As I wrote in my book, UPWARD DOG, there’s no one who has taught me more about living life well than my beloved chocolate lab, Belle. She's also taught me a lot about my yoga practice.
Here are the top seven things my dog has taught me about yoga:
1. Don’t be overly impressed by asana.
Belle doesn’t care at all that if I can achieve a full lotus in forearm-stand. Advanced poses mean nothing to her.
She knows the physical practice is simply a way to make sure the body stays healthy and fit, particularly so that one can practice meditation and contemplation.
If asked, though, I’m sure she would say that headstand is by far her favorite pose in that it makes my face much more convenient to lick. That’s because…
2. Hands-on assists are essential, however ...
And by “hands-on,” I mean “paws-on,” of course.
Crawling underneath one of my private students in Downward Dog, for example, is my dog's idea of making an extremely helpful contribution to someone’s practice. So is licking their feet in Savasana, though not every student may agree!
Belle knows that even though all bodies are different, one constant remains: everyone needs the healing power of touch. However not all students are comfortable with hands-on adjustments, so it's important to maintain boundaries when applicable.
3. The physical practice has to be incorporated throughout the day.
It’s not quite enough to make a weekly or even daily pilgrimage to the yoga studio.
Belle knows that stretching is required throughout the entire day. Ideal times include getting up from resting or sitting too much, or just for the pure pleasure of it.
Her awareness of her body’s needs isn’t switched on for 60-90 minutes; she’s never disconnected from the connection to the needs of her mind and body. That's something we humans could really learn from.
4. Find joy in movement.
While we needn't go for a walk for the purposes of elimination, like Belle, or for a reward, like to the local shop with dog treats on the counter, every walk offers us the chance to move.
Of course, there are also the additional delights of interacting with the neighborhood, and taking in the sights, sounds, and especially smells along the way, but you can tell by looking at a dog's broad grin while you're strolling that movement is its very own reward.
5. Savasana is NOT optional.
“Lie down and relax completely whenever you can,” might just be Belle’s motto, and every other dog on the planet for that matter.
That’s why, if she ever were to take a traditional yoga class, there’s no way Belle would skip out early and miss the benefits of resting in Savasana.
In fact, she's the perfect example of a Winston Churchill quote. When asked by a reporter, “To what do you attribute your success in life?” Churchill famously replied, “Conservation of energy. Never stand up when you can sit down. And never sit down when you can lie down.”
6. Embrace your community.
In The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, by Debbie Ford, I read that “everyone who comes to your door is coming to heal you.”
And living in a doorman building, every time I answer the phone with “Please send them up,” Belle rushes to the door before I even get there. Whether it’s one of my closest friends or a random food delivery, she’s thrilled by the possibility that whoever’s knocking is bringing something wonderful for us both. The yoga community functions in a similar way — everyone is welcome and accepted.
7. Words are not always necessary to connect.
Rumi said, “Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation.”
Countless friends have remarked that after a particularly difficult day, Belle always singles them out for affection. “She knows. She really knows,” they marvel. Even more impressive is that she communicates all this merely through a loving gaze or a head resting on a foot or lap.
Belle reminds me that nothing communicates as eloquently as a silence filled with loving-kindness.
I also know that teaching and sharing the best of what I’ve learned to my yoga students is indeed helpful, but also that the greatest teacher lies within the students themselves. What each person experiences in silence is their real and greatest guru.
Get a FREE eBook of UPWARD DOG at the author's website.
Photo courtesy of Chi Modo