“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% increased chance of longevity. Social connection strengthens our 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
Authentic social connection is an elusive concept in today’s world, because it is something that we must consciously experience, pay attention to and work at. When we consider that since the Industrial Revolution, in the late 1700’s, 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 largely moving towards an autonomous existence that is self-reliant and goal driven, with little reliance on body language or as much exposure to nature and animals. Simply stated, the human brain has not evolved past needing warm social connection, the rhythm of nature and contact with animals over the last 300 years. Enter anxiety and depression…our brains are hungry and seeking this connection.
Purposely engaging our “right” brain and/or 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. In society’s fast pace, humans must slow down and realize that these sensations are being felt, recognize an emotion related to these sensations and then act. 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 very little encouragement to recognize and respond to emotions as part of our decision-making processes.
Instead, 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. The sensations and emotions are still there, we are just stuffing them and our bodies are storing them to come out later! Not pretty.
The goal is to integrate both “sides” of our brain. This is where true social connection comes into play, and again, this is an elusive goal that we must consciously practice. When we cooperate, interact and exchange signals with each other, we create cross-brain connections, and that is when we experience joy, satisfaction, productivity and fulfillment. Practicing what true connection feels like is necessary. But how do we do this?
Enter, horses. Horses are masters at relationships. They are 1200-pound prey animals and live in herds for safety, therefore hard-wired for healthy relationships. They exist in a very interdependent way, relying on one another, respecting each other’s role in the herd and realizing that the overall health of the entire herd is primary to their survival. They live in the present and do not worry about the future or drag the past along on daily excursions. They recognize when their nervous systems are sending them signals, pay attention, act if needed and then go back to grazing. Another gift they have is clear communication! They have mastered the art of non-verbal communication, setting intention, collaborating, healthy confrontation, boundary setting and instant forgiveness.
I have learned that if we allow these gracious and beautiful animals the opportunity to teach us when we are present and fully engaged, we are able to better connect with others, experience moments of relaxation and rest, be more clear-minded and productive and access our intuition and creativity. They are able to do this by using their natural ability to read our intention or energy. This is something they have used for thousands of years to determine if a predator is hunting or simply walking by. If they ran every time they saw a predator, then they would not have the energy to run when it was truly needed.
This work that we do at South Wind Equestrian and Retreat Center is truly life-changing. Humans get to practice not only re-connecting with themselves and being present, but also how to experience and the sustain authentic warm social connection. Horses do not lie. Their feedback is instantaneous and authentic, in a beautiful peaceful and safe atmosphere, free of the sounds of civilization. Once our clients experience what true connections feels like, their lives are transformed, the relationships become healthier through boundary setting, clearer communication, more self-confidence and fully experiencing life’s joys and sorrows.
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