I just got back from our 2015 SARA retreat at the gorgeous Ratna Ling Retreat Center; what a wonderful, inspiring and relaxing time! We offered on-site daily yoga classes to our participants … but wow, did I miss my dog Mystic! If only there were some way to combine yoga and dogs.
Well, of course there is! You may have even heard of the trend, called “doga,” which has been rising in popularity in recent years (and gives new meaning to the term Downward-Facing Dog). Doga just makes sense: As I’ve learned in my animal Reiki practice, animals are very spiritual creatures and the best meditation partners. They also love to accompany their beloved human everywhere and get extra attention any way they can, whether it’s walking on the beach, sitting under a tree or even doing yoga!
Depending on your dog’s personality (and size), doga can be an amazing way to strengthen your bond with them, relax together and practice mindfulness. Though there are many doga poses, one of the most common, according to Today.com, is the Chaturanga, where your dog lies on his or her stomach while you pet their back.
And because we can’t forget about cats, it’s worth noting that this Illinois yoga studio recently had the genius idea of bringing six shelter cats into a yoga class. It’s not only relaxing for the animals (and humans), but also helps boost awareness for the shelter and increase adoption rates at the same time.
I can’t tell if this video is serious or not, but here’s an interesting (and very cool!) demonstration of doing yoga with your cats (the cats definitely don’t seem to mind):
What do you think of doga (or cat yoga)? Have you tried it?
Can I admit something to you? It isn’t always easy for me to meditate. There are so many “human” challenges that can trip me up—an overactive mind that refuses to quiet, difficulty in accepting the present moment, or being so busy my energy is scattered all over the place. I want to share with you my secret weapon to strike down these obstacles and ensure a more powerful meditation: the animals.
You see, in my work with animals and Reiki over the years, I began to notice something interesting; when I would meditate and my animals would happen to be present, I found myself able to quiet my mind and be present with an open heart much more easily. I began to realize that perhaps I should rethink the way I approached my own meditation practice. Meditating alone is all well and good, offering numerous health benefits that have been backed by science. But when I began to meditate with the animals and follow their lead, all of the benefits of meditation I had always experienced began to improve. Here are three ways animals helped me become a better meditator:
1. It’s easier to stay present and peaceful in the moment with our animals. If we are trying to meditate but our intellectual minds keep analyzing, judging and interpreting everything (which is just natural for us, really), the animals will often mirror this agitation. The more we feel ourselves shift into a state of quiet, and the more we can just “be,” the more we can see the animals relax. I can always tell what state I am in by how the animals around me are responding to my presence. A peaceful mind and peaceful heart means peaceful animals. In addition, animals have a natural calming presence. So when we have trouble letting go, and we’re stuck inside past problems or future fears, simply sitting with our animals can help to calm our energy, quiet our thoughts and take us to this moment right now.
2. Animals help our hearts to open, so that we can radiate our inner compassion. According to a 2013 study by Northeastern University, those who practice mindfulness meditation feel more compassion for others. But sometimes, compassion can be a difficult feeling to tap into. That’s where the animal factor comes in: Animals show so much unconditional love for us, we just can’t help but open our hearts when we are with them. If we are with our animals during our meditation practice, our inner compassion arises effortlessly because we are already opening our hearts to our animals at that moment. This compassion will radiate out to all animals … and even ultimately to the world.
3. Animals helped me realize an informal meditation can be just as effective. Some people think, “Oh, I have to light a candle and sit on this cushion to meditate.” And that sometimes works well, but it’s also very limiting. Meditation isn’t about escaping the world, shutting our eyes and sitting in a stiff position. The most important purpose of meditation is to bring compassion to our lives, and the truth is we have to learn to take our practice off of the cushion, bringing this compassion with us into the world. What the animals teach us by their compassionate presence is very freeing: That truly any moment in our lives can be a meditation. We can practice peaceful presence while sitting, walking or standing—cuddling our cat, walking the dog or standing in a pasture with our horse. You see, this is how our animals live already, and they can show us how to live this way too.
Meditation is about bringing all of our energy here to this present moment, and opening our hearts to the peaceful power that exists in the now. Animals are always present, they don’t judge like we do, and they live life with an open heart. They are my best meditation teachers: mirrors, reflecting to me how I should be, and lights, guiding me along the path of inner healing.
Do you ever feel that living a truly mindful life, each and every day, is a struggle? I hate to admit it, but I do! Sometimes the stresses of daily life weigh me down … and I forget just how important it is to live each day for today. (Animals are masters of living mindfully!) But then, just when it seems I’ve lost that all-important connection my inner state of peace, I read a beautiful, inspiring quote and it helps to pick me up again. Here are 10 of my favorites that I’d like to share with you:
1. On finding beauty in the present moment: “Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
2. The importance of meditation: “Meditation can reintroduce you to the part that’s been missing.” ~Russell Simmons
3. On seeing things as they really are: “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” ~William Blake
4. Remembering that every day is a gift: “In today’s rush we all think too much, seek too much, want too much and forget about the joy of just Being.” ~Eckhart Tolle
5. Don’t carry the world on your shoulders: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” ~Theodore Roosevelt
6. We should be living peaceful, not chaotic, lives: “No price is too great to pay for inner peace.” ~Sri Chinmoy
7. The secret to finding happiness: “Research has shown that the best way to be happy is to make each day happy.” ~Deepak Chopra
8. Remembering that every journey starts with one (sometimes tiny!) step forward: “The future is always beginning now.” ~Mark Strand
9. On remembering what’s most important in life: “We spend precious hours fearing the inevitable. It would be wise to use that time adoring our families, cherishing our friends and living our lives.” ~Maya Angelou
10. The importance of letting go: “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” ~Joseph Campbell
What are your favorite quotes? Please share them in the “comments” section below!
