- a friend who ran a therapeutic riding program wanted me to help start a program to treat trauma survivors.  Then I came out west to learn what other people were doing.

Q:  You use yoga, breathing exercises, EMDR, and creative arts as well as EFP in your therapy practice.  What led you to incorporate mind/body, creative and complementary therapies into your practice?

I started out interested in mind-body- as a Reichian therapist, and I have been a longtime yoga student and practitioner.  Also I have always been an artist so incorporating art into psychotherapy seemed natural.

Q:  What is effective about using yoga in mental health work?  Creative arts? Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy?  What have you learned about yourself, healing, and mental health practice in the process of applying the above techniques in your work as a mental health practitioner?

Effective- yoga re focusses on the body where experience lives.  Art-to right or old brain image making-by passing defenses and pointing right to the authentic self’s truth.  As for what have i learned- that I best practice what I preach and that teaching or healing is the best way to learn something.  That I best take very good compassionate care of my self and that life is brief and precious and that we can alleviate lots of suffering by meditating and accepting what is with compassion.

Q:  What has been most rewarding about this creative approach to mental health?  What has been most surprising?

I can be fully authentic and speak in my own languages .  Surprising – that the rest of the world seems to be getting interested recently (holistic healing is going mainstream)

Q:  When and why did you become involved in the Epona Center’s programming?  What drew you to this work?  Did you have any hesitations about moving into the world of EFP?  What have you learned from the horses and the work with horses about yourself, your clients, and your work as a whole?

2006-came to Epona center for experience and training.  Horses are natural yogis-slow down, stay present, breath, connect with soul, nature, one another.  No hesitations.  Horses teach me about my fears, my difficulty setting boundaries, my spaciness, my ability to have fun and just play.  Clients have life changing moments with horses much more rapidly and deeply than in the office.  We all love being outdoors, in nature, being authentic and we all meet as equal partners (horses don’t care who has the diploma)

Q:  You have created a program called “Horses as Healers” at the Epona Center in Arizona.  What led to the creation of this program with your Shelley Rosenberg?  What led you to create the program in the format you did–with the incorporation of creative arts, yoga, and other methods of complementary therapies?

About 70% of the people who came to all the programs seemed to be trauma survivors- so we crafted the program to fit their issues.

Q:  How is it working in a mental health capacity with a trained equine professional?  How do you both balance your professional backgrounds and goals for clients (re: learning horsemanship skills and creating therapeutic experiences) to create a cohesive psychotherapeutic experience for your clients?

It is challenging and also wonderful.  We work as equals, and each do what we do best.  There is lots of crossover.

Q:  What would you like to tell other mental health professionals looking into complementary therapies for mental health?  What suggestions do you have for integrating a variety of holistic approaches in treatment for mental health?

90 % of all experience and communication is non verbal.  So complementary (non verbal) approaches are very important.  Each of us needs to utilize whatever gifts and talents we have.

Q:  Have you encountered any issues of boundaries using these versatile approaches?  How do you believe a mental health professional can implement a variety of approaches (creative, mind/body, animal-human bond) while maintaining their role as a therapist?

Humility, honesty and being willing to stay with uncomfortable conflicts, talk, work them through and move on. Compassion and humor help.

Q:  What are your hopes for the future of mental health care and integrative/complementary therapies for mental health?  What would you like to see happen in the field in the next 5 years?

I hope we continue to experiment to find ways to alleviate suffering

Q: What would you hope to accomplish in your work in the next 5 years?  What project do you want to do that you haven’t done yet?

I want to finish a book I began 15 years ago about my experiences with abandonment – It is a picture book with some text for adults.

Learn more about Nancy Coyne, MD at http://web.mac.com/coynecreations/iWeb/Site/Welcome.html

Q:  Any words of wisdom, inspiration, or anything additional you would like to leave the readers with?

Each one of us has the capacity to help and heal our own and each others’ wounds.  The horses and yoga remind us not to get too serious or arrogant.

