This material is for information and support; not a substitute for professional advice.
Ride the Wild Horse
A MEDITATION EXERCISE FOR EMOTIONAL AWARENESS
How the meditation exercise works
Ride the Wild Horse is part mindfulness meditation and part stress relief practice that quickly and dependably brings your nervous system into balance. The purpose of Ride the Wild Horse is to prepare you to become more emotionally aware and to successfully resolve emotionally challenging situations that occur throughout your everyday life. The meditation exercise teaches you to experience all your emotions—no matter how intense—and remain in control of the experience and in control of your behavior.
When you are able to manage stress and avoid becoming emotionally overwhelmed, you'll be more resilient and better able to handle life's challenges, including loss, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, sleep problems, and relationship difficulties. The human brain is capable of changing throughout life, so adults of any age can learn these skills.
- The mindfulness meditation part of Ride the Wild Horse focuses your awareness on the physical and emotional sensations within your body. By using the skills you learned in Quick Stress Relief you'll be able to fully explore any emotion that arises during the exercise and remain comfortable while doing so.
- The quick stress relief practice enables you to let the intensity of the emotions you experience grow in a way that is comfortable for you, while allowing you to remain in control of your experience.
By learning how to experience and handle even difficult or painful emotions within the "safety" of the meditation exercise, you'll be able to resolve long-standing emotional issues and be better equipped to deal with demanding situations in your everyday life. Instead of becoming overwhelmed by daily challenges or stressful events, you'll be able to remain calm and focused and maintain your emotional balance.
Benefits of learning to Ride the Wild Horse
- Ability to avoid emotional overwhelm. When you're faced with stress, anxiety, or other challenging situations, your nervous system won't shut down leaving you with only three options: fight, flight, or freeze.
- Greater confidence in your ability to face and successfully resolve conflict. Once you know how to remain emotionally present and manage stress, you can avoid over- or under-reacting in emotionally charged situations. You'll also be able to separate the painful past from the present, making conflict less threatening and even an opportunity to improve your relationships with others.
- Improved ability to read other people's feelings and behavior. When you develop your capacity to recognize and understand your own emotions, you'll automatically find it easier to read nonverbal messages conveyed by others.
- More happiness. You are better able to deal with pain and adversity when you retain the ability to also experience pleasure. With greater emotional awareness, life's imperfections, including your own, will become more amusing and less threatening.
- Better ability to break addictive habits. It becomes easier to break compulsive and destructive habits because you no longer need to numb or distance yourself from painful and distressing feelings or emotional memories. You'll also be able to make better choices for your physical and emotional health.
- Keeps you in touch with your intuition. When you're in touch with what you feel, you are in touch with your intuition—the instinctive knowledge that keeps us and our species alive.
Before you practice the meditation exercise
Learn to quickly relieve stress in the moment with quick stress relief
As you’re learning to experience a wide range of emotions, you may touch on feelings that are painful, frightening, or uncomfortable. To ensure that you remain safely in control if this happens, you will need to be familiar with quick stress relief and have sensory props on hand to quickly calm and soothe yourself. Just as you wouldn't drive a car without knowing how to use the brakes, you shouldn't tackle difficult emotions without first knowing how to apply the brakes of quick stress relief. The articles Quick Stress Relief and Be a Stress Busting Detective will prepare you for this.
Identify the person you will talk to about your meditating experience
Need help finding a good listener?
For tips on finding someone you can talk to, read How to Find a Friend and Build Rewarding Friendships.
It’s important to find a person you can talk to about your experiences with the Ride the Wild Horse meditation exercise. Speaking to someone will help your brain integrate your experience. Short-term memory tends to dull quickly, so it’s best to speak to someone about your experience within 36 hours of completing Ride the Wild Horse.
Ride the Wild Horse: A User's Guide
Both the beginning and advanced sections of Ride the Wild Horse consist of meditation exercises in two parts:
- The first part combines progressive relaxation with deep breathing and a focus on feelings triggered by deep relaxation.
- The second part is a meditation exercise that incorporates mindfulness to focus on the moment-to-moment physical and emotional sensations that continually flow through your body.
You may choose to listen to either a female or a male voice, and written transcripts of each are also available. The difference between the beginning and advanced meditation exercises is one of intensity. If you find that you are more comfortable staying with the lower intensity of the beginning meditation exercise, there is no harm in doing so.
