My labradoodle Grimm and I are a team. We wake up together. We do yoga together. We go through life’s ups and downs side by side. And while I have been a passionate yogi for about 6 years, ever since I became the proud parent of my dog I have learned a lot about my personal life and yoga as the lifestyle I chose (for both of us). Here’s a notion summary for my lazy readers:
- doggo copies your energy.
- doggo does a relax.
- doggo wants snooze.
- doggo is so so happy to see you!!!!!!!
Good job, you brave readers who decided to continue on and read the implications of these findings. Let’s dive right into this! I’ll give you a treat afterwards ok?
1 | The Energy we bring into a room echoes right back to us – good and bad.
It changes how people react towards us. This is easily the most important lesson I learned from becoming a team with my dog.
On some days, I was frustrated with how hyperactive Grimm became even after long walkies and pipi breaks and even when he had a full belly. I had even offered him something to chew! Still, he would not lie down and relax. Instead he jumped at every move I made as if someone had stepped on his tail (“I MUST be in the way!”) . He stood in front of me panting, his nose wet from anxiety and his tongue hanging out (“We going walkies now!?! *heavy breathing* “I dunno what to do with myself”).
It took a while, but I started noticing how his nervosity coincided with mine! His hyperactive days where days when my mind was fluttery and cluttery and jumping from one task to the other. My gentle giant merely picked up my vibes, ready to jump to action himself.
Ever since, when my dog will not settle down to relax, I take time to check in with myself:
“what energy am I currently exuding that he could be picking up from me.”
And usually it’s right there that I find anxiety and restlessness within myself. I take a step back from my frustration and take a deep breath. I can then patiently help both of us slow down the pace of our hearts and thoughts until we can release the tension and hyperactivity. this technique is also a great way to deal with: difficult conversations with people, work meetings, making a good first impression and making people feel safe to open up to you.
2 | Choose a calm relaxed state over being giddy with joy.
As much as I love when my dog bounces off the walls with happiness (his long chicken legs all over the place), I have come to realize that his ideal state is being utterly and entirely relaxed. Snoozing or just sitting around, watching his surroundings.
This has helped me reevaluate my expectations for my own life. An exciting life is great and all… But isn’t the best feeling in the world that Sunday-morning-no-plans-well-rested-utterly-relaxed kind of feeling?
When at first during my yoga teacher training I learned about detachment I rejected the idea. To strive for contentment in simplicity and gratitude seemed so… dull? When at first I was confronted with a notion that seemed to say “don’t feel so much” I was repelled. On second thought: how much of our energy do we use up trying to climb those high peaks of passion in order to find joy, or how much energy do we need to drag ourselves back up the hill from deep valleys of sadness that may follow an exciting but complicated love affair?
My dog helped me wrap my head around that it is not the lack of emotion yoga tells you to find. It is a deep satisfaction with a calm contentment with ourselves, detached from material belongings, detached from wanting to own our partner, even our dogs. The fulfilling bliss of of an uneventful life of gratitude, if you want so. Grimm helped me understand why at some points in our lives we choose comfort and warmth over drama. Some choose it earlier, some choose it later.
here are two versions of my dog. when you read through the scenarios, try to decide, which would be the better version of my dog, the one that we would bow to when we say namasté. I think I know already which one you will pick…
Scenario 1: attachment & excitement
My dog loves baseballs. He becomes super excited about us throwing a ball to him – we can never toss it enough, even when he has already retrieved it about 300 times. He has endless fun chasing after his ball, chewing on it, showing it to us just so he can run away and not let us touch it. Some people will say „great! really power him out! he’s a big dog, he needs a lot of exercise, right?“. Here is the outcome: He is so attached to this tiny leather thing, that he trembles with anxiety as soon as we take it away, even just to toss it back to him. His nose is wet, his eyes wide. He starts panting – from stress!
Scenario 2: relaxation & calm
On the other hand, he has a stuffed animal called Monster, that he had ever since he was a small puppy. Grimm often retrieves it from his doggy bed when he is tired, takes it between his paws, nibbles on it contently, happy as can be, while his eyes fall shut and he just gently snoozes away. Soon enough he will let go of the by-now very mangled monster and roll onto his back, in pure bliss.
Now that’s a good boy. Here is the outcome: He is the version of my dog that gives me peace by just looking at his contentment. The version of my dog that makes me smile and relax and unwind. I often get up to pet his belly offering, put my head between his front paws and listen to his calm heartbeat. And life makes sense.
3 | We need more rest than we think.
A lot of dog owners seem to think that it is necessary to entertain, run, and play with their dog 24/7. But while some breeds definitely have a strong basic need for lots of movement – huskies for instance – a lot of dogs will be a lot happier when they learn to relax and be bored for 18 hours a day.
