my dog is my yoga teacher

Everything I needed to learn about yoga I learned from walking my dog! 

A dog loves to sniff and follow her nose; on a leash, she pulls every which way. Not fun for the human on the other end of the leash. My friend Diana, dog trainer extraordinaire, has taught me these steps:

1. when she pulls, stop walking

2. when she pauses, looks back at me, and there is slack in the leash (ie her attention is on me) resume walking, forward motion is the dog’s reward.

3. see step 1.

I quickly found that if I stop whenever she pulls we won’t get anywhere, let alone finish our walk before the end of the week! So I let her pull a little, then stop. When she pulls me up hill (think ragas or desires all you yogis!)  – I like that, so I let her pull the whole way up. Hmmm. I have trained her to pull!

Conditions for success matter too: I have found that after a long run in the neighbor’s field, on the way home she is much more content to walk by my side, no pulling.

Sum: by allowing my dog to pull, even sometimes, I am strengthening her conditioning to follow her nose.

All of this translates to mindfulness, meditation, and even to doing some yoga therapy where we are attempting to “re-program” movement patterns. Here's how:In meditation, we all want to sit down, get comfy, and walk straight into Happy Buddha Land, troubles melt away, ease in body, mind, and soul. Ahhhhh! If only it were so easy! Books and teachers tell us to settle the mind by counting breaths or repeating a mantra with mala beads. I count a few then become lost in thought, catch myself, count a few more, or I reach the tassel on my beads showing I have done a full loop and realize my mind has been no where near my mantra for many many beads! Frustrating!

I reinforce the roaming tendency of my mind by allowing it to wander “without consequences."

I hear myself say “if I start over every time I lose track, I will NEVER get all the way around! I will just keep going and get better.” Hah! My mind, like the sniffing dog, roams by nature. And I reinforce that nature by allowing it to wander “without consequences”.

If I want my dog to want to walk by my side, looking at me, waiting for what’s next out of love not fear, I need to train her patiently, consistently, firmly yet lovingly, so she is happiest, most content, by my side (at least when I want her there; she still gets to run and be a dog in the fields!)  Stop, get her attention, invite her back, resume. Repeat.

Stop, get her attention, invite her back, resume. Repeat.

Sitting on my cushion with my mind wandering aimlessly, following the “scent of the moment” won’t get me to my goal – ever. Here too, I have to be loving, consistent, patient but firm with my mind: no wandering allowed on my cushion. Stop, get her attention, invite her back, resume. Repeat. Even if I don’t get through x number mala beads or breaths “on time.” And, like a dog after a good romp, a mind that has been well-exercised (think a nice mindful mat practice or some pranayama for example) is better conditioned to enjoy “walking by my side” staying with mantra or breath.

It’s all about relationship.

I was talking to my dog trainer friend about this.  She observed, it’s not ultimately good leash manners that is the goal – it's the process, and the resulting relationship with your dog. Or in this story, with me and my mind. Mind is a brilliant tool, but it is a tool, designed to serve me, not run the show, pulling me willy nilly. A mind in focus is a relaxed, happy mind.

If you keep doing what you have always done, you will keep getting the same results.

On the mat, when you are trying to rotate your hip, trying to move your body functionally, as it was designed, instead of in the compensatory habit patterns you have developed, the same idea applies.  If you keep doing what you have always done, you will keep getting the same results, whether it's a pulling dog, a wandering mind, or dysfunctional movement patterns that cause pain, strain, or loss of range of movement.  It’s sooo tempting to not “stop, pause and re-focus, re-start”, thinking sheesh if I do that it feels like I am hardly getting anywhere!! Yet if you can be patient, you are giving your sensory motor system new data, and change has begun. You will develop a whole new relationship between your mind, body, and soul, a relationship of love and trust.

So I sit on my cushion, mala beads in hand, and when my mind wanders, I notice, smile fondly, … and start over with full attention. Again and again.

Stop measuring days by degree of productivity and start experiencing them by degree of presence.
— Alan Watts

Spring Tips from Ayurveda: Spring season is characterized by growing warmth, melting, dampness, heaviness (think mud!) and also by bursts of energy, such as new growth.

As part of the larger macrocosm, these qualities are shifting in us too.  We feel heavier, have more mucous, even as our energy perks up.  As"mud season" in Maine gets underway, we feel muddy and cruddy inside.Some tips to support yourself in this transition:

  • exercise in the morning to boost your fire early in the day to "burn out the mud"

  • follow your urge to eat lighter fare: eg more fresh fruits and vegetables, lightly cooked, (not raw yet), while cutting back on heavier meats, fried foods, dairy

  • increase your intake of bitter greens and spicy foods to help break up the excess kapha (again, think mud) and stimulate your fire

  • sip warm water throughout the day, even adding a bit of fresh lime, maple syrup (tis the season!), and himalayan or other real salt

  • add fresh ginger to your veggies, and to any dairy you consume to make these more digestible.