 
“A horse loves freedom, and the weariest old work horse will roll on the ground or break into a lumbering gallop when he is turned loose into the open.”
 
 Gerald Raferty
 
 
Monday mornings at work are always a swirl of mystery, magic, and surprises.  I suppose this is bound to be the case in beginning my work week at a Therapeutic Riding Center.  The facility I run my Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy group out of is a quiet nook of the world on a sandy dirt road edging a canal ravine.  I don’t know if anyone else does this on this particular stretch of street but I find myself glancing down at the murky green waters waiting to see round, black alligator eyes peering up at me.  The center itself is vast acreage lined with white wooden fences and a crisp white barn that houses 16 or so horses.  Monday mornings are reserved just for my group and the cleaning crew, inmates from a local prison facility.  It is an interesting mix of life–horses in stables, convicts driving small tractors, and my little group of trauma survivors working with their equine counterparts.  In its surreality it is quite freeing and outside of social norms and constructs.  We are dancing a dance that is part magic, part illusion, and yet more real than most that life has to offer.  Something in horses brings real to the surface and pushes out all the tedium and strife that are found outside stable gates.  Horses, like yoga, strip life away to its naked essence and allow for us to breathe in the moment and leave everything else behind. 
 
 
This particular Monday morning I was absurdly alert and reflective, still lingering on my 5am wake up, 6am meditation and the lack of television, radio, and all superfluous noise in my life.  My mind was paradoxically more quiet and more active than it normally is on any given Monday.  In that I mean that my brain had omitted a lot of the white noise from conscious thought and in its place was an awakened clarity and sharpness that I guess is the result of having been up for hours and having meditated to start my day.
 
 
Suddenly, I heard a loud thunk and vocal commotion and turned around the side of the barn to see a white mare galloping off through the back of the stalls.  I see a correctional officer, the guardian of the inmates, standing baffled and amused holding the chain latch of the horse’s stall.  “I can’t believe it, she chewed through the damn thing again.  That is the second time she has done that,” he said and kept repeating it as if he could not imagine such tenaciousness in a horse.  An older inmate standing next to me, and dressed in his working blue cotton uniform, looked in my eyes and said, “She just wants that freedom, you can see it in how she’s running.”  He stared after her, mesmerized, as the last bit of her white mane disappeared around the corner and I looked over at him wondering if he knew how profoundly metaphoric his statement had just been.
 
 
Here stood a man who was living in a world that was predominantly caged and in the one place in his week where he was given freedom, space, clean country air, and equine surroundings.  And as he watched this white mare’s dedicated effort to break free of her cage I could feel, in my proximity to him, his understanding of her yearning.  And in them both I saw a moment of magic–connection between human and horse and metaphor from the stables into the world.  It was one of those moments you want to bottle both miraculous, soulful, joyful, and sorrowful.  The smile on the inmate’s face lingered as he turned from the horse and went back to his shovel, back to his work, and back into the mind of a man who understood the yearning to be free. 
 
 
In that moment I shared with both of them, before the white mare was brought back to her stall, I saw a sliver of that man and a glimmer of that horse, and both of their natural longing to be free in the world–the way they once were.  Some days, especially lately, juggling worlds upon worlds, I feel like maybe I am overloaded and completely insane in my juggling efforts.  On days like Monday I am grateful for the world I live in, the life I have, and the honor I feel in being able to work in a way that facilitates moments like these–spontaneous and amazing. 
 

I was thinking about words that I keep coming back to, professionally and personally, that resonate with me at so many levels.  The words that I come to all seem to be connected in a web of healing and I wanted to share them with you and see if any resonate with you in your life now or in your aspirations going into January of this new year.

TOP 10 WORDS of INSPIRATION for 2010:

1 Mindfulness:  A point of weakness for almost everyone, mindfulness reminds us to constantly be aware of what is going on inside us and in the external world in any given moment.  I find that the more I work on this concept with my clients the easier it is for them to manage their daily existence and the more I work on this concept for myself I find the same.  When I am in the moment driving, acknowledging the sun and the color of the sky, thinking only of the bumps on the road and the car in front of me somehow the world beyond that melts away–the past, the future, and all the worries entangled in each melt away when we are in the now and mindful of that experience. 

