Imagery has been a huge part of my education, especially since 2012 when I started Centered Riding. Sally Swift was famous for her use of creative imagery to create lasting change and improved feel in her riders. One example of her famous imagery is the example of the spruce tree. Imagine that your legs are the roots of the tree spreading deep into the ground while imagining your torso and above are heading toward the sky as the branches and leaves. I like this image because it speaks to the opposition in direction we should ride with: torso forward and up, legs away and down toward the ground. This creates a lengthening throughout the rider’s skeletal structure, expanding the rider’s posture and allowing it to take up more space. For more information on this image and others, please visit the Centered Riding website to purchase Sally’s books and DVDs : https://www.centeredriding.org/store/default.aspx
I frequently learn about new images as well as develop my own. Throughout this journal, I will be highlighting images that I find helpful to riding and the Alexander Technique.
Disclaimer on imagery: Because my education is rooted in the Alexander Technique, I find it necessary to explain here why some Alexander teachers prefer not to use imagery in their teachings. In the Alexander Technique, we strongly believe in a “non-doing” approach as a means to keep unwanted and unnecessary tension from interfering with our use and negatively affecting our horse. The foundation of our work is to identify habits within the rider that cause them to shorten, tense, block or interfere with their best use of their bodies. We then work to re-educate these habits before we start applying new practices to more advanced skills. In a way, it is like starting from scratch in how to use our bodies in stillness and activity. When presenting a rider with an image, the rider may try to “do” or “fix” a new posture by forcing and/or habitual tensing through the activity, thereby shortening and pulling into their center throughout the body. The Alexander Technique is a re-education process, teaching us how to better use our whole selves by identifying our self-limiting habits and retraining them to serve us better. Without first the education of the Alexander Technique, an image will be carried out in the same bad, habitual use the rider has been working with all along. If the rider’s tendency in everyday use is to shorten the neck in every movement, it is probable that this same habit will show up in any “doing” or carrying out of an activity with an image in mind. Any image done in poor use will not benefit the horse of the rider, although in the short term a difference can be noticed because there is some change in habitual movement. What is needed to improve riding is a re-education of our psychophysical use. Due to the aforementioned, I still use imagery but I am careful in my selection of it and extremely cognizant of my use and my students’ use before employing specific images. I prefer to use images that help to soften, expand or grow the body forward and upward or lengthen the legs and ground the feet, creating lightness and ease within the rider, much like Sally Swift’s image of the spruce tree can provide.