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Emotional Intelligence Toolkit

Step 4: Learn to Ride the Wild Horse

Ride the Wild Horse: A Mindfulness Meditation Exercise

Our feelings often seem like a wild horse, full of fear and uncontrolled energy. The only way to accept and tame these feelings is to take up the reins and learn how to ride them.

Learning to Ride the Wild Horse

Wild HorseThe Ride the Wild Horse mindfulness meditation teaches you how to harness all your emotions—even the uncomfortable or overwhelming ones you may have tried to avoid. You’ll learn how to ride out intense emotions, remaining in control of the experience and in control of your behavior.

The goal of this practice is to help you learn to:

  • get in touch with your emotions
  • live with emotional intensity
  • manage unpleasant or threatening feelings
  • stay calm and focused even in upsetting situations

Beyond relaxation

The goal of the Ride the Wild Horse meditation is not simply to relax, but to become more aware of the feeling sensations—both emotional and physical—throughout your body.

As you’ve already learned, many of us have subconsciously learned to numb and dampen our feelings. While it seems like this would be difficult to do, it’s actually relatively easy: we simply tighten our muscles and hold our breath. Remember, there is a powerful connection between our physical and emotional feelings. When we restrict our bodies, we also restrict our emotions. The Ride the Wild Horse meditation is designed to reverse this habit. By focusing on the physical sensations in your body, you’ll become more in touch with your emotions.

You’ll also recover long-buried emotions and learn to feel comfortable with them. This is where the Ride the Wild Horse exercise differs from other meditations. It teaches you how to tolerate strong emotions and remain focused even when you’re stressed. With practice, it will become a habit—a reflex that will kick in to help you stay calm when you’re faced with upsetting situations or conflicts with others.

If you fear the outcome of intense emotions, understand that learning to mindfully experience strong feelings like anger can give you the ability to contain your emotions and control your behavior.

Setting the stage

Set the stage for learning to ride the wild horse by creating a safe private space—a space that’s pleasant and energizing, where you won’t be disturbed. Carefully select and include sensory props to look at, smell, touch, taste, or feel that instantly make you feel calm.

  • Turn off your phone and lock the door if you need to.
  • Select a chair that supports a straight back, or you can sit in a rocking chair if movement calms and soothes you.
  • Take off your shoes and loosen your belt.
  • You should remain alert throughout the process, so don’t drink alcohol, smoke, or dull yourself in any way.
  • Choose a time of day when you are wide-awake. After a big meal or when you are sleepy is not a good time.

What to expect from the meditation

During the meditation, you may experience a release of emotions: you may groan, tremble, speak, or cry. This is not a cause for alarm but an indication that you have broken through an area of blocked emotion. Neither is it a cause for concern if you don’t experience a dramatic emotional breakthrough. Emotional release can take place very quietly over hours, days, or even months. Think of a slowly healing wound.

If you start to feel uncomfortable at any time during the meditation, don't hesitate to open your eyes and use sensory input to quickly calm and center yourself. Then you can get back on the horse by continuing with the meditation.

Before you start

Don’t start the Ride the Wild Horse meditation until you are confident in your ability to quickly manage stress in the moment. This is especially important if you are prone to panic attacks or have a history of unresolved trauma. Your quick stress relief skills are vital to enable you to fully explore any emotion that arises during the exercise and remain comfortable.

Listen now to the meditations

There are four versions of the Ride the Wild Horse meditation, each different, each important to the process, and each progressively more advanced than the one before. You will build on your skills as you practice the meditations, so please start at the beginning, rather than jumping in at a more advanced level.

For transcripts of these meditations, click here.

Work at your own pace and listen to your instincts. Don’t push yourself too hard, especially if you’ve been traumatized in the past. Some people may take months to work up to the deepest meditation. Keep in mind that you don’t have to complete all four meditations to experience benefits. Every time you practice one of the meditations, you’ll make progress.

Beginning meditation

Learn how to relax and open yourself up to discovering physical and emotional sensations throughout your body.

You can move on to the intermediate meditation when you feel alive to the feelings and sensations throughout your body.

Intermediate meditation

Learn how to identify the physical and emotional sensations in your body that stand out from the rest—that feel stronger or different.

You can move on to the deeper meditation when you are able to pinpoint and focus on different or unusual sensations and feelings in your body.

Deeper meditation

Learn how to stay emotionally connected even in situations that make you feel uncomfortable or mildly stressed.

You can move on to the deepest meditation when you are completely confident of your ability to remain calm and focused in mildly stressful or uncomfortable situations.

Deepest meditation

Learn how to remain focused, alert, and emotionally aware at all times, even in the most stressful situations.

