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Strong and Serene: Nurturing the Equestrian Nervous System with Restorative Yoga

Our nervous system is the intricate network of nerves and cells that transmit signals between different parts of our body. It serves as the body's communication system, playing a crucial role in maintaining homeostasis, enabling us to interact with our surroundings, adapt to internal and external stimuli and perform various tasks essential for survival and well-being.

The nervous system is comprised of two main parts: the central nervous system (CNS) includes the brain and spinal chord and the peripheral nervous system (PNS) includes all nerves outside of the CNS. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is a sub-division of the PNS which regulates involuntary functions such as heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, and glandular secretion. It is divided into the sympathetic nervous system (activating the "fight or flight" response) and the parasympathetic nervous system (promoting the "rest and digest" response). 

Why is a healthy, resilient and balanced nervous system essential for equestrians?

  • First and foremost for our overall wellbeing. To be responsible for the care of another being (our horses) we need to first take care of ourselves.

  • Ours horses are mirrors! As a herd, prey animal our horses are acutely attuned to our movements and overall state. Frantic, anxious, mega chill - they will pick up on it and reflect it.

  • Training a horse is a complex skill that requires us to be alert, attentive and responsive. Impaired cognition wont only hinder your training but could be dangerous.

  • Riding is physically demanding. A healthy nervous system supports optimal muscle function, coordination and recovery, reducing the risk of injuries and promoting overall physical resilience.

  • Without a balanced nervous system we would not be easily able to reach a flow state necessary for being in the moment and focussed on our horses.

One way in which we can support our nervous system is through the practice of restorative yoga. 

Dog (GSP) on yoga mat with bolsters
Deep relaxation

Restorative yoga supports the nervous system by promoting relaxation, reducing stress, activating the parasympathetic nervous system and fostering mindfulness. The health benefits include improved sleep, reducing chronic pain, enhancing your mood and boosting your immune system. This can have a profound effect on both your physical and mental well-being and a huge impact on your ability to regulate your emotions, your movements and your thoughts around your horse.

Restorative yoga is the use of props to create positions of ease and comfort that facilitate relaxation and health.

Relaxation is a state of deep rest in which there is no movement, no effort and the brain is quiet, thus the foundation of restorative yoga is the practice of deliberate stillness: the simple act of lying down and being still.


"By lying down you quiet the skeletal movements of the body and you discover that nothing is still. There is the rise and fall of the abdomen with the breath, the heart beating, the blood moving through the veins. And there is the mind jumping from through to though, from past to future, resisting stillness."


As the props relieve your muscles and bones of their roles of support and action, your nervous system sends and receives fewer messages and becomes quieter. Layers of tension melt away as you learn to be present to what is happening in the body and mind in each moment.


Restorative poses help cultivate the habit of attention. You learn how and where you hold tension and consciously release. Particularly beneficial when you are interacting with a horse from the ground or in the saddle.

Basic relaxation pose for equestrians
Restorative yoga for equestrians

Restorative yoga can also serve as a gateway to active relaxation and in turn a flow state in the saddle.

Active relaxation:

  • Is an an important tool to ensure we are allowing, rather than blocking, the horses movement.

  • Is also one of the foundation skills for achieving a coherent, or flow, state. Studies have demonstrated significantly improved reaction times, sustained attention, coordination and decision making among people who actively practise coherence techniques before performing a skilled task.

We can use the power of restorative yoga to help assist us in achieving active relaxation: fully supporting the body with bolsters and blankets helps facilitate letting go of muscular effort to reach the physiological state of relaxation.

Combining the poses with deep breathing and a full body scan to locate residual tension, you can train yourself to release that tension with each breath. Difficulty can be added to this skill by practising in other positions (seated, standing, in the saddle) and around increasing distractions (noise, competition environment).

Quality rest is as important as sweat equity so adding restorative yoga to your routine will provide balance for busy equestrians.

If you’d like to experience the benefits of practising a restorative pose for yourself, click here.


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