You may not believe this but your breathing has a huge impact on your riding, and not just by stopping you from passing out due to lack of oxygen. Your breathing actually has an impact on your biomechanics.
This is mainly because of our diaphragm. The diaphragm is a muscle that separates our thoracic cavity (your ribs essentially) from the abdominal cavity-stomach. The Diaphragm contracts as we breathe in and relaxes as we breathe out. I like to think of it as a Jelly Fish sat under your rib cage with its tentacles the attachments to the spine. When we breathe in our diaphragm should flatten and drop down to create more space for oxygen to be drawn in.
The thing is many of us don’t use our Diaphragm to breathe.
We spend so much of our day hunched over a desk, breathing from what is then a narrowed chest area. You can test this by putting your hand on your stomach as you breathe normally, does it rise and fall as you breathe? Or does the movement come from your chest?
The diaphragm as well as being involved in the breath, is part of your core structure. The Diaphragm connects to our lumbar spine and this attachment sits on top of the attachment of the Psoas muscle. (a hip flexor that passes from the lower back to the front of your thigh bone through the pelvis). When riding your Psoas muscle enables you to be long down the front of your thigh and have a relaxed swing through your hips and be able to flow with the movement of your horse.
When our Diaphragm is activated it sends a message to our brain via the Vagus Nerve to relax.
If you are anxious just breathing with your diaphragm can help to relax not just your brain but also your hips which in turn is your seat. If you are tense in your seat you are immediately sending your horse a message that there is something to be wary of.
This can be the case even if you are not anxious but you hold tension in your hips. Your seat will be tense which in turn can make your horse tense, which means you try using more muscle to control him which tenses you up even more……..
Luckily, there is an easy and un strenuous fix. Breathing exercises!
Try this both sitting/standing and lying down. Relax and breathe normally first to see where you are breathing from. If most of the rise and fall is coming from your chest, really concentrate on breathing in through your nose and filling you abdomen with air, imagine breathing right down into your hips and then breathe out through your mouth to release.
Then try it whilst on your horse. Maybe when you first get on and are just walking around spend a couple of laps just concentrating on your breathing. First get breathing with your diaphragm, then imagine breathing down into your hips and see if you can feel them relax. Then imagine you are breathing down and into your horse (just try it don’t over think it) and see what your horse does…..Let me know if you get a reaction!
I use this technique as I am an anxious rider, but it is also why I sometimes sing when I’m particularly tense when riding. As singing ensures you are breathing and encourages you to use your diaphragm-I ignore any comments about the possibility my pony is spooking at my singing……