Live Be Yoga ambassadors Jeremy Falk and Aris Seaberg are on a road trip across the country to share real talk with master teachers, explore innovative classes, and so much more—all to illuminate what's in store for the future of yoga. Follow the tour and get the latest stories @livebeyoga on Instagram and Facebook.
As we made our way toward Solaris Stable & Yoga Studio in Hume, VA, the terrain began to blossom with life. We were about to experience a form of yoga that neither of us had tried before: yoga with horses. Honestly, we were both curious about how it would work and if it aligned with humane practices, as Jeremy and myself both hold high standards for the practice of ahimsa (non-harming).
We were warmly greeted by Angela Nuñez, owner and creator, and Johnathan Bailey, who helps her run the beautiful space and wellness programs. They gave us a tour of the horse stables, a yoga studio overlooking the rolling Virginia hills, and an outdoor arena for horse training and yoga programs.
Angela designed an approach to yoga she calls Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL), which focuses on understanding and managing energy to benefit your experience with the horses and, most importantly, your life. She began by educating us on horses’ acute awareness to sounds, vibrations, and energy—all without being stressed—and how it is something we can learn from them. She then walked us through a centering meditation by bringing awareness to our ears, just as the horses do, to listen to all the sounds around us.
Afterward she guided us through a practice to attune to our own energy by rubbing our hands together and holding them out, palms facing each other, in front of our chests. We closed our eyes and slowly moved our hands closer until we physically sensed our own energy. I was also able to try this with Angela. She stood about 3 feet in front of me with her palm facing me, and I mirrored her with my hand. We closed our eyes and moved forward until we both sensed each other, which we did at about the same time, approximately a foot apart. It was a tangible example how others can feel our own energy. “That’s how we change the world—first by changing ourselves,” Angela said.
She demonstrated how we can use the energy work to interact with the horses. Standing in the center of the pen, about eight feet away from her horse Snowy, she directed her attention and energy toward his backend (it’s believed horses do the same in herds). Lovingly, yet confidently she sent him a request, with no words and very little movement, to walk around the edges of the pen… and within a few seconds he was doing it! As yogis, we talk about energy—how it can move, become stagnant, or impact others. But to watch the horse respond so clearly to her, without any verbal communication, was mind-blowing.
Very excited by this point, we both were able to try nonverbally communicating with the horses. As we were new to the practice and to the horses, it took Jeremy and me a moment longer to have the horses respond, but nevertheless they did! What an experience! It was empowering and enlightening. She instructed us to take this understanding with us as we moved into the asana portion of the class.
As we mounted the horses, we kept our energy calm yet confident. She was clear that confidence is of utmost importance when interacting with horses since they crave leadership and trust. From there Angela guided us through a different type of asana practice, as, of course, we were on horseback! We started slow, linking our breath and arm movements and always aware of our and the horses’ energy. Since the horses seemed to be enjoying it, we moved into more challenging poses, including Pigeon, Reverse Tabletop, Camel, full-standing Tadasana, and even Side Crow!
As much as this was a unique and fun experience for us, Angela informed us horseback yoga has benefits for the horses as well. Just like us, they hold tension in their muscles or get sore. The way she directed us to move into the poses gave them a massage, and ensured that we did not hurt their spines or other sensitive areas. She also explained ways to tell if the horses were relaxed or stressed so we respected their bodies and energy.
We ended our practice with Savasana on the horses. I have never had a Savasana experience quite like that. I was so at ease, I felt my breath and the horse’s moving in unison; I felt weightless, like I was peacefully floating down a river. It was so easy to drop into stillness. I wanted to be there forever.
Although this is an untraditional approach to yoga, it is clear Angela’s teaching is rooted in yogic traditions and her heart is rooted in her students, the horses, and our world. “My main goal is to help people get back in touch with nature and to realize that we are all part of it. I think horses stir something primal within us, and yoga helps to quiet our minds so we are able to feel that deep place within that is connected to all that is,” she said. “When we forget we're connected, it's easier to cause harm to the earth. I hope to help people get back in touch with our connection to nature so that we may all work to preserve this earth.”
Thank you, Angela and Jonathan, for an enlightening and joyous experience!