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.

What I’m teaching…The blessing in the struggle

Humility is the solid foundation of all virtues.

Confucius

When we face challenges in life, we become more grateful and humble human beings.  When it takes time, practice, or patience to accomplish a goal or to get what you want, finally getting there is so much sweeter and we are so much more thankful for it.  The whole process humbles us…with its slow progress, imperfections, stumbles, setbacks and falls.  On the flip side, if everything always comes easily, you may take that gift for granted, the ego would expect to continue always having everything come easily, leaving no opportunity to be thankful and humbled.  I can speak from experience, being someone that can admit to having things come easily in life. However the universe, it seems, had to return me to some sort of balance.  So, recently something was hard..something really important and easily taken for granted.  When the struggle ended, the challenge lifted, and the hard work paid off…I am now left feeling so intensely grateful and lucky!  Humbled. Aware of my humanity.  Aware of my limits.  Aware of my potential. Aware of my strength and my truth.  That is the blessing in the struggle.

Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.

Saint Augustine

 

What I’m teaching…Viparyaya

viparyaya विपर्यय

reversed, inverted, perverse, contrary to, unreal cognition, indiscrimination, perverse cognition, wrong knowledge, misconception, incorrect knowing, not seeing clearly

Sutra 1.8  mithyajnanam atadrupa pratistham- Misconception occurs when knowledge of something is not based upon its true form.

I was walking my dog last night. It was dark. We approached a mountainous pile of leaf-filled garbage bags.   He freaked. Did NOT want to pass by. Pulled me away on the leash. He was scared.  I pulled him in the direction of the leaves, close enough so I could touch the bags and hold him at the same time. Once he realized I could touch them without harm, he sauntered over, sniffed them and we moved on.  Same thing happens with turned over garbage bins, some parked cars, things that make loud noises, etc.  Once he realizes that what he thought he saw was not indeed what he thought, he’s fine.

When we perceive a thing as being other than what it is really; that is viparyaya. 

When we accept the unreal as real, it is viparyaya.  

Jumping to conclusions is viparyaya.

It’s not having all the information, but passing judgement anyway.

Viparyaya is one of the five vrittis (fluctuations of the mind which disturb our peace, thought patterns) the yoga practice aims to control.  It is like a blanket of confusion. Through our practice, we begin to see where we have made these mistakes in perception and try to see more clearly. Misperceptions lead to all sorts of ego driven responses that push us farther from realizing our true self- responses such as fear, aversion, anger, hurt, or attraction.

So let us learn to PAUSE before assuming, believing, judging, or interpreting so we avoid misconceptions which lead us down a very unhelpful path on this journey.

He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.

Albert Einstein

What I’m teaching…Reactions are Teachers

re·ac·tion

We don’t really have experiences in life. We have reactions to experiences. Things don’t happen to us. Things happen in and of themselves, and what we do is react to them. It’s not the existence of standstill traffic that effects us, because if it’s happening, say across town and we don’t know about it, it doesn’t bother us. But if the cars are at a dead stop on the very road that we need to take, suddenly we are activated, and we react to the existence of traffic. It’s not the traffic we are experiencing, it’s our reaction to it! Built into our hardwiring as humans is the fight or flight response, which we needed way back in the caveman era to keep us safe. But we’ve evolved…there is a third option, which is to neither fight nor flee, and that is, to just stay and breathe. If you start to see your emotional feathers getting ruffled, just step back from yourself, come back into your body, watch your breath and feel the reactiveness dissipate. If reactions happen, come out of your head, and anchor into your body…

Baron Baptiste

Surely you’ve noticed how some people, experiences, events, interactions, etc. bring out strong reactions in you while others do not. The reactions may be positive or negative, but they are strong and are very knee jerk in nature.  When the wavelike sensation of reaction passes, we may look back at those moments with regret, shame, puzzlement, or even pride and satisfaction.  Either way, I think they’re worth a second look.

These strong reactions are our teachers.

9 times out of 10, when we take some time to analyze the source or “why?” of the reaction and then consider what those reactions are really doing for us, what they are serving emotionally, physically, spiritually…there is really interesting information waiting. Perhaps they allow us to dig a bit deeper into the work of self knowledge and reflection.  Perhaps they are feeding some sort of negative internal dialogue or maybe we are just parroting back what was modeled for us as children. Perhaps there are reactions that do not serve us well and by simply realizing that, they lessen their hold and we eventually become completely free of them.  Children are great teachers in this way.  The buttons they push are not by accident.  In fact, all relationships push our buttons for the purpose of transformation and growth.  So the next time you find yourself spiraling into a strong reaction, try to stop for a moment and breath deeply.  What is it specifically that you are reacting to? See if you can figure out when in your life you started reacting so strongly in this way and why.  Awareness is where transformation begins.

Happy Mother’s Day!

What are you getting your Mother for Mother’s Day?

Today is Earth Day.  Mother Earth’s Mother’s Day.  To learn a bit more about the history of this day, click here.  This year’s theme for Earth Day is “The Face of Climate Change” .  Earth Day Network is posting photos on their website displaying individuals affected by climate change and those taking a stand to do something about it.

Regardless of your view on climate change, it just makes plain sense to take of our planet.  As far as we know, Earth is the ONLY planet in the UNIVERSE able to support life.  We should all be making the maintenance of this unique and specialized environment a huge priority!  It honestly seems crazy not to.

So what will you give your Mother?  Make a commitment to ONE CHANGE.  Just one.  Start recycling more, compost, turn off the lights, unplug electronics, take shorter showers, walk/bike, use refillable water bottles, use reusable grocery bags, donate to a cause, use less, recycle more, etc… Just make one change.  If everyone made one lifelong change, imagine what an impact it could have on the environment!

My ONE CHANGE is the DivaCup.  The DivaCup is a reusable menstrual cup (I apologize if this is TMI…).  I love it.  No more tampons or pads in the landfill!  It comes in two sizes, so if you’re interested in trying it out, make sure you get the appropriate size.   Yes, you do have to get up close and personal with yourself to insert and remove, but it’s YOUR body after all, so I think it’s empowering.  Insert in the morning and don’t think about it again until you get home at night.  It’s comfortable and easy.  I highly recommend it, ladies.  Easy for me and great for the planet.  It’s a win-win.

Not long ago, I overheard a conversation between two co-workers about recycling. One was asking where to recycle her soda can from lunch and the second was saying to just throw it away.  The second continued on to say that she doesn’t recycle at home because it would mean she would have to walk farther to put the recycling out for pickup by the city.  My jaw was on the floor.  Too lazy to recycle.  Scary.  There are still many of our neighbors who feel the same way.

Taking care of our planet should not be seen as a choice.  So what ONE CHANGE will you make?

Make every day Earth Day.

Earth Day  Every Day