My home practice: Having a dog is a lot like yoga

Last fall, we adopted a dog.  I’ve always wanted to have a dog and after fostering one a few years ago, we made the decision to walk into the North Shore Animal League on Long Island and we walked out with Lui.  In the harsh winter months since we got him, I have realized that having a dog is a lot like practicing yoga.  And, no, I don’t mean doga.  

Here’s how:

Dogs are our mirrors.  We’ve all heard the joke about people beginning to look like their dogs.  When we give negative energy (anxious, chaotic, inconsistent or angry) to our dogs, it is reflected back in the form of behavior problems.  If instead the energy we emit is calm, consistent, and assertive, we will draw different behavior from the dog.

Dogs demand discipline.  Unless you want your sofa chewed and carpet peed on, walking your dog is your daily routine.  It was during my morning walks with Lui that I first realized this connection with my yoga practice.  It would be freezing cold and very early; I could be tired and/or sick, but I still have to get out of bed, bundle up, and walk my dog.

Dogs bring us into the present moment.  They live completely in the moment.  No matter how many times I take my dog down the same street, it is like new every time.  He is just as excited as the first time to sniff and watch the animals and people go by.  There is no obsessing over the past, no matter how horrible. Just watch any episode of The Dog Whisperer and you’ll see this demonstrated in their amazing capacity for rehabilitation.

Walking a dog is a moving meditation.  When I’m out with Lui, I don’t listen to music, talk on the phone, or think about the day.  I practice clearing my mind, seeing and hearing what’s around me, and breathing deeply.  It is the best way to wake up and start a day.

Dogs tune us into the rhythm of nature.  They act on instinct. They sense and respond to the energy that’s being provided to them.  They eat when they’re hungry and stop eating when they’re not.  They balance work and play!  They love to be outside.  They crave exercise.

Dogs live simply.  The simpler, the better.  They don’t need much besides the basics to be content.  Feed me, walk me, pet me, play with me.  Period.

Self reflection, discipline, present moment awareness, meditation, attunement to nature, and simplified living are all among the beautiful benefits of a regular yoga practice.  Many people are drawn to the practice mainly because they are searching for a way to cultivate these things in their lives.  So on days where there is no asana, no time spent on my mat,  no sun salutations or savasana, I have found an extension of my yoga practice in my dog.

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What I’m reading…

About 6 weeks ago, we decided to foster a Basenji Hound/Staffordshire Bull Terrier mix named Eddie.  The original agreement was to foster him for about 3 months, but there’s a chance we may be asked to keep him.  I have always been an animal lover and always had pets growing up, so I have sort of obsessively watched Dog Whisperer for the past couple of years and have become hooked on Cesar Millan’s no fail techniques of “rehabilitating dogs, training humans” and the “power of the pack”.  Especially his work with pitbulls- a breed very near and dear to my heart for whatever reason.  So when we got Eddie, I thought I’d be a natural- no experience required.  HA!  I found myself to be a damn fool when he started to lunge/bark/growl at dogs and people.  He’s not an aggressive dog, but is intensely sensitive to energy and is very easily excited.  I panic, pull on the leash, yell “No!” like an idiot…none of it works.  (Now I know he’s only mirroring ME and projecting MY energy coupled with the frustration of perhaps not enough exercise.)  So I went back to Cesar for more guidance…

Here are SOME of my favorite things about dogs that I’ve learned from reading this book:

  • Dogs come into our lives for a reason- often to show us who we really are and teach us lessons.  For me, it’s to teach me to be a more calm, assertive, confident leader- especially when faced with challenges and things that I cannot control!
  • Dogs need a lot of exercise.  “Dogs are descended from wolves: in fact, the DNA of dogs and wolves is almost indistinguishable…the genes of a canine are crying out for her to go out and wander with her pack, explore new territory, roam around, and search for food and water.  Imagine how it would feel to have those ancient needs embedded deep inside you, then to have to live your life locked up alone in a two-room apartment all day.  Millions of city dogs live like that.  Their owners think that taking the dog for a five-minute walk to the corner to poop and pee is enough for them.  Imagine how those dogs are feeling in their souls.  Their frustration has to go somewhere.  That’s when they develop issues.”  Cesar says that a commitment of  one and a half hours per day of walking is necessary for a balanced dog.
  • They are a direct link to Mother Nature, using their “sixth sense” to read and interpret the world around them as energy… after all everything is energy!  “All animals communicate using energy, constantly.  Energy is beingness.  Energy is who you are and what you are doing at any given moment.  That’s how animals see you.  That’s how your dog sees you.  Your energy in that present moment defines who you are.”
  • Dogs live in the moment, always.  “It’s not that they don’t have memories-they do.  It’s just that they don’t obsess over the past, or the future.”
  • Dogs don’t need a lot to be fulfilled.  Only 3 things are needed to have a balanced, content, fulfilled dog: Exercise, Discipline, and Affection (in that order!) “Animals are beautifully simple.  To them, life is also very simple.  It’s we who make it complicated for them by not allowing them to be who they are, by not understanding or even trying to speak their language, and by neglecting to give them what nature intended for them to have.”

Dogs in poorer, underdeveloped countries are the most balanced.  They are often strays, traveling in packs, wandering all day, hunting/scavenging for food, sleeping in dirt, eating garbage.  However, they don’t attack humans, fight with other dogs, have phobias of certain types of floors, fixate on balls and squirrels,  or bark incessantly.  They just live their lives.  Its the dogs here in America that display the “issues” that an expert like Cesar Millan would be called in to “cure”; dogs who have fancy jackets, fancy leashes, fancy collars, special bedding and travel carriers, expensive food, veterinarians, dog walkers, groomers, and human “owners”.  The lesson here is clear:  LESS is MORE.  Simplicity=balance=happiness and contentment.  Choose simple!

Eddie