Part of any TTouch workshop is the initial introductions. What’s your name? Where are you from? What is your primary interest in animals? Do you have a life outside of animals? (Maybe/maybe not):) What are you goals? – all pretty standard questions that you would expect when getting to know a group. There is one question we ask that is not necessarily present in most “get to know you” chatter – “Do you need any slack?”.
For most people, going into a workshop setting, live or online, with a group of strangers, an unknown instructor, learning things that may be completely foreign to you, not to mention the stress of personal expectations of behaviour for one’s animal, is reason enough to need some slack! The unknown is stressful, putting ourselves in a situation where we may feel unprepared or uninformed or unskilled, is stressful.
With this in mind, every TTouch workshop is facilitated in a manner that creates as “safe” a learning environment as possible, for 2 and 4 legged participants. Safe from mental, emotional or physical duress where you are safe to question anything and explore new possibilities.
What about Slack?
So back to slack. In addition to the inherent stressors associated with any group learning setting, most, if not all of us, have external factors of stress that will change how we might behave or react in a “perfect” low stress environment. Maybe you are jet lagged? Perhaps you have left your animals at home with a pet sitter for the first time and you are worried? Someone may have an underlying health concern they are dealing with? A chronically sore back can certainly change how you cope! Others may have personal issues with their spouse or friends. It doesn’t matter the reason, and you need not share the specifics, just acknowledging that you feel like you need everyone to give you a little extra space and time can help make a smidge of that stress more manageable.
In a perfect world, we would not have to ask anyone if they need “some slack”. Everyone has something going on behind the scenes and the layered stressors(see this article on “Candlelight on Resistance“) can become more apparent when you add the stress of learning and the potential for emotionally letting some walls down as you explore the work. As teachers and fellow human beings, knowing that other people’s behaviour and responses are based on their layers of stress helps us respond in a way that does not take it personally or lead us to label the person.
Becoming a parent really puts this concept into perspective. Small children do not have the veil of social niceties repressing their emotions. When something is hard for them, you know it. Melt downs, tantrums, whining, as annoying as these behaviours are, they are of course, simply the result of a child feeling stressed, usually by some need not being met. Hungry, tired, bored, insecure. Who knows? Sometimes I don’t! And let me tell you, I have to remind myself of this concept many, many, times a day. However annoying I find these episodes, I certainly do not think that the odd tantrum is “who” my child is – most of the time.
Now many human beings can, at some point in their lives, verbalize what exactly these added stressors are, allowing a bystander some clue as to why a seemingly simple scenario is not as simple to this individual. Animals, unfortunately, cannot. As I have mentioned in previous posts, behaviour is just a form of communication. Cutting our animals some slack, is just as important as it is for our fellow human.
“Cutting some slack” does not mean that I don’t have boundaries where the animals is concerned, true for when working with people as well, but it does mean I give them the benefit of the doubt.
A Case Study in “Slack”
Some years ago I had a young mare come to me for some training. She was started but green, and had been having some difficulty with her trimmer recently and would snatch away her front legs. Her guardian had diligently gotten a bodyworker to check her for pain or stiffness. His assessment “it’s just behavioural, she is not sore anywhere, she’s just taking advantage of you”.
Now personally, I find this very hard to believe even without seeing the horse, it is pretty much impossible to ascertain that ANYONE is pain or tension free, whether or not they can verbalize. Secondly, this behaviour was relatively new and in general the mare was extremely personable and cooperative. Thirdly, I don’t think horses have some hidden agenda to “win”, they’re just reacting to what they’re feeling.
When the mare arrived, the first thing I noticed was that she was extremely weighted in her front feet. She could not even back a step or two without having to completely reorganize her balance. Her shoulders and entire thorasic sling were very tight and immobile. “Getting after her and teaching her a lesson”, certainly would not change the root issue of this behaviour.
Over the next couple of days I proceeded to take her through the many Tellington TTouch leading exercises, like the “Dance”, lead her through the Labyrinth and other Elements in the “Playground for Higher Learning” used some various Body Wraps and did a few sessions of TTouch Bodywork, nothing that was specifically for “fixing” her problem with the trimmer. After 20 minutes of simple, low-stress ground work, I could do small leg circles for a short period of time, being sure to put her foot down before she felt like she “needed” it back. I repeated a similar routine twice more and noticed that she could back more easily and did not have to raise her head and rearrange her body to respond to my request.
By the third short session, I could pick out her feet without any hint of issue. A week later, she was trimmed easily, back to how she had been before this new behaviour showed up.
A more traditional approach to “dealing” with her behaviour may be have been to pick up her foot and not put it down until “I said so”. Some may have moved her feet and circled her each time she snapped away a foot. There are likely many ways you could have gotten into a fight with this mare to “win” the argument.
By cutting her some slack and not assuming that she was just being “resistant” I was able to solve the root of the issue in a non-confrontational way with lasting results. While it took very little time, if one were to watch the sessions, they may find them a) a bit boring and b) not directly addressing the issue with her front feet. Approaching the issue from the perspective that this was difficult for her rather than she just being uncooperative, I was able to remain proactive but calm, without taking any personal offense to her behaviour.
The next time you find yourself frustrated with how someone (2 or 4 legged) is responding to a situation, try offering the benefit of the doubt and remember that their behaviour is just a reflection of how they are feeling in general, not how they necessarily feel about you.
After all, you never know when you yourself will be the one needing that bit of extra slack!