2  Resilience:  Ah, forever a key concept in emotional wellness or the lack of it, resilience is our capacity to–like the iguana–bounce back from difficulty  and traumatic emotional experience.  Resilience is something that can be widdled away at over time.  Each additional difficult emotional experience weakens  our wall of self-protection, like rocks being thrown at a wooden fence, the stability will become shakier and it has more potential to break and fall down altogether.  Resilience is critical to be able to weather emotional storms and return to a healthy emotional state but there is work to be done to get there….but, see #3, there is hope….

3 Neuroplasticity:  I love this word for what it means…although it sounds overwhelming it brings a hopefulness to healing, resilience, and wellness in every way.  Neuroplasticity, simply stated, is the scientifically tested truism that THE BRAIN CAN CHANGE.  This brings hope to any obstacle and every internal roadblock in our mind because neuroscience has taught us that any dog can learn a new trick–young, old, traumatized, or otherwise.  We can relearn a sense of resilience, find new coping mechanisms, and rebuild our wall of safety so that we can weather anything with the right tools. 

4 Present-Centered:  This words in tandem with mindfulness practices as it symbolizes living in the moment of our daily existence.  Present-centered existence means really being able let go of our hold on  yesterday, our worries about tomorrow and visualize today for what it is.  Mindfulness teaches us the attunement of living in the now while present-centered philosophy embodies the very nature of being in the now.  If we can work just on being in the moment for a brief period every day we might find a richness and truth imbedded in where we are that we never expected.  When I have brief moments of really being present where I am there are rich spiritual and emotinal rewards–but it is a very difficult thing to embody and a practice I am working on….meditation, for me, is a way of training myself to keep in the moment a little longer every day. 

5  Somatics:  The essense of embodiment, somatic means that we feel and experience things in our physical self.  Our body holds, as many people I think have discovered in their practice of yoga, pockets of hidden secrets and rich emotional material.  We can feel our navel and be reminded of pleasures and pains in our psychological and emotional past.  For someone traumatized their body becomes the triggering point for many painful memories and our body responds along with our mind to what we are afraid of, sad about, happy for.  The somatic experience, meaning a body attunement and discovery, can unlock hidden pains that talk alone could have never explored so deeply.  In every way we emBODY our feelings, stories, and aches. 

6 Integrative:  The word integrative, along with complementary, has been linked within the medical and mental health community to symbolize the umbrella of holistic treatment approaches and therapies that are being discovered to be a great help for people in healing from emotional and physical ills.  Such fields as acupuncture, massage, yoga, creative arts, animal-bond, tai chi, and others are being explored and studied in relation to how they can help us heal.  I believe this year is going to continue to be exciting and invigorating for the study and practice of amazing programs incorporating all these wonderful healing practices–I truely cannot wait to see where it all leads, for me personally and within the field of mental health and trauma therapy!

7 Yoga:  Each moment I spend delving deeper into the world and practice of yoga the more I see it as a sincere life path that seems to walk parallel and stand as a great  metaphor for so many of my core beliefs both personally and professionally.  Life, birth, death, and transformation all seem to begin and end with a breath.  In my new book I explore breath as the mark of both my descent into my trauma, PTSD, and my renewal and rebirth of recovery.  For me yoga was a pinnacle point of my changing life perspective, my renewal of resilience, and learning to be strong in myself again.  Yoga begins with breath and from there it can be applied, karmically, physically, emotionally into our practice and methods of living in the world at large.  I look forward to continue my exploration of yoga and learning new ways to stretch myself, literally and metaphorically, through this upcoming teacher training. 

