by Kelly Jones
Social connection improves physical health and psychological well-being. One telling study showed that lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure. On the flip side, strong social connection leads to a 50 percent increased chance of longevity. Social connection strengthens your immune system (research by Steve Coles shows that genes impacted by social connection also code for immune function and inflammation), helps us recover from disease faster, and may even lengthen our life. People who feel more connected to others have lower rates of anxiety and depression. ~Psychology Today
Since the Industrial Revolution, primarily humans have moved from a nomadic existence with a heavy reliance on relationships via close-knit communities and/or tribes, daily exposure to both nature and animals and a standard use of body language to communicate, to an autonomous existence that is self-focused and goal-driven, with little reliance on body language and instinct or as much exposure to nature and animals. The human brain has not evolved over the last 300 years past needing social connection, the rhythm of nature and contact with animals. Enter society’s current increase in anxiety and depression—our brains are hungry and seeking this authentic warm connection.
Humans have moved to a very heavy reliance on our “left” brain, which was designed to take in bits of relevant information and store it away to help manifest dreams and goals. It assembles and disassembles information, takes it out of context and uses it to control and manipulate circumstances. When this side of the brain is the default, our tendency is to become more autonomous and independent, isolated and goal-driven, instead of relationship-driven.
Purposely engaging our “right” brain and limbic system is vital to maintaining healthy relationships, accessing intuition and creativity and being able to relax and rest. This part of our brain takes in information in context as we experience sensations in our bodies and throughout our nervous systems. This is often something that has become difficult, if not impossible, in our non-stop world of electronic communication, lack of balance in our lives and little encouragement to recognize and respond to intuition as part of our decision-making processes.
Enter horses. Horses are 1,200-pound prey animals and live in herds for safety and are, therefore, hard-wired for healthy relationships. They live in the present and do not worry about the future or drag the past along, nor are they capable of being phony. They recognize when their nervous systems are sending them signals, they pay attention, and they act if needed and then go back to grazing. It is in this simplicity that they teach us the lost art of living in the moment, being authentic and regulating our physical and emotional responses to stimulus.
If these gracious and beautiful animals are allowed the opportunity to teach us when we are present and fully engaged right here and right now, we can connect with ourselves and others, experience moments of relaxation and rest, be more clear minded and access our intuition and creativity. They are able to do this by using their natural ability to read our intention or energy immediately and give us feedback that is instantaneous and true. This ability to read intention is something they have used for thousands of years to determine if a predator is hunting or simply walking by.
True fulfillment and joy comes when we are fully engaged with the world, not retreating or hiding from it. Horses show us that true connection comes when we fully accept ourselves and find power in the realization of our identity. Horses see us for who we are and wait for us to do the same thing.
The True Self is not our creation, but God’s. It is the self we are in our depths. It is our capacity for divinity and transcendence. ~Sue Monk Kidd
Kelly Jones is the owner of the South Wind Equestrian Center, in Leander. South Wind offers trauma-focused, equine-assisted psychotherapy services; facilitates mindfulness and life purpose retreats; and provides one-on-one coaching. For more information visit SouthWindEquestrian.com.