Change Your Brain To Live a More Contented Life

If you are presently unhappy in many aspects of your life, it can feel like a dark place. A mindset that is clouded by daily thoughts of dread and negativity can really wear on a person’s self-esteem, self-worth and physical health.

When there is discontentment, there’s a tendency to get trapped in the never-ending cycle of waiting for the day when “it” will all change – “When I have a new job…a new relationship…a bigger home…”

Contentedness does not come out of an external place, like the striving for more possessions or making more money or living a more exciting life, for instance. If that has been your focus in life, then it will not hold up over time. Your thoughts will always be running a tape that ultimately say, “You are not enough.” This is because once you get the bigger house, the job promotion and the new relationship, you immediately start planning your next bigger, better this and that.

Being authentically content starts with the realization that you are the creator of your reality.

Our thoughts dictate how we view the world and ultimately, how we feel. If you tend to see life through these kinds of ideas and messages…

·      You’re looking for that next better thing

·      You must work hard to get everything you need

·      You look toward others and society for approval

·      You’re worried about what others think of you

·      You’re jealous and envious of other people’s successes

·      You’re focused on your image and the way you look

·      You blame others from keeping you from having the life you want

·      You feel that you never have enough money, sex, time, stuff, friends, etc.

…then you have become lost along the way and this is why you feel so empty.

As William Shakespeare wrote, “Nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” Thoughts are powerful. They are the precursor to our feeling states.

Even when it looks as though your emotional state is being dictated by your circumstances, that is never true. Just get quiet and curious for a moment, and ask yourself, “If I weren’t thinking this way, how might I feel differently?”

The happiness you have been seeking outside of yourself can be yours when you learn to stop chasing the illusion, and instead, begin to have more kindness, compassion and love toward yourself.

The more we are willing to genuinely love from within, even when it feels hard, the less we go searching for contentedness in the wrong places. When we are comforted by our own self-love, we no longer need to find comfort through external fixes.

Contentedness is a state of being fulfilled with what you already have within you. And at the same time, striving to improve, to become a better human being, regardless of how happy and content you are.

So you’re wondering, “How do I break the cycle of discontent and emptiness and learn to really love myself?”

We can harness the brain’s plasticity by training our brain to make positive thought patterns more automatic.

Neural pathways are like superhighways of nerve calls that transmit messages. After many years and decades of negative belief patterns traveling over the superhighway, the pathway becomes more and more solidified. And because the brain is always changing, with practice you can forge newer, healthier and more positive pathways, by creating new thought/feeling habits. That’s called neuroplasticity.

Mindfulness skills integrated into ones daily life can interrupt the negative and habitual feedback loops that can rewire the brain to think more positively. The regular practice of mindfulness meditation increases gray matter in the hippocampus, an area of the brain important for learning, memory, and emotion, and reducing gray matter in the amygdala, an area of the brain associated with stress and anxiety.

Spending 5 to 10 minutes daily sitting still while focusing on your in-breath and out-breath, trains the brain to quiet down, disengage the stress response, and move into a relaxation response that is more open to letting go of the more habitual neural pathways. Mindfully tracking your thoughts consistently throughout your day by redirecting habitual negative thoughts to new positive thoughts will carve out new and more accessible neural pathways.

Visualization is almost as powerful as the real thing given your brain cannot tell the difference between something real or imagined. Research shows that anytime you are thinking you are engaging and thus conditioning neural pathways, so why not create positive, calming images to change the brain? The most important part of using visualization to strengthen healthy habits is to engage your emotion. Positive emotion provides the fuel to enlist more neural power for creating new healthier neural networks. Find time throughout your day imagining yourself feeling and being more content in your life.

Gratitude is one of the best ways to move more readily towards positive thoughts and feelings of contentment. Whenever you are not content with something, take a moment and count all the blessings in your life. If you honestly do that, then you are creating the opportunity for more blessed moments in your life! Let your focus be on what you have rather than on what you don’t have. Think about all the pleasant moments in your life regularly. Be grateful for every little thing, for every person in your life, and thank him or her silently.

