Stage 1 ~ Pre-Contemplation ~ Body Whispering
If you have ever seen a horse or dog being trained through brute force and punishment you will observe the creature become panicked and frightened. Panicked and frightened animals often lash out and attack those trying to control them. And it gets worse the more you try to “pull them into line”.
Animals rely on their instincts to stay alive. If they are treated like prey, then their instincts is to run first, and then to fight if they are cornered.
The only way to successfully rehabilitate an abused animal is through trust and kindness in a safe environment. Horse whisperers and dog whisperers use these techniques to calm even the most violent and disturbed animals.
Your Animal Instincts
Our bodies are creatures too. Creatures that have been beaten, starved and forced to run on cold, hard streets in pouring rain. Our bodies have become panicked and frightened and because they feel cornered, they are lashing back at us. More brute force and punishment will only cause more damage.
Our thoughts are the predator. Our brains are constantly filled with rules, targets and threats that make our creature selves want to run far, far away from the danger. Beating up on yourself when you are already out of control will only leave you more emotionally bruised, more crazed and fatter. The only way to achieve full cooperation from your body is through being supportive rather than aggressive.
The Body Whisperer
Find a space where you will be uninterrupted for at least 10 minutes. You can sit or lie down but if you are feeling anxious you may want to walk, run or cycle to relax your ‘flight’ instinct. Find a place that makes you feel as secure as possible. If possible find a spot where no one can see you (including yourself) and a place where nobody eats as eating will seem an easy release rather than do this exercise.
Breathe as deeply and evenly as you can. On each out breath tell yourself one or more of the following mantras (out loud or silently). It doesn’t matter that you don’t believe them, just fake it.
- Everything is OK
- I can handle this moment and right now I don’t have to handle anything else
- My body has suffered a lot so right now it deserves understanding not cruelty
- Being kind is more important than what I weigh so right now I will be kind to myself
- It is OK to rest
When you body feels safe again, it will give you physical signs that it is ready to stop fighting you. This is the relaxation response. Look for some of these cues ~
- deep regular easy breathing ~ airways seem open and relaxed
- muscles relax in torso, neck and shoulders
- laughing or crying
- emotional quiet or peace
- the taste in your mouth becomes sweet or salty (stress hormones make your saliva taste bitter)
Practice this 10 minute body whispering for the next 4 days or until you can create the relaxation response reliably and confidently.
Did You Know
Horse Whispering, Dog Whispering, and Mindfulness
Think and act in the present moment. In this era of multi-tasking it is easy to be distracted by past experience or about a future possibility when working with humans or horses. As horse whisperer, Monty Roberts observed, “Many people watch, but few see.” Monty also made the following distinction: “A good trainer can hear a horse speak to her/him. A great trainer can hear a horse whisper.”
Be non-judgmental. Though it is perhaps a human tendency to judge, it is critical that we as facilitators of learning and leadership understand that negative and unacceptable behavior is often times the result of past experiences (i.e., miss-education) and may have nothing to do with the negative behavior being exhibited. While measures must be taken to reduce or eliminate negative behavior, corrective actions should be done with compassion, respect and non-violence. Monty advocated “make it easy for your horse to do right and difficult for him/her to do wrong.” Monty also stated that a horse should be allowed to make mistakes but that the horse has to experience the consequence of them.”
Be peaceful and gentle. Considerable violence exists in our society and many humans as well as horses and dogs experience it. While there are many wonderful instances in which humans, horses and dogs have reached their potential and overcome past abuse, overcoming past violence can be a major struggle. As Monty noted, “it is not the great trainer who can cause her/his horse to perform, the great trainer can cause a horse to want to perform.” While ultimately we can never exclude punishment, fostering intrinsic motivation is foundational to learning and workplace productivity.
Be generous and be in touch with others. While we cannot alleviate all the suffering caused by exploitation, oppression and social injustice, we can change a moment by practicing kindness and generosity. Monty has said that the performance record of some of his horses provides evidence that he has high standards; however, Monty argues that one must first “join-up” or “connect” with the horse before you can ask the horse for exceptional performance.” The reality is that that “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make her/him drink and that there is no teaching—only learning.” ~ Horse Whispering, Dog Whispering, and Mindfulness for Adult/Organizational Learning and Leadership, by James Gregson, Ph.D.
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