Equine Assisted Mindfulness – Week One   Leave a comment

Last Thursday night, I started an Equine Assisted Mindfulness program at Standing Hope Equine Therapy in order to help with my emotional eating.

I had my intake appointment several weeks ago and managed to forget about the fact that I was supposed to start a week ago last Tuesday…so I’m a week later than I wanted to be, but I’m trying to practice this thing called “radical acceptance” to prep for week two and I’m not going to go on and on about disappointing myself.  The thing already happened and I don’t have a time machine; I need to keep moving forward.

(Not bad, eh?)

Anyway, I thought it might be helpful to keep a record of what happens during each session and also the homework I’m assigned so I can track my progress, what works for me, and what doesn’t.  I also thought it might be nice to do it as a running review of this particular program.

My sessions are at Scarborough Fair Farm in Chester Springs, PA, and it.is.GORGEOUS.  I don’t think I can do it justice in words, so I’ll put up two photos I took last night.

Standing Hope 1 9Jul15 Standing Hope 2 9Jul15

Look!  Alpaca!

In addition to the alpaca, there are chickens and goats, and cats (five individuals came to talk to me yesterday). And, of course…horses.

I love horses.  I love the way they look, and the feeling of their muscles under their hair.  I love the way they sound, even when they’re just breathing.  I love the way they smell, all earthy and vegetative and deep.  And I love riding them.  I started taking riding lessons in the second grade (age 7), and I know I was put on horses prior to that.  I get horses.  I understand horses and, usually, they understand me.

So, the session started with a review of what mindfulness was, and we went over some of my patterns and picked apart what my inner critic (judging mind?  I think?) tells me.  I told them (did I mention there are two therapists all for me?) about my “useless/worthless” script (more on that in a moment), and we teased out when it’s most likely to happen and when I’m able to either ignore it, or push it aside.  It turns out that I’m pretty good at pattern recognition; check out the list below:

Mindless, emotional eating happens:

  • In the evenings, between coming home from work and going to bed,
  • When I don’t have something specific to occupy my mind, because
  • That’s when judging mind comes in to tell me how useless/worthless I am.
  • And…it is more likely to happen when I am by myself.

I was also able to piece together the fact that the mindless eating only silences the voice while I’m actively doing it.  Once I stop, the voice starts again and I might go refill my bowl again.  I say might because I don’t always do it…and sometimes I do it over and over again until I am full.

So, once we picked apart the patterns and talked about them, we read from a section of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook that was about radical acceptance.  I actually own it; the amazing Dr. Barb and I worked through some of it during my five years with her.  Anyway, the gist of this particular reading was that radical acceptance means accepting something completely, without judging it, and that creates opportunity for responding to situations in new ways.  For example, I have issues dealing with my youngest brother – he criticizes and says things that imply that I am stupid, or lazy, or inferior to him.  I tend to react in certain ways to this, some of which are harmful to myself.  But, if I find myself in a situation like that, I don’t have to do what I’ve always done.  I could look at the situation, accept that it is happening without thinking about what I could have done to avoid it, and then move from there.

It’s a little freeing to think that I can unstick myself, but also a little terrifying.

After we finished the reading, we went to the barn, and I met three horses.  I spent a little time with each one, petting and talking to them, and then got the chance to walk each one down the aisle and back.  The first horse, a mare, walked a little faster than I was expecting, and I wasn’t really focused enough on what I needed to be doing to lead her effectively.  The second horse, a dark bay gelding, walked really well for me – I suspect he’s a bit of a push button horse – and I felt more like I knew what I was doing.  The third, a very large grey, was new to the program and he didn’t know what he was supposed to be doing, and I did not take the lead that he needed.

When the walking was done, I was asked to “name” the horses according to the following pattern:

  • Numbing – mind on autopilot, not really concentrating
  • I’m okay the way I am – pleased with how things are going
  • I’m <insert negative adjective here>

I named the dark bay “I’m okay”, the grey “I am totally out of control”, and the mare “Numbing”.  The last was by default, and when I mentioned that, I was told that often that numbing state is a default.

Interesting.

I was told to pick a horse to groom, and I chose “I’m okay”.  I took him out, led him to the cross-ties, and then spent a very happy time (fifteen minutes?  maybe?) grooming him with curry combs and brushes, and I became totally focuses on that activity.  My mind cleared, and I thought about nothing but getting the dust and dirt off him and which spots he liked having brushed and which ones he didn’t.  The time flew – when I was done, I couldn’t believe it.

We then took all three horses out to be turned out, and I walked “I’m okay”.  He was excited to go out, but I (mostly) managed to keep him in check until we were in the pasture and his halter was removed.  Then, he and “Numbing” cantered off to join the rest of the herd.

We closed the session by discussing how I felt during the grooming session, and then how I felt at that particular moment.  I was surprised to admit that my mind was completely clear – no thoughts hanging over me, no inner critic, nothing.  I felt lighter than I had in days.  We talked about other ways to get the same lightness and clear mind, and I agreed to complete the following homework before my next session:

  • Take five minutes each day to sit quietly with my thoughts.  I’m to let them come into my mind, tag them with a category, and then put them aside.
  • Take time to do some moving meditation – walking, swimming, etc. where I focus on nothing but the movement.
  • Complete the “Thought Grid” from the DBT exercise – this means listing a distressing situation, what my old/current coping strategies are, and the unhealthy consequences of those strategies, then what new coping strategies I could implement and what the possible consequences of those new strategies could be.

I’m going to keep writing about each session, and about how the homework is going, in the hope that it will support this entire process, and also in the hope that it might be helpful to someone else?

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