And finally, enjoy the simple things in life whether it’s conversations with strangers, taking slow gentle walks, or spending quality time with friends. Whatever you do, no matter how small, how inexpensive, and how trivial or simple, enjoy it and recognize that each moment of these positive thoughts lead more and more to authentic happy and contented living.

-Tanya Vallianos

Tanya Vallianos, MA, LPC, ATR, NCC, EMDR III, EAP II is a psychotherapist in private practice in Fort Collins, CO. She can be reached at or 970-420-9504.

True Blessings

Yes, it’s true. Our beautiful, sentient equine friends know how to connect with the Universe at Soul level much more readily than us humans. Why? They know how to be in the moment and appreciate and surrender to whatever is occurring right then and there, The world “just IS” to them. For us – it’s not so easy.

We have these large frontal lobes that think a lot. And we tend not to be very connected to our bodies, which tell us what is going on at the sensory/emotional/intuitive/nervous system level. This is where horses mostly hang out. And they’re really good at it. They can show us how to be more deeply connected by being more mindful, by being more in the present moment and surrendering to what “Is.”

If you want to experience more connection at a Soul level, incorporating gratitude into your everyday life will help you open your heart and have relationship with your true essence – that of Love. In each moment when you are present with the idea of being blessed that you have food to eat, a home to live in, that your family loves you, express thanks to the Universe for all that you have, however big or small.

After all, you are the Universe experiencing itself, so any experience can help you reach higher levels of consciousness. Even if you experience something negative, still you can try to remain thankful. Valuable lessons are often disguised as tough teachers. These too are gifts to be treasured despite the challenges.

-Tanya Vallianos

Tanya Vallianos, MA, LPC, ATR, NCC, EMDR III, EAP II is a psychotherapist in private practice in Fort Collins, CO. She can be reached at or 970-420-9504.

Simply Being

It can be challenging to allow ourselves to slow down and find quiet time. If you haven’t noticed, there tends to be a cultural acceptance of “busyness” here in the States. It is a paradigm based on doing rather than being. And if we are not accomplishing or acquiring, then something must be wrong. We often feel guilty when we’re not making something happen and can easily be drawn into feelings of unworthiness in comparison to our peers’ accomplishments.

When we are not in the company of others, we often find ourselves distracted by technology in one form or another – phones, computers, TVs. Subconsciously, we are aware that we are afraid of what we may find beneath the myriad of layers of busyness, external stimulation and achievement. Yet, without solitude and quiet time, we miss the opportunity for inner growth and renewal.

It is in the quiet moments that we can see things more clearly. We can leave behind the demands of work, people, family, media, and life. In the West, there is nothing that teaches and fosters us to go inward, thus we must claim that part of ourselves on our own. It is within those moments that we devout to our soul, our spirit through meditation, prayer, and time in nature, where stillness is noticed and appreciated.

At anytime still, we can capture moments in between meetings and phone calls to just “be.” Close the door to your office or go for a neighborhood walk around the block and breath in that alone time. Daily we can practice doing nothing. Let it come organically, in the moment with little forethought or striving. Allow it to come from a deeper place from within. And mostly just enjoy.

-Tanya Vallianos

Tanya Vallianos, MA, LPC, ATR, NCC, EMDR III, EAP II is a psychotherapist in private practice in Fort Collins, CO. She can be reached at or 970-420-9504.

When Life Keeps Throwing Curve Balls

Surrendering to Impermanence

Surrendering to Impermanence

All of us have been here at some point in our lives (maybe more than we'd like to admit) – a stretch of time when it feels like the universe is out to get you. It feels like a dark cloud looms over you and you alone. There’s a series of unfortunate events that make life very challenging and nothing that you do seems to line-up with the good stuff. You constantly feel like you’re waiting for the next shoe to drop. And, worse off, everyone else seems to be doing just fine.

