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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!

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!

January 2020
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