Continue to practice this meditation until you’re able to stay connected to your feelings, secure in your ability to remain calm and focused in even the most stressful situations.

If you are having difficulty practicing the meditations

If you felt tense or numb…

Many of us numb ourselves and learn to ignore our emotions by squeezing our muscles tight and holding our breath. Consequently, it is only by learning to relax your body and breathe deeply that you will become emotionally aware.

Maintain slow relaxed breathing throughout the meditation:

  1. Close your eyes and take several slow, deep breaths, releasing your thoughts each time you exhale.
  2. Exhale as much air as you inhaled.
  3. For a deeper sensation, try repeating the phrases "soft belly" and "soft chest" as you breathe in and out.

If you had trouble identifying and exploring emotions…

There are two ways to trigger emotional exploration:

  1. Ask yourself what emotion you're experiencing right now and explore the physical sensations related to that emotion.
  2. Recall an emotional memory, an event from your past that disturbed or upset you, and direct your focus to the physical sensations that memory triggers.

The second option can be more intense if the emotional memory continues to force its way into your life or trouble you in other ways. Keep the recall process as short as possible—just long enough to return your focus to the physical sensations the memory evokes in your body.

After each meditation session

At the end of each meditation, it's important to shift your attention away from an exclusively internal focus on your physical and emotional feelings. Return your attention to your everyday, external concerns such as work, leisure, and relationships.

You may notice that even though you are no longer giving your full attention to your feelings, some awareness of what you are feeling will remain with you, in the background of your consciousness. This means that you are integrating the process into your everyday life, which will give you a greater sense of control over your emotions.

Talk to someone about your experience

It’s important to find a person you can talk to about your experiences with the Ride the Wild Horse meditation. What did you learn about yourself? What did you discover about your emotions? Speaking to someone face-to-face will help you retain what you’ve learned.

Short-term memory tends to dull quickly, so it’s best to speak to someone about your experience within 36 hours of completing the meditation.

If you don’t have anyone to talk to, you can talk to yourself in a mirror about your experience, although this technique is not as effective as having an actual discussion with someone else.

Frequently asked questions about the meditations

Q: How much time do I need to invest in Ride the Wild Horse?

A: It takes about 21 to 28 consecutive days to create a new habit, but if you do the process correctly and often, you'll experience daily benefits. As you want the process to become second nature to you—so you don't "forget" to apply the skills in times of extreme stress—it may take a little longer. Practice the Ride the Wild Horse meditation until you are comfortable using the skills in the most challenging circumstances.

Q: How long does each practice session last?

A: The beginning and intermediate meditations take approximately 16 to 17 minutes to complete. The deeper meditation takes approximately 20 minutes, and the deepest meditation takes nearly 30 minutes.

Q: What should I do if I initially feel something in one part of my body, and a stronger sensation occurs somewhere else?

A: Always follow the intensity. Focus on the strongest sensation you feel.

Q: What if I don't feel anything or I just feel empty?

A: That's normal. Pay attention to the feeling of having no feeling, or of being numb or empty.

Q: I’m getting emotional during the meditation, is that normal?

A: Yes. Releasing repressed feelings can be intense. If you cry, tremble, moan, or make other sounds, remember to breathe deeply and hold your focus. It is okay to experience these emotions—as long as you can calm and focus yourself and feel in control of the process.

Q: What if I have trouble making it through the meditation?

A: Practice in very short segments—from three to five minutes a couple of times a day. If after numerous attempts you still feel uncomfortable, you might consider seeking the support of a trauma specialist.

Q: Do people really have to learn to experience joy?

A: Some do. There are those for whom any kind of emotional intensity feels intimidating because they fear a loss of control.

Q: How soon after I complete the process should I talk with someone who is a good listener about my experiences?

A: Share within a day or two if possible. If more than two days pass, your memory of the experience is likely to fade.

Q: Would writing in a journal be similar to talking to someone?

A: No! Writing engages different parts of the brain than speaking face to face.

Q: Can I listen to the meditations offline or in an airplane mode?

A: Yes! See links in Download the Meditations below.

If you are having difficulty playing the meditations

Make sure your browser is updated to the latest version. The meditations may not play on Firefox. If this happens on your system, please switch to Chrome, Internet Explorer or Safari.

Listen to the meditations offline (or airplane mode)

Download instructions

Internet Explorer: Right click on the desired track below and select the "Save Target As..." menu item.

Firefox or Chrome: Right click on the desired track below and select the "Save Link As..." menu item.

Safari: Right click on the desired track below and select the "Download Linked File As..." menu item.

*For touchscreen devices (e.g. Android tablets or Kindle), use a long press instead of right clicking.

*iPads require a third party app to save mp3 files.