I’m often reminded of this phenomenon when I’m listening to clients’ stories. They express feelings of being overwhelmed, distressed and depressed. “Why does this keep happening to me?” “When will it all end?” are often the questions asked behind a stream of tears.

Usually our emotional reactions are accompanied with thoughts of, “How can I make it stop?” This would be a natural reaction since humans tend to want and need a sense of control in their lives to feel safe, secure and comfortable. Abraham Maslow presented this idea as a basic human need. It is at this second level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the needs for security and safety become primary. It is no wonder when life feels over-the-top that we resort back to these primal, instinctual levels of thinking/feeling.

Surrendering to the process of life

Suffering is an integral part of being human. The Buddha recognized this over 2000 years ago. He explained this through the principal teachings of “dukkha,” which refer to the physical and psychological experience of suffering, change, discontentedness, and emptiness. This is the idea that we tend to hold onto and have expectations as to how our lives need to be.

We suffer because we project the myth of permanence upon a situation that is actually innately and constantly changing – ungraspable and mysterious.  This is the true nature of life, yet we consistently believe that we can control our reality. We think that we can know and possess our lives, our loves, our identities, and even our possessions. Samsara, “the cycle of suffering,” is a direct result of our desire for permanence. It is the tight grip of our grasping of self or ego.

Buddha taught that we can find a way to accept those things that we are unable to control and at the same time change our thoughts, beliefs and emotions about the things that we are able to have an affect on. It is this ability to understand life as a dream, a fleeting moment in time, that can lead to more experiences of happiness and well-being. And even happiness is seen to be temporaryIt is this dance of being in the present moment that frees us from the need to control our very existence. It is the realization that we are interconnected to the whole of life within the universe, shifting, morphing, transforming with it. And that it’s all okay.

Just as you pick a flower, you are aware that the flower will wilt and die in time. And still you are able to appreciate its beauty and smell it’s sweet aroma in the moment. This is a metaphor for how you can live life - savoring every moment – whether good, bad or neutral. Surrendering to what is. Staying in the flow. It is this knowing that everything ultimately changes that leads to less suffering.

An aware mind

This is not about denying the pain or sweeping it under the rug. We can look at it truthfully, feeling our feelings, knowing that we are connected to all beings that suffer. We can touch into our hearts and feel loving-kindness towards ourselves, and all that is. And because we are able to see it from a point of clarity, we are more able to know what needs to be done to ease the suffering.

A consistent mindfulness practice allows us to observe ourselves silently and with eyes wide open – present and aware and watchful of what unfolds and arises from within. This can take time and can be challenging, but the process itself is very rewarding.

To look deeply at these things in our everyday lives, especially within us, is to realize not only the interconnected nature of all things but also the impermanence of it all. It is because of these realizations that we can begin to be less ruled by our distorted and distressing thoughts - leading to less attachment to outcomes and finding ways to be grateful for “what is”. Ultimately, this gives us a way to experience more feelings of calm, peace of mind and true compassion.

-Tanya Vallianos

Tanya Vallianos, MA, LPC, ATR, NCC, EMDR III, EAP II is a psychotherapist in private practice in Fort Collins, CO. She can be reached at or 970-420-9504.


Getting Out of Your Own Way on The Path to Self-Love

Shine the light on you. you're worth it!

Shine the light on you. you're worth it!

Yesterday, I was working with a fairly new client that struggles with low self-esteem and self-worth. We spent the session “tapping-in” resources of her team of nurturing, protective and wise helpers. She was able to do this with ease, but what became obvious in the end, was that she was quite aware of how much she felt that she was unworthy of anyone’s love, care and support. She found this thought to be distressing.

Often we need that reality check in the face of a caring, unconditional witness to know that we need real change. It’s the declaration that something is out of balance and has been a destructive force in one’s life. It’s the ability to say out loud, “I’ve been getting in my own way,” so that a new path can be carved out. How does one get past a long history of self-deprecation and feelings of emptiness, negativity and fear?