I’ve just finished another awesome, whirlwind weekend teaching animal Reiki and mindfulness at a very special place: The CARE Foundation in Florida, an exotic animal rescue center and SARA shelter. Every year Leah D’Ambrosio (my Shelter Animal Reiki Association partner) and I fly cross-country to spend time with the beautiful big cats and reptiles (and my students, of course!). I can’t wait to share more about my adventures with you, but until then, here are some fun facts about this amazing wild animal rescue:
BASED IN: Apopka, Florida (about 30 minutes from downtown Orlando)
ABOUT THE animals at CARE: CARE is a wild animal rescue center and wildlife educational facility that gives permanent homes to “non-domestic, non-releasable” animals. The wide variety of species at CARE includes bears, big cats, birds, crocodiles, monkeys and more.
BEHIND THE acronym: CARE stands for Creating Animal Respect Education
Kathleen and Leah show that even snakes like Reiki!
More of the animals at CARE …
WHAT’S SPECIAL about CARE: I love that CARE loves animal Reiki! But CARE doesn’t just help animals; the organization helps the local community, too, by assisting with disaster relief as needed, teaching students at the University of Central Florida’s College of Business Administration how to run a nonprofit, offering externships to students of the Florida Institute of Animal Arts, and providing facility tours and hands-on time with some of the animals to autistic and special-needs children. All of these fantastic programs exist because of CARE’s amazing founder, Christin Burford, who has, through her love of animals and hard work, manifested one of the most amazing exotic animal sanctuaries in the world. Walking the property, visitors can’t help but feel the love and peace that Christin has created. This is a one-of-a-kind place!
SIZE OF the sanctuary: 10 acres
NUMBER OF animals at the sanctuary: More than 200
TRAVEL TIPS: Call in advance if you want to visit; private guided tours promise an “up close and personal” experience with the animals. Plus, as mentioned above, I visit and teach Reiki and meditation classes at CARE every February—I’d love to see you at next year’s classes!
This fascinating article in The New Republic declared 2014 the year of mindfulness. Because meditation is such an important (and beneficial) part of my life, I love that it’s starting to take off in such a big way and that people in general seem more open to this idea than ever before. But the article left out a very important factor: animals. In my work with Reiki, I’ve realized they just “get” meditation and the idea of living in the moment more than we ever will. In fact, by following their lead, it’s easier than ever to find that mindful “ideal” we’re all striving for.
With that in mind, here are some easy ways we can all practice daily mindfulness with our animals (a.k.a. our best meditation teachers):
1. Savor the sun and smell the roses. Yes, it’s cliché. But next time you’re on your daily walk with your dog, instead of rushing through so you can get back to your next task, take a few moments to experience everything around both of you in nature. Smell the salty air, breathe and feel the sun on your skin. Resist the urge to do your daily walk on autopilot. You can even wander in a new direction; the two of you can just enjoy the moment and see where it takes you. If you’re more of a horse person, take the same approach on your next trail ride with your horse.
2. Give 100 percent full attention to your animal. This isn’t always easy. Next time you cuddle with your cat and talk sweetly to her, do so without any other distractions—no TV, laptop, phone, magazine or the like. When grooming your horse, focus on the moment and truly take it in: the sweeping of the brush, his nickers, the shine of his hair. Sit with your dog and give him your 100 percent attention. Really try to feel and embrace every aspect of the moment—sights, sounds and so on—instead of letting your mind fall back on other distractions, like your to-do list or what you’re cooking for dinner tonight.
3. Practice mindful eating—for both you and your animal. We all know the benefits of thinking about what you put into your body. Support your health by eating fresh, wholesome foods—and support your animal’s health, too, by doing the same and serving natural, nutritious foods. Thankfully, due to consumer demand, premium and organic dog and cat foods are easier to find than ever before. And when you want to spoil your favorite dog, whip up some easy (and deliciously healthy!) homemade treats.
4. Meditate and “be” Reiki with your animal. I’ve created a special series of six 20-minute meditations to help you tune into and connect energetically with your animal, with the natural world around you, and with that deep inner space of peace and strength within yourself—all important ingredients to mindful living. Click here to get started.
5. Take 10. Whether it’s first thing in the morning or the very last part of your night, take 10 minutes to breathe, be calm and just “be.” If they’re not already, your dog or cat will probably end up in your lap!
How do you practice mindfulness in your daily life?