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The Power of Moving Our Feet

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Beth Anstandig

How often have you heard people complain about being stuck, wanting to make a change but finding it impossible? What about the friend in analysis paralysis who walks around a decision for years and never makes it?

A mentor of mine called it terminal ambivalence which always made me think of being trapped in a traffic roundabout, driving around and around and never choosing a road to turn down. Our beautiful human brain has this pesky thinker that seems to trip us when we’re actually wanting to move forward. Our thoughts and our involuntary capacity to rationalize can create a cognitive environment that sounds a lot like an old LP skipping on the record player. Let’s face it, our culture loves thinking and puts high value on our cerebral activity. So it can be a bit controversial to take thinking to task. Just yesterday, I was talking with someone who proudly declared his plan to solve a problem he was having with his children: I’m going to go in a dark room and do some thinking. When I hear a plan like that, I want to sound a four alarm fire. I trust the human thinker in isolation as much as I trust the mountain lion that lives in hills above my ranch.

The infamous and revered cowboy, Ray Hunt, transformed a whole generation of horsemen and horsewomen with one of his core messages: you have to move a horse’s feet in order to get to their mind. Bear with me here. I swear this will apply to your human life, even if you’ve never touched a horse, nor plan to! Ray Hunt’s approach to working with horses focused on building a trusting relationship. He said in order to this, we have to stay committed to our own calm mind, and then help the horse to use his mind. A horse with a calm mind is able to handle stressful situations, look for partnership from his rider, and respond to the world as a safer individual. The way to a horse’s mind is through the movement of his feet.

Let’s stay with that for a moment. How does it make sense that movement allows a horse to be calm? Well, for starters, horses forage for food 20 hours per day so they need to move in order to find food and eat it! Also, horses are prey animals,  so their survival is dependent on their ability to flee danger. They need to run and move. You can only imagine what a state of terror a human could cause by trapping or restraining a horse and not allowing him to move. For horses, moving their feet and allowing stress to move through their bodies naturally soothes them.

We aren’t horses but we are mammal! We share the same nervous system architecture and we’re in the same food chain. We have these incredibly powerful animal instincts and physiological processes that we tend to underestimate and even ignore. But if we consider the power of movement in our human make-up, it can make a huge difference in how we structure our days, manage stress, solve problems, and work on relationships. And, it can profoundly change how we approach our minds. Just accepting the fact that our minds can be hijacked by our emotions is a powerful beginning. Our thoughts are not always true and our thinking processes are gravely impaired when we are emotionally triggered.

Just like Ray Hunt’s approach with the horses, we need to move our bodies in order to expel fearful or angry energy. When we move, we are able to change our physiological state and return to a calm mind. Movement allows our inner animal to experience a sense of freedom. When our minds  get stuck, which they do, some body movement can make all the difference. For fun, consider some everyday situations when a bit of movement might help you have a clearer state of mind.

You’re in a tense business meeting and have been sitting around a conference table for two hours. It’s not socially acceptable to stand up, shake your arms, take a couple of laps around the table, and walk into the hall. But if you think about, wouldn’t that feel good to your body? Might it help your mind come back to the group with more to offer?

It’s early evening and you’ve been cooped up inside with your young kids. They are whining, the room is stuffy, and your irritability is creeping up the walls. We’re used to carrying on and starting dinner. What if you took everyone outside for a walk around the block? Parents with young children know this time of the day as the witching hour. Yet, we often don’t take care of ourselves around it. Fresh air and some good old fashioned movement can change everything.

You and your wife have been fighting a lot lately. It happens at night after a long day of work. You can’t seem to make any progress and the arguments just get worse, the words more hurtful, and the emotions hotter. What if you committed to talk through those tender topics on a long walk. Take the first 15 minutes of the walk to move and breathe. Then, start the conversation once you’ve been moving for a while.

The world of nature moves on. It grows, develops, and has incredible resilience to survive. It’s an essential phenomenon of all living things. When we tap into that more primitive instinct to move forward, we find more choices and freedom. Breaking those movement barriers and attending to the animal within us invites vitality back into our bodies. And wouldn’t you know, our minds become much more peaceful environments too!

We’d love to meet you in person! Here’s some information about our upcoming gathering in California.

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