You discover that you can press pause in any moment and step back from the momentum of old, habitual thought patterns. From this vantage point, you’re able to consistently see where you get hung up and how the thought/feeling complex creates the distress that you say that you don’t want in your life.

With conscious awareness, you are more committed to living in ways that are wise, affirming, and aligned with your deepest desires and your highest good. With committed thought checking, a reframing of the old story, clarity and truth finally arrives. In those moments, asking Self: Do I believe I’m inadequate? Do I believe that I’m a victim? Do I believe I’m unlovable?

It is in those moments of suffering that you can befriend yourself, taking notice of the feelings present and ever so gently, kindly holding them, like you would a baby. Knowing that these feelings are just fueled by thoughts - they are not YOU. They are not in control of you.

There is no need to rid you of anything. Just be aware of your inner experience.

Now you can experience the spaciousness when you’re not hooked-in to the old story, even if it’s for a millisecond in time. Notice what is like to choose something different, to be more curious, than critical, to learn new ways of experiencing you - to get out of your own way.

This is a process. It won’t change overnight. It takes diligence, patience and self-determination. But that is what is involved in choosing to live a life more consciously – a life of authenticity, self-love and more joy.

-Tanya Vallianos

Tanya Vallianos, MA, LPC, ATR, NCC, EMDR III, EAP II is a psychotherapist in private practice in Fort Collins, CO. She can be reached at or 970-420-9504.

Journaling As a Mindfulness Practice

Journaling tangibly Helps us to connect to our inner world

Journaling tangibly Helps us to connect to our inner world

Journal writing can be compared to practicing mindfulness. A journal records the movement of one’s inner experience - reflections of the mental, emotional, and image-laden events within the writer in that moment in time. When we write, we are conscious of what is being written and stay focused on the writing process without judgment or criticism. Both involve being present in the now. By being fully conscious and present of our actions and our breath, we become present in what we do. Writing and other creative endeavors are similar.

I write to gain more insight of an experience, to remember an event that occurred and to feel emotion and have deeper understanding of what’s going on inside. Journaling is about making connections to my higher knowing. It is a moment in time where I am fully present in the process – aware of my thoughts, my body, the kinesthetic quality of writing, and the environment I’m in. I’m taking it all in as a moment-to-moment process. In the end, I’m finished and can tuck it away safely, until the next time.

There is something about the ability to face the difficulties of life, when emotions are painful or when our inner critic is loudly speaking in our ear, to take pause and utilize this safe container. Here, we are give permission to release. We can more easily and mindfully breathe with compassion for ourselves, staying centered and grounded through the process. And because of this we can find healing.

Dr. James Pennebaker, author of Writing to Heal has seen improved immune functioning in journaling participants. Stress and feelings of overwhelm often come from emotional blockages and neurotic over-thinking. The ability to free ones thoughts and emotions through writing is shown to lower anxiety, stress and induce sound sleep.

Journaling doesn’t always involve writing about challenges. Writing about our positive experiences can be quite helpful as well. It becomes life reaffirming. And our physiology responds by releasing endorphins and dopamine, thus boosting our mood and our outlook of the world.

As is true with meditation practice, mindful journaling, through the act of presenting, allows us to cultivate appreciation for Self in each moment. It brings us to live more harmoniously with all things, because it allows us the time to know ourselves, what triggers us, and what we are curious about - all without distraction. And the more we write, the more connected we are to all that is.

A Mindful Journaling Prompt:

  • Choose a quiet space in your home or in nature where you will not be distracted.
  • Begin by letting go of the day’s events and any tension that you’re aware of in your body, and focusing on your breath for a few minutes. One inhalation and one exhalation at a time.
  • When feeling more centered, write down a question. Write a few lines on anything you would like higher-self guidance on. Focusing on one question allows for deeper clarity and insight. For example, “How can I communicate more effectively with my boss?”; “Why do I have difficulty staying committed to exercising?”; or “How can I have deeper connection to my partner/spouse?”
  • Start to write. Let go of the thinking, judging mind, and write without thinking through stream of consciousness. If you get stuck, you can write, “I feel stuck.” Whatever is happening, stay with the organic flow and just keep writing. There are no mistakes here. Write for 5, 10 or 15 minutes. You’ll know when you’re done.
  • When finished, read through what you have written out loud to yourself.
  • Notice what comes up for you somatically, emotionally and mentally, with a curious but detached awareness.
  • Continuing to practice this technique will allow you to be more and more present with yourself!