8 Soul:  The soul is “the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life” as I quote e.e. cummings in one of my favorite poems.  Soul is the essence of what we are when we take away flesh and bone and mind and even heart we are soul in the beginning and in the end and at our very core.  Souls can become damaged in this thing called life and the tribulations within….sometimes we just need some soul renewal.  I think mindfulness, yoga, meditation, and just time of reflection can give us some insight into and attention towards the often neglected root of the self–the soul.  I have to remember to care for myself, we all do, as I work at so much of this mind and body “work”.  We cannot neglect the root of the root and the bud of the bud as we wander through our lives.

9 Equine:  I have begun to dream about horses.  They are entering my consciousness at a new level and it is a comforting and inviting experience to find them nestled in the pages of my unconcious stories.  I find my dreams with equines to be much softer and calmer than my other, more restless nighttime machinations.  In dream interpretation it is said that horses represent strength, power, endurance, and a strong physical energy.  I hope to be able to wrangle some of that equine spirit of my dreams into a stronger physical self in 2010–one that can defy the limitations of my endometriosis.  I hope to imbibe some of that overall strength inherently found in horses and breathe it into myself and my life in this upcoming year…and beyond. 

10 Empowerment:  In working with a few more clients heading into this year with severe self-esteem and body image issues (male and female) I find that this word has ever increasing importance in my vocabulary and the way that I think in terms of helping people.  Empowerment is a key element to any human’s will to persevere in their own lives–we must feel strong, proud, compitent, and confident in our own bodies and minds in some way to be motivated to take on the difficulties of life.  I think, perhaps, empowerment of the self can be one of the greatest keys to emotional wellness.  My hope, in 2010, is to start to create some workshop programming helping people with just this piece–finding a sense of empowerment and strength of self.  I believe that horses can be a great co-facilitator in this regard.   With their symbolic linkages to strength and their yogic-like attunement to emotions and the present they seem just the therapists to assist in the challenge.

“A lovely horse is always an experience…. It is an emotional experience of the kind that is spoiled by words.”

Beryl Markham (British born Kenyan Horse Trainer)

  

In the realm of wordless moving arts, therapy with the aid of horses adds a rich additional component–relationship.  And through that relationship there are an infinite number of metaphors that can be found, cultivated, and mined when being able to work with these mystical creatures in the aid of healing trauma and emotional pain in people’s lives, hearts, and souls. 

There is a deep rupture to the self that trauma induces–we are hesitant to trust the world and the people in it when we have been traumatized.  Our natural fight or flight mechanism is ignited and our impulse is to avoid, isolate, distance from human connection. 

This is why the horse is a powerful ally in rebuilding the capacity for relationship in those who have lost faith in the capacity for the unconditional nature of love and have forgone trusting relationships with others.  A horse does not judge or betray it just is–and as I discussed in the prior post YOGIC EQUUS PART 1 the horse is able to be in the moment and present with us in the most yogic of ways. 

At the same time, if we are not present, honest, true, and confident in the present of our equine companions then we lose the connection between human and horse and we lose our place in the horse’s present moment.  That is to say if we the human cannot be calm and assertive, present and attentive, then the horse will respond by not responding to us.  And in this connection and connection lost is an amazing metaphor for someone, in a therapeutic way, to find where they falter in their relationships, connections, and ability to stay present, conscious, and grounded in life.

The findings of this may be painful, frustrating, angering, and more but in the rich well of emotions and behavioral responses one has to finding a break in their human-horse connection a person might learn more than they ever thought possible about how they relate to the world and the humans in it.  And in the context of human-horse (in a land without judgement or betrayal) a person may learn to heal their wounds, mend the ruptures, and break the patterns that plague their human-human life. 

In a brief amount of time I have learned an unimaginable amount about the human self from people’s interactions in a therapeutic relationship with their horse.  I have learned so much about myself as a person, as a therapist, and as a yogini–about where I am and where I want to go.  I cannot wait to explore further into this rich metaphor of the horse and find where, on the wings of pegasus’ decendents, humans can find new layers of healing–body, mind, and soul. 

  

 

May 2020
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