Many of us learn at some point in our practice that yoga is more about the mind than it is about flawlessly moving through asanas. So when our pets follow us to the mat, rather than being annoyed by the distraction, we can thank them for being our teachers and for giving us the opportunity to remember what it is that brings us to our practice in the first place. See what our community members had to say when asked to share about their experiences practicing yoga with their pets!
I love to practice yoga outside when it’s warm, but when I do, I have to share my practice with my 50-pound Pit Terrier, Bianca. Bianca is a rescue dog that we adopted eight years ago. The moment we picked her up from her foster family, she imprinted on me and we’ve been best friends ever since. She loves my yoga mat more than I do; in fact, every time I unroll it she comes right over and lays down in the middle of it awaiting snuggles.
Initially, Bianca’s affinity with my mat was a bit annoying until I remembered a story my teacher used to tell us about pancakes. When I was in training to become a yoga teacher, my teacher would remind us that the practice was more about our attachment to the way we thought things should be and less about how well we moved through the asana. Shanti used to tell us a story about being present and how life’s little distractions were actually a call home to be fully present and embodied by the moment. She would use the example of being interrupted in practice by a request to make pancakes. She told us we had two choices; we could either stay in our headstand and ignore the request to come back to our dharma, or we could come out of our headstand and attend to the dharma of the present moment.
From that moment forward I never looked at Bianca’s behavior as annoying again. Now, when I roll out my mat and Bianca comes to join me I’m reminded that some days the practice of yoga looks like flipping pancakes, and some days it looks like puppy snuggles. Whatever it looks like, it’s always a practice.
I got my pup Dyno, a 15-pound Yorkie-mix when he was only 8 weeks old. I was told he was teacup size and would top out at 8 pounds, but as he grew I discovered that he was actually a whole tea kettle. I was a sophomore in college, a dancer, aerialist and teaching myself all sorts of crazy hula hoop tricks.
Whenever I would dance or hula hoop in my living room, he would watch safely from the sofa so he wouldn’t get knocked by a rogue hoop or tripped over. When my yoga journey first started he kept his distance, not knowing what to expect from this new crazy thing his mom was doing. As my practice continued, his curiosity grew. Now, as soon as I roll out my mat, he makes his way over. Sometimes walking around the mat, watching me, coming in every now and then to give kisses. Other times he lays on my mat, giving me the creative challenge of moving around him. But my favorite is when he joins me for savasana by sweetly laying on my chest or snuggling by my side.
He’s been with me for 9 years. He’s watched my yoga practice deepen, from college to studying for my 200-hour yoga teacher training with My Vinyasa Practice, and now prepping for classes. I’ve found my practice not only deepens my connection to myself but to Dyno. He brings another level of calmness and joy to my mat. He is a constant reminder to be present, even if that means I have to take a second to give him pets or throw a toy that appears by my side.
Our one-year-old toy Australian Shepherd, Freya, came home with my family with the hopes she would be a good friend for my fifteen-year-old lab/pit mix and my significant other. While we were glad our oldest pup was happy to have someone else around, we soon found out Freya was a little ball of anxiety. As she grew from ten-weeks-old, her energy grew with her. She never stops and is quick to fear everything. This means she is always by my side; everywhere I go, I have my own personal sidekick. She reminds me daily how the presence of another can be so helpful when your anxiety tries to get the better of you.
As practitioners of yoga, we are trying to learn to be present in the moment of our practice, to let go of what is going on around us and our minds. While this is not an effortless task to achieve in our busy lives, Freya has taught me even more about taking myself less seriously. Moments in child’s pose are modified by a wet nose pushing her way through my arms as she thinks I am trying to play “hide and seek” or moving into downward dog and having her paw at my head and hair because she thinks I am trying to act like her. Sometimes, it’s all about what Freya thinks when you’re in tree pose. As I am focusing on balance and rooting through the toes and heel, lifting through the crown of the head… it is only for her to jump full force since she thinks I am trying to play “keep away” with my knee.
So why put up with all these interruptions, distractions, annoying actions? Right? I could easily leave her in the house and practice on my own in silence. However, it’s about being in the moment, who you have around you and what you may need then. Freya has taught me to let go and learn to adapt. Not everything goes to plan — especially in life — so it’s okay to take a breath, laugh about it and start again.
When we can let go of our expectations about what our practice should look like, it is easier to surrender to the teachings of the present moment. Whether or not you practice with a four-legged friend, it’s likely that you have experienced some form of distraction while on your mat. What does it feel like to reimagine that distraction as a teacher instead?