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Improving core strength & balance

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Q&A with Jimmie Miller, an experienced registered yoga teacher with over 500 hours of yoga alliance training

Balance and core strength are must haves when riding horses. Whether a rider enjoys pleasure riding or competition, it is essential for equestrians to build strength and balance through their core. Jimmie Miller, an equestrian and registered yoga instructor, has been practicing yoga since 1970 and began her teaching journey in 2002. She teaches classes, workshop series, yoga personal training, and special yoga events throughout the mid-south. Here are her recommendations for helping equestrians  build better core strength and balance, in and out of the saddle.

What are Top 5 Yoga Poses to Improve Core Strength and Balance: 

1. Plank pose: form is very important so you must have someone check to make sure it is correct. It can be done on the floor, but you get the the same benefit and it’s easier to hold the pose correctly if done on a wall, table, or other safe support.

2. Boat pose: it can be done with bent knees or extended. Also, back support can be helpful to strengthen without causing harm to the lower back.

3. Leg lifts: these can be done lying on your back. It may be helpful to have a bolster under the pelvis to protect the lower back. It can also be done standing with straight legs or bent knees.

4.  Holding poses, such as Warrior III, work on core strength as well as balance.

5. Moving through a series of poses by holding each pose for five deep breaths with long exhales is extremely beneficial. This is very effective in strengthening and improving balance. An example would be to start standing in Mountain pose, step back and find Warrior I pose, then transition to Warrior II followed by Side Angle pose, then Warrior II again to Reverse Warrior, to a High Lunge then Warrior III, and back to Mountain pose. Repeat this series of movements on both sides for at least three times. This is a great way to stay strong, balanced, and centered.  

How often should equestrians practice yoga moves and poses? I recommend practicing some form of cardio, strength, and balance every day. Even if it is just for 10 or 15 minutes, a couple of times a day. Yoga, pilates, hiking, biking, qigong, Tai Chi, swimming, or whatever the individual likes and enjoys. Of course sport specific exercises for the equestrian are very important. Whatever type of riding you do, do it often. I also  suggest finding time for relaxing as well, to keep your horse calm and happy.

With consistency, how long will it take to notice improvement in balance and strength? Right away. The secret to any strength and balance training is to do what you like, be consistent, and varie the exercise to keep your mind and body happy. Don’t judge or overwork, just do the work. Have the freedom to make it more like play and self care.

Are there breathing techniques you recommend riders practice while in the saddle?Take long, deep, calm breaths. Make the exhale longer than the inhale, like a sigh. The horse will feel you release tension and relax with your deep and calm breaths.

What stretches do you recommend for riders before riding? The best thing to do before riding is to get the body warmed up.  Use moves such as the yoga flow mentioned earlier and perform on both sides of the body. Move through the series of poses and hold each pose for five deep breaths with long exhales. It helps strengthen your core and balance before mounting your horse. 

How does yoga improve overall body wellness and health? Unlike many forms of fitness, yoga addresses the whole person: mind, body, and spirit. The breath work, poses, movement, plus spending time in relaxation pose, or resting with your legs up against a wall will encourage not only physical fitness, but mental and emotional fitness as well.

How does aging affect overall balance? There are lots of challenges as we age. Balance as well as strength and flexibility can be affected. My advice is to keep doing what you love, keep fit, eat a healthy diet, and address any illnesses with your healthcare team. Make improvements to your health where you can and accept what your body cannot do. There will always be a form of Yoga, Thai Chi, Qgiong or other physical practices that you can do to improve flexibility, strength, and balance as you age.

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