-Tanya Vallianos

Tanya Vallianos, MA, LPC, ATR, NCC, EMDR III, EAP II is a psychotherapist in private practice in Fort Collins, CO. She can be reached at or 970-420-9504.

Mindfulness: The Secret to Happiness

Mindfulness helps bring balance, stability and ultimately more happiness to our lives

Mindfulness helps bring balance, stability and ultimately more happiness to our lives

In the past 18 years working in the psychotherapy field, the prominent and most obvious complaint that is presented to me is that people are not happy in their lives. Whether it’s career, or relationship or a myriad of many different aspects of their lives, people are wanting to make changes, so that they can feel more alive, joyous and a greater sense of peace and ultimately, happiness.

Why are we so unhappy?

We are often trapped and rapped-up in our own negative thoughts and beliefs. These ruminating thoughts circulate round and round maybe for hours, days, and even years, keeping us disconnected from ourselves and causing a great deal of suffering.

As a way too rationalize the egoic mind, humans tend to think that things, life, emotions are happening to them. We tend to look for reasons outside of ourselves as to why we feel so miserable. This becomes the default coping mechanism as a means of survival that starts in childhood. Unfortunately, in time this strategy doesn’t hold up very well. We become more and more dissatisfied; we become chronically ill, our relationships dismantle and we find ourselves in meaningless jobs.

Mindfulness practice has a very direct way of stopping the ongoing commentary by directing our focus to the present moment. It is a way to ‘nip it in the bud,’ so to say; by not identifying with the story that follows any negative event, or underlying belief.

We are able to ‘still’ our minds. Once we’re able to do this, we cease creating stories and the suffering ends. 

Staying present in the moment, we are able to really notice all the beauty around us. We have a more profound level of gratitude for it and all of life. This ability to be the observer takes us out of a “this is happening to me” mentality. We are brought closer into connection with out higher selves and all of creation. This is our true nature.

How can I start feeling better?

Take some time to be in nature finding a quiet place where you are not disturbed or distracted by others. Find an object to focus on, such as a flower, tree, bird, or water. For however long, bring your attention to that which you’re focused on and the cycle of your breath. Allow all of your senses to be a part of the experience. Let go of any urges to think about it or understand it. Instead, allow your mind to become quieted and just notice what you notice. If you observe that you have come back to ‘thinking’, gently bring your attention back to your breath and the nature experience.

When you are finished, you can have an honest curiosity about your quiet time. Were you stressed, sad, or irritated? More than likely – you were not. And you became more aware of the possibility of happiness. With each time of choosing to stay present in the moment and finding quietude within yourself, the more likely that you are on your way to a life that feels balanced, healthy and happy.

-Tanya Vallianos

Tanya Vallianos, MA, LPC, ATR, NCC, EMDR III, EAP II is a psychotherapist in private practice in Fort Collins, CO. She can be reached at or 970-420-9504.

Beginner Meditation Practice Made Easier


If you haven’t noticed lately, there are a huge amount of resources available for learning various mindfulness practices, including meditation. The upside to that is that there is a variety of methods offered and people can pick and choose what works best for themselves. The downside is just that, the different techniques and variations on the theme can feel overwhelming, especially to the beginning practitioner.

Less is more

Starting something new can be challenging. And meditation is no exception. While quite a simplistic process, meditation can easily turn into a self-bashing session within seconds. Why? Because we humans think a lot! And meditation makes it quite obvious how distracted and occupied we are with our thoughts all the time. While meditation is meant to help us with quieting the mind, for beginners the volume gets turned on high and it can feel hugely defeating.

