Like Riding a Horse
As I was reading through the section on pain management during childbirth in Dr. Sears’ The Pregnancy Book this afternoon I was thinking about how difficult it will be to relax my body once it beings tensing up naturally in response to pain. I can sit here on my couch with my feet up and practice relaxing my muscles, but I can’t wrap my head around what it will be like to relax them in the midst of a contraction.
Dr. Sears recommends “Relax & Release,” meaning that a woman in labor should relax between contractions and then release into them as they begin, letting them wash over her body rather than bracing herself against them. A bit further on he mentions imagining calming scenes to help the body relax. I was going through my mental list of pleasant imagery: sitting on the beach at dusk, hearing the sound of rain on the windows, riding a horse as it lopes along and feeling the breeze against my skin — and then it hit me. I do know what it is like to relax when the body wants to automatically tense up. It’s like riding a horse!
Ever since I was first put on a horse as a young girl, I was always a very natural rider. It wasn’t something I had to learn, it was just something that I did and did well. Once the foreman of my parents’ ranch said that he wanted to videotape me riding so that he could use it to show other people how it should be done. The key to riding well is being totally relaxed. You are on top of this very large animal, sometimes moving at high speeds, and yet you have to release your body and let it move fluidly with the motions of the horse. If you don’t relax, you will bounce around awkwardly, lose your balance, and strain your muscles.
When you’re up on a horse, especially if you are not experienced, your natural inclination is to tense your entire body, to hold on tightly with your legs wrapped around the horse’s sides, to grip the reins hard in your hands, to hold on to the saddle. Riding will be difficult and unpleasant until you can force your muscles to let go. You shoulders should be back at a natural angle, your arms should hang down loosely, the reins should be able to slide easily through your hands, and your legs should dangle rather than clasp around the horse (granted, you do have to grip with your thighs a bit, but your calves and feet should be relaxed).
Achieving the degree of relaxation required to ride with natural form can be a challenge, even for someone who knows what they are doing. If you are an experienced rider on a horse you know and have a bond with, relaxing and releasing is fairly easy and comes naturally, but if you find yourself on a horse you don’t know or one you don’t trust, you’ll tense up, so you have to learn to force the relaxation.
Anyway, all of this to say that I’m really excited by the realization that I, at least on some level, understand how to relax the right parts of body even when everything is telling me not to. I hope that while I’m in labor I’ll remember how it feels to let my body move with a horse and use my experience to let my body move with the contractions. If nothing else, I can think back to all of those warm afternoon I spent horseback, swaying with the rhythmic motion of a force greater than myself.