Side note: please please please! Look up what your desired breed was bred for! Centuries of breeding towards a specific goal will sometimes yield catastrophic results when in the hands of the wrong owner – or rather the owner with the wrong expectations. For example when you put a husky (bred to pull heavy sleighs in icy temperatures for hundreds of miles) in a 2-room city apartment, no wonder he destroys your belongings in the blink of an eye and is hyperactive all the time. Or, and this is my veterinarians favorite example, if you try to turn a Kangal, a Turkish guard dog into a dog everyone can pet at your fence… well let’s say you bought a guard dog, you got a guard dog.
Those 18 hours of rest I mentioned before often surprise people. Packs of wolves do not hunt the entire day. They rest, lazily, for the majority of the day. So why are you taking your dog on 8 hour adventure tours? Let your puppy sleep, go about your business – and soon enough you will have a happy calm dog.
The same goes for us: When we pack our weekends with activities we imprint new memories into our brains and/or often exercise our muscles until they are sore. Give yourself some rest, too. A break. Allow yourself to be bored sometimes. It sparks creativity!
Does the phrase “give your mind a rest” ring a bell? Here it comes, the meditation reference: Meditation can become one of the ways how you give yourself a break. I say “can become” because to some people (me included) it does not come easy to focus in that way. With the already fast-paced world speeding up all around us, us humans, too, we have to relearn how to be with alone with our own minds (no squeaky toy, no baseball to toss). Stop sneakily avoiding the re-introduction to your thoughts by scrolling through your phone. That’s not giving your mind a break, that’s blanking out so you don’t have to deal with the thoughts and worries building up within yourself.
If your dog has to rest for 18 hours per day – what’s the amount of resting time you guestimate you need to be a calm an happy human? Are you taking the time you need?
*to clarify: to rest does not necessarily mean to sleep. it means to recover strength, mentally and physically. this can happen sitting down, while talking to a friend and also while practicing your asanas. generally, to rest is the opposite of being occupied by a task, to-do or worry.
4 | You can make somebody’s day by the way you greet them.
First impressions do count- also when it comes to how you welcome people into your sphere. And by this I don’t mean you have to pull them close and open up entirely – no. I simply mean the way you say hello to people can change the day that they are having.
Choose kindness, always.
Whenever I come home, even on the busiest, crappiest, most depressed days of the week, Grimm is right there to greet me. He snorts and wags his tail, brings me one of his favorite toys, or even better: takes my house key from me and parades around my legs, so happy to see me it’s infectious.
And just like that I let go of all things that didn’t go my way on that day. Of all the things that have caused me anxiety. Imagine the happiness we can bring to our friends and family if we put all our positive energy into our hellos. Those are the hellos that make us feel welcome and at home. They make us feel like we are in exactly the right spot in this world.
who’s a good reader!!?!
here’s your treat: An exercise to bring more yoga to your dog training
Before each training session, whether your training is to go on walks or teaching the dog new tricks, remind yourself that relaxation is key – and relaxation comes with in-/exhalation.
- Stand tall, in mountain pose. Have your dog sit or lie down next to you.
(chose the option he/she can hold longer, some dogs like Grimm don’t like sitting up for a long time)
- Take 10 deep breaths. Notice how you feel. With each breath, deepen your inhales and extend your exhalation. Let your breath flow smoothly, without pumping or pressing air into your lungs. If your dog moves impatiently, take him back to the correct position and start anew (yes, 10 more breaths).
- If after 10 breaths you still feel impatient or tense, back to square one: another 10 breaths.
- When you feel relaxed and calm, look at your dog.
Did he/she copy your vibe? Or seems impatient?
If impatient: you already know what’s coming. Give me 10!
If calm and attentive: Start your training.
If you continue with this training, your dog will eventually know that the fun only begins if he/she relaxes. In addition and most importantly: You will be a better trainer because you are creating a calm and patient atmosphere for your furry friend.
What lessons for life have you learned from your dog?
E-Mail me your edits! I would love to hear from you and add your voices to this blog post.
About yogateacher Grimm, the labradoodle
Labradoodle Grimm, born in April 2016, was named after the magical creature “Grim” (omen of death turned Sirius Black) from the Harry Potter books, a large black shaggy dog. He more than grew into his name! He is ¾ giant poodle which explains the fluff and his Shetland pony size.
I picked him up from my amazing breeder Eva when he was 10 weeks old and already the biggest puppy of the litter. Eva breeds and trains guide dogs for the blind, so Grimm and his siblings were bred to be very mellow, courageous, calm, patient, intelligent dogs.
Grimm is therefore perfectly equipped for helping to reduce stress, an excellent enduring partner for long walks in nature as well as city adventures – and perfect also for assisting with the relaxation part of happy place yoga classes: he is an expert savasana model and indicator for when the entire class has let go of their tension (he then rolls onto his back and offers his belly to the universe). Grimm and Yoga have helped me overcome my severe stress-related allergies by re-balancing my life towards joy and mindfulness as well as shifting it back outdoors into nature.
When I am not at work I take him wherever I go. He happily snoozes in any location including clothing stores, cafés, ski-gondolas & trains. In 2018 I even took him along to my yoga teacher training at Yoga Beach house in the south of France where we finally got to swim in the ocean together (off the bucket list!).