When I’m introducing a client to meditation for the first time, my number one goal is to make everything as simple and as comfortable as possible, so that it doesn’t feel too overwhelming. I'm hoping that she will be inspired enough to give it a good try and establish a regular practice. This means that I don’t ask for too much of a commitment of time early on.

Often longtime meditators will suggest 10 minutes as a starting point. In my opinion, that can be the kiss of death for a budding meditator.  For a newbie, this can feel like 10 hours! It’s worse that meditation seems so simple from the outside. It can be a set-up for frustration, self-shaming and wanting to give up, concluding, "It's not for me" or “I’m just not good at this” when that couldn't be further from the truth.

Instead, I offer a 5-minute or less commitment daily. This way the expectations are low to start with and the client is not bound to a specific time that feels unattainable. This allows more for the possibility of having an enjoyable experience that leads to successes, rather than perceived failures.

A few other helpful tips that will help you with your "less is more" approach:

1.    If you start small, make that small meditation into a daily habit. While a short and small meditation session starting point makes it easier to grow your sessions longer and longer, doing it every day makes you more likely to stick with it. Even if it feels hard at first, meditating daily makes it more likely to become a habit that sticks. This is because you are changing neural pathways, which takes time and commitment.

2.    Use a timer to track your sessions, especially if you feel that you will be distracted by keeping track of time with a clock or watch.

3.    When beginning your practice, meditate in the same setting and at the same time every day. Meditating in the same context each and every day will make it more likely to be a good habit that takes hold. Choose a time of day when you’re not tired.

4.    When you decide to increase your meditation time, make those increases small – up to 5 minutes per increment. Small increases operate on the same principle of small starts: not overwhelming yourself. If you find that you’re struggling with the increase after a few sessions, feel free to reduce the time.

5.    Lastly, make your meditating space comfortable and desirable. Have cozy blankets that you can wrap around you. Candles, soft lighting and sacred objects can help bring a special ambiance to your space that will allow you to come back again and again.

So, if you've never done it before, try it with me now. Find a quiet place to sit comfortably, with your back upright, and using either a timer or a guided meditation, focus on your breath. Try it. You just might get hooked.

-Tanya Vallianos

Tanya Vallianos, MA, LPC, ATR, NCC, EMDR III, EAP II is a psychotherapist in private practice in Fort Collins, CO. She offers free guided meditations on her website,

In Our Digital Era, Can Horses Help Us Create Deeper Social Connections?


As humans we are hardwired to be social beings. We cannot survive without contact and connection to other members of our species. Without real human contact we simply cannot develop, and evolve in the way nature intended.

Research conducted by Matthew Lieberman at UCLA in his first book, "Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect”, shows that being social and connecting with others is as fundamental a human need as food, shelter, and water. For example, Lieberman discovered that we feel social pain, such as the loss of a relationship, in the same part of the brain that we feel physical pain. The importance of social connection is so strong, he writes, that when we are rejected or experience other social "pain," our brains "hurt" in the same way they do when we feel physical pain. That is why we are profoundly shaped by our social environment and that we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed. 

One landmark study, “Social Relationships and Health”, by House, Landis, & Umberson, published in Science, showed that lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure. Research by Steve Cole, Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences in the UCLA School of Medicine, shows that genes impacted by loneliness also code for immune function and inflammation.

We live in a world in which more people are connected than ever before through social media. Yet despite that connection, there is still a fundamental disconnect between people - the most basic type of communication, human face-to- face interaction, is becoming less and less frequent. In a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 54 percent of those surveyed said they text their friends at least once a day, while only 33% said they talk face-to-face with their friends on a consistent basis.

We are sacrificing the experiences and understanding of real world interactions that are necessary in our development for a mere connection that at best is superficial. Social media forces upon us a feeling of intimacy and closeness that doesn’t actually exist. Online relationships provide opportunities for less risky interactions that also require less giving of oneself. An online interaction does not require that we compromise our needs or delay gratification because friends are always available on Facebook, and when we’re finished with them, we simply click off. Choosing this one-dimensional interpersonal relationship potentially reduces online friends into self-objects that only feed the user. Concern for the other is not required.

