In this edition of the Eponaquest News, Linda Kohanov shares an inspiring—and surprising—video of a technique she learned from working with her horses. Check it out at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bm7GiqzQm_4 Then return to Linda’s essay below for more details.
A Brief History of “Heart Breathing”
Twelve years ago, a soulful black Percheron named Kairos taught me a simple yet seemingly miraculous way of connecting with others. The experience instantly expanded my heart and opened my mind. For years after, I quietly experimented with the benefits of what I came to call “Heart Breathing,” gaining, over time, the courage to share it with advanced students and apprentices. Then, at the 2017 Healing with Horse Conference, I decided to take a risk and ask my horse Indigo Moon if he would be amenable to demonstrating this subtle nonverbal communication technique in front of a live audience. I was pleased that videographer John Fulton and his staff captured the moment on video. The original discovery, however, happened quite unexpectedly over a decade earlier.
During introductory workshops, I sometimes ask students to stand outside a half dozen corrals, each of which holds one horse. The idea is to invite people to see what they can learn about each individual—without touching, leading, lunging, or riding the horse. On that seemingly unremarkable yet pivotal day in 2005, I invited participants to wander among several such enclosures. Did a particular mare or gelding bring up certain emotions, or memories, or associations? Did each participant feel safer with some horses, more excited or nervous or even neutral with others? Did my students sense certain herd members reaching out to them? And how did people know when a particular horse wanted to connect?
As it turned out, two of the horses engaged for this activity, Kairos and Indigo Moon, taught me something I never would have imagined in my wildest dreams. I was standing back, watching the participants move among the various corrals, when I noticed Kairos staring at me more intensely than usual. I felt drawn toward him, as if he were compelling me to connect with him in a way I had never experienced before. Since my human students were engaged with other horses at that moment, I wandered over to the regal draft horse gelding and stood in front of him with a mixture of respect, appreciation, and curiosity.
At a distance of 15 feet, I suddenly felt pressure on my heart that seemed to be coming from Kairos. At the same time, I noticed his unusually deep breathing affecting my breathing. So I gave into the sensation. Synching up with his slow rhythmic inhalations and exhalations, I realized that something more powerful and directive seemed to be happening. I felt that as I breathed out, he was drawing my breath into his heart. So I reciprocated by drawing his out-breaths into my heart center when I breathed in.
As we connected through this circuit, this current, this invisible river of breathing, the world seemed to expand. Colors and sounds became more vivid as I relaxed into a profound feeling of safety and relaxation that paradoxically seemed to invigorate and energize body, mind and spirit.
A series of sense images carrying purpose and wisdom seemed to fill my body and trickle up to my brain. “What is this?” I silently inquired, sending the question back down from my brain, into my heart and out toward Kairos through the flowing channel of breath shared between us. The phrase “Heart Breathing” came back through the same circuit as if Kairos had sent me a multi-dimensional, somatic email that expanded and invigorated my heart before my brain translated it into words.
An hour later, as students shared their experiences under a nearby Cottonwood grove, I noticed my yearling Arabian gelding Indigo Moon pacing. With a short attention span and a lack of impulse control appropriate for his young age, he wanted desperately to leave the workshop site and return to his herd. Indigo was fine interacting with people over the fence when they were paying attention to him, but once we all sat down and started to talk, he lost patience. Looking worried, he began to show increasing signs of stress. Still, my desire to get up and take Indi back was momentarily thwarted. “Sandy,” one of the participants, had accessed a deep insight through her over-the fence interactions with another horse, and I didn’t want to interrupt her.
Tears flowed down the woman’s luminous face as she relived a long-lost memory inspired by this simple activity. Her experience was so engrossing that no one else seemed to notice Indigo beginning to trot back and forth, shaking his head in frustration. Then, just as I was about to stand up and beg Sandy’s forgiveness for taking a break at an inopportune moment, I noticed Kairos staring at me again. Suddenly, inexplicably, it occurred to me that I could use this strange new breathing circuit to calm Indigo down, even though he was nearly 100 feet away from the circle of humans I was bound to at that moment.
As Sandy continued to talk, I silently engaged a heart to heart breathing cycle with the now almost frantic horse. I wasn’t sure if this “creative visualization” was “just my imagination” or if it might actually have a physical effect on the horse, but I was willing to give it one heroic try, hoping to somehow calm Indi while supporting my client to finish processing her powerful experience.
With my sunglasses on, no one noticed that I was looking at Indigo while breathing slowly, deeply, with an ever-expanding heart. Sandy’s fellow students thoughtfully nodded their heads and began to comment on the insights she raised as Indigo stopped his pacing and stared right at me. I was able to listen and comment while continuing to heart breathe with the colt. Much to my surprise, a part of him actually seemed to join the circle from that considerable distance, calmly looking directly at us with unwavering concentration as if he felt connected and included.
Over the years, I’ve used this technique to gain the trust of rescue horses before ever entering their corrals. I’ve also used it to help calm crying children on planes, and de-escalate situations in which adults were becoming frightened or aggressive.
Indigo Moon is especially sensitive to, and appreciative of, this practice. He sometimes agrees to play an especially impressive Heart Breathing game that never fails to convince skeptics: With four people standing outside a round pen at various positions, Indigo will perk up and walk toward the one person I’ve asked to engage heart-to-heart breathing with him as the others breathe normally. (I sit in the shade at a considerable distance, not moving, looking straight ahead, to avoid calling visual attention to the person whose name I’m calling.) Then after a few minutes of connection at a distance, I ask that person to breathe normally again, while directing another person at the opposite end of the corral to heart breathe with Indigo. After a few moments, he pricks his ears, lifts his head, changes direction and walks over to the second person, and so forth. (I hope to video this soon.) For Indigo and other members of my herd, this technique has become a reliable form of communication, useful for a number of purposes.
“Heart Breathing” is one of several nonverbal communication principles I will be teaching in a new workshop. Beyond Words: The Art and Science of Sentient Communication will be held at my desert ranch in Amado, AZ October 28 to 31. Drawing on the talents of Indigo Moon and other members of the Eponaquest herd, I wanted to offer an experiential learning workshop that brings together the latest research on mind-body science and the healing power of the human-animal bond with specific techniques for reducing stress, enhancing health, and cultivating meaningful, mutually supportive relationships with people and animals. The four-day Beyond Words seminar debuts key principles and a sequence of experiential learning activities designed to exercise what I’ve come to call “Sentient Communication.”
I’m very excited that special guest Ann L. Baldwin, Ph.D. will share her influential research on the physiology of horse-human interactions, heart health, biofeedback, and energy healing. Through her research, Ann has accessed a scientifically measurable mechanism to explain, at least in part, why “Heart Breathing” works. This seminar is for healthcare professionals, counselors, equine-facilitated therapy practitioners, parents, teachers, leaders, horse trainers, and animal rescue-workers who would like to learn skills to promote individual well-being, foster stronger personal relationships, boost professional effectiveness, and enhance interspecies intercommunication.
For more information on Sentient Communication™ in general and the Beyond Words workshop in particular, please read a fuller description at http://eponaquest.com/workshop/beyond-words/
Hope to see you there!
Copyright 2017 by Linda Kohanov