I follow a great horse trainer called Warwick Schiller
I’ve used his methods with my horses and really love his energy and his endless quest for self-improvement.
He has a great story to explain the concept of capacity/bandwidth/stress management, and while he is using it to explain an element of horse-training, it also fits perfectly for us humans too. It is absolutely relevant for a yoga and wellbeing website I promise.
So, the story goes (I’m completely paraphrasing):
Warwick is at a clinic and someone there says ‘My horse has a screw loose. We ride out all the time in the early mornings when there are lots of rabbits darting about. We can be riding along and one rabbit pops out, my horse doesn’t blink an eye, or might give it a quick look but carries on regardless. As we go on, more rabbits pop out of the grass and undergrowth… Rabbits everywhere but he’s still fine. Then, all of a sudden, another rabbit scoots out, no different from the others but he’s absolutely scared to death by it! Leaping about as if it’s a mountain lion or something.”
Warwick’s take on this was to explain what happened using the idea of a ‘worry cup’: Imagine the horse has a cup that holds any worries or stresses he may have. When he started the ride that cup was completely empty. When the horse saw the first rabbit, it caused a little bit of worry and the horse held onto that worry. When he saw the second rabbit, it caused a little bit more worry and he held on to that as well, and so on and so forth. After the twelfth or so rabbit, he had accumulated a lot of worry and his worry cup was now full… So, once that thirteenth rabbit jumped out, his cup over-flowed, and this presented as just ‘freaking out’ or ‘having a screw loose’.
It’s not a big leap to relate that to us humans.
Let’s just imagine our own worry cups for a second. The size of your cup could depend on how much sleep you had last night, whether you’re in physical pain, whether your alarm scared you half to death while waking you up…you get the idea. Then, throughout the day things happen that take up space in your cup (I’m taking a wild guess you’re not laying on a beach somewhere hot drinking cocktails this week? And if you are, I’d keep my head down if I were you 😉). The day starts with a silly disagreement with your partner, you brush it off, then there’s terrible traffic on your way to work. It’s OK. Then, something going wrong on a project at work… you sort it out, then move on. Your cup may be filling, but it isn’t full, so you just carry it around with you all day.
Or, maybe you’re juggling working from home with childcare/home-schooling/running a house. Each interruption, each time you have to stop work to break up a fight, tidy up the spilled paints, or soothe an upset child fills your cup a little bit more.
Then, suddenly, it’s late afternoon. You’re driving home and someone cuts you up. You see red. Blasting them on the horn and swearing and shouting and screaming through the window at them. You nearly cause an accident. Heart racing, hands shaking, not breathing. Not thinking. You pull over to calm down and promptly burst into tears. Do you have a major anger issue with inconsiderate road users usually? Of course not. You had just reached your threshold. The cup was full. This was the tipping point of your capacity to hold any more activation in your system, so you went into overwhelm, just like the horse in the story.
Back to Mr Schiller then. He says our job is to help our horses empty their worry cup, so it never gets close to overflow. I absolutely agree.
Who is going to do that for us though?
The answer can only be us.
What can we do to empty our cups, or even increase the size of them?
For me, the first challenge was even recognising the early signs of stress in my body. Identifying the early ‘rabbits’ is important because it means that we can empty them out before the cup is anywhere near close to full. Often, for me, it starts with a flutter in the back of my throat and upper chest. Other people I know talk of churning stomachs, dull headaches, or forgetting to eat.
Warning signs that the cup is filling up further can be feelings of frustration or snapping at people, abandoning a new habit such as healthy eating by mid-afternoon, even though you started the day with the best of intentions. We’ve all been there I think.
So what else can we do if you start to feel like your cup is in danger of spilling over?
Well, you know I’m going to say start with movement (it’s the same for horses btw).
Depending on how you’re feeling. If you’re operating from a place of fight or flight (see the earlier red-mist driver example above), a good starting point is anything that utilises the same big muscle groups that we would activate back in the caveman days when we need to escape or fight for our lives. So, glutes, quads, biceps, triceps. That’s part of why people find activities like running or stronger yoga postures great for stress relief.
A super quick easy option is to simply standing up from your desk and stomp your feet, hard. If you’ve been to one of my classes you know that I love a bit of stomping and whole-body shaking. Obviously, this is easier to do if you’re working from home and not in an open-plan office full of people.
Sometimes we end up on the other end of the pendulum though: Absolutely exhausted, shutting down from communication, with a strong desire to do nothing – basically, a collapse response. In these times, I always turn to Dru’s energy block release sequences because they are so gentle but so effective at rebalancing the system. Energy Block Release 7 is even performed entirely on the floor so can be great for those moments when all you want to do is lay down but are too wired to sleep.
Or, if yoga feels like too much effort, simply patting down the body with the palm of your hands to help you feel into the edges of your skin. Brushing your body in a bath or shower, or even rolling your shoulders forward and back can help shift yourself back into more of a balanced place.
I’ll finish by saying that we combine so many of these stress relief, nervous system regulation elements in every Dru class as standard. That’s why, so many people who come to class aiming to become more flexible or a more effective sports person find a greater sense of balance and wellbeing in class too. 🧡
I would love to know your thoughts on this.