In Alone Together-Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, Psychologist Sherry Turkle shows us how social media has brought forth a drastic change in how we treat relationships, and for the worst. And in a study of roughly 300 people by the Salford Business School they found that these social networks are exacerbating negative emotions. The surveyors found that if you are predisposed to anxiety it seems that the pressures from technology, create even more insecurity and more feelings of being overwhelmed.

This corroborates the idea that social media cannot be used to replace the interactions that take place in the real world. It may seem that these digital interactions are satisfactory on the surface, but deep within us, within our neurology, we cannot escape the truth that these digital connections are not enough.

Emma Seppala is Science Director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University and Co-Director of the Yale College Emotional Intelligence Project at Yale University. And states that, “A sense of connection is internal.” Researchers agree that the benefits of connection are actually linked to our subjective sense of connection. In other words, if you feel connected to others on the inside, you reap the benefits thereof. One way that we can re-learn this ability to formulate deeper connections is with the help of horses.

Horses Know How to Establish Deep Bonding and Reciprocal Relationships

Horses have a rich history in their relationship with humans. Across different cultures and eras they have been utilized for work, show, cultural rituals, companionship, and continue to serve in many of these roles today. With the popularity of Equine-Assisted Therapy/Coaching programs within the past few years, there’s been a genuine interest in equine behavior in relationship to humans.

Like humans, horses are highly social animals, with defined roles within their herds. They have distinct personalities, attitudes, and moods. They form friendships and are protective of each other. They are tuned into the environment and other horse emotions, due to the fact that they are prey animals and are always watchful.

Social interactions between horses are how horses develop their bonds. They are able to create respectful social behavior, relationships, and harmonious communications with one another. This is accomplished through food sharing, bathing together, playing activities, mutual grooming and learning how to fit in with the social structure of the herd at large. It is similar to the way people learn how to connect and communicate with one another.

Horses communicate almost entirely through body language. Humans are primarily verbal. If a human has an interest in a true bond with the horse, then silence becomes one’s best approach. Low nickering, cooing and quietude are the staples of a horse's life.  Thus, we can connect at their level by creating similar sounds and movements and being present with them as they are. These are empathic responses for deeper bonding.

In bonded horse and human relationships there is appreciation, the capacity to forgive, camaraderie and the desire to behave cooperatively, and an open corridor of honest communication that transcends the limits of speech and sign language. To be part of this kind of relationship with a horse requires effort and a good deal of learned and developed skills on the part of the human. The horse and human are partners, each recognizing the other's skills and abilities. They are also painfully honest and hold people responsible for their behaviors.

Hence, horses provide vast opportunities for metaphorical learning for humans, since they are able to acutely pick up on thought-forms and emotions and then mirror them back through their body language, behavior, and mood. This ability of horses to be blatantly perceptive and honest, makes them especially powerful guides.

For humans who struggle with social interactions, working with a horse gives them much-needed practice. For many, it can be easier to create a healthy, successful relationship with a horse, than it can be with most people. Through interaction with horses, we can learn to know ourselves better. Calm, peaceful and confident or agitated, distracted and fearful will be their response depending on which we bring to them. This is all done in the moment, on the spot, when it’s happening. We begin to learn their language, and how to have authentic relationship. We can discover that some of the basic needs and concerns of horses are the same as ours. This gives us a different perspective for dealing with these issues in our own lives. And begin to develop or improve, self-confidence, trust and self-respect.

With their giving, kind and unconditional nature, we can reawaken and remember our connection with all life. We are able to re-establish our giving, compassionate nature, and receive the greater benefits that this wisdom brings.

-Tanya Vallianos

Tanya Vallianos, MA, LPC, ATR, NCC, EMDR III, EAP II is a psychotherapist in private practice. She offers bonding experiences with horses in Fort Collins, CO. 970-420-9504