Begin Ride the Wild Horse mindfulness meditation by creating a safe space
- Take off your shoes and loosen your belt or any tight clothing.
- Take the phone off the hook, and close the door.
- Find a comfortable chair that supports your back or lie down (but only if you're sure you won't drift off to sleep).
- Don't smoke, drink alcohol, or eat during this process.
- Surround yourself with any sensory props you need for quick stress relief.
Maintain slow relaxed breathing throughout the meditation
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.
- Close your eyes and take several slow, deep breaths, releasing your thoughts each time you exhale.
- Exhale as much air as you inhaled.
- For a deeper sensation, try repeating the phrases "soft belly" and "soft chest" as you breathe in and out.
Trigger emotional exploration
There are two ways to trigger emotional exploration:
- Ask yourself what emotion you're experiencing right now and explore the physical sensations related to that emotion.
- 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.
Explore increasingly intense emotional sensations by focusing on physical sensations
As feelings become more intense, you can ride the experience by continuing to breathe deeply and relaxing your body. However, if the feelings you experience become overwhelming and you start to feel out of control, switch your focus back to quick stress relief in order to bring your nervous system back into balance before continuing.
- Use the beginning meditation exercise to explore mildly disturbing emotions
- Use the advanced meditation exercise to explore more disturbing emotions
Wait until you are comfortable with moderately intense emotions before you try to connect to stronger feelings.
Every time you correctly practice the meditation exercise, you should feel a little more energy and a little more comfortable with your emotional experience.
It's important to end the meditation by shifting your focus in a timely way
At the end of the meditation, it's important to shift your attention away from an exclusively internal focus on your physical and emotional feelings to an external focus outside of yourself that includes work, planning, and relationships. There is no additional benefit to spending more than 30 or 40 minutes on the meditation. 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 awareness. This means that you are integrating the process into your everyday life which will give you a greater sense of control over your emotions.
Tips for integrating emotional awareness into your life
- Don't rush the meditative process. Your brain will absorb more if you move slowly. A slow gradual exploration will be more penetrating and more comfortable. Take time to notice the small changes that add up to life change.
- Build up a tolerance. Wait until you are comfortable with moderately intense emotions before you try to connect to stronger feelings. Once you are confident in your ability to handle moderately intense emotions, you can move on to the advanced audio meditation and add five or ten more minutes to the meditative process.
Honing your skills
- Practice, practice, practice. The more you repeat the meditations, the more comfortable you will feel with your emotional experiences and the greater change you’ll experience in your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Like building muscles in a gym, the more you flex emotions, the more “emotional muscle” you will build.
- Set up predictable challenges. Try practicing your emotional health work at predictable times of stress, when the stakes are low. For example, tune into your body while doing household chores or commuting through heavy traffic.
Staying on track
- Expect setbacks. Don’t lose hope if you backslide into old habits now and then. It happens. Instead of giving up after a setback, vow to start afresh next time and learn from your mistakes.
- When in doubt, return to your body. If you’re struggling to manage your mood in a tough situation, take a deep breath, and apply quick stress relief.
Tears and trembling: don’t be alarmed
If you find yourself getting emotional during the meditation, don’t be alarmed. It’s normal. Releasing repressed feelings can be intense. Common emotional releases include:
- Moaning and other sounds
- Moving and stretching spontaneously
Remind yourself that it is okay to experience these emotions—as long as you can calm and focus yourselves and feel in control of the process. If you begin to shake or cry, continue to relax, breathe deeply, and hold your focus.
Frequently asked questions about Ride the Wild Horse
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 Ride the Wild Horse until you are comfortable using the skills in the most challenging circumstances.
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: 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 no feeling or of being numb or empty.
Q: How long should these sessions last?
A: Start with 5 or 10 minutes and work up to 20 or 30 minutes. More than 40 minutes is unnecessary and may even be counter-productive.
Q: What if even seven minutes continues to feel like too much time?
A: Practice in very short segments of 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.
Listen & Practice: Ride the Wild Horse Meditation. The process includes both Beginning and Advanced meditation exercises, each with provisions for either listening online or downloading MP3 files for listening offline.