We are regularly told to live in the present moment because after all, that is all we have. As humans, we struggle with this. The chitta vritti of our mind is too often a maelstrom of thoughts that consider the past and the future, forgetting the right now.
By comparison, my dog doesn’t want to go outside when it’s cold and raining. She doesn’t think about how going for a walk will make her fitter and appreciate her dinner. She just sees the rain and decides it’s more comfortable inside. Animals can teach us a lot about living in the present moment.
I have come to realise that my dog can also teach me about pranayama. As a yoga teacher specialising in retreats, I am aware of different yogic breathing techniques. What I learn from my dog is their practical application in an organic way, without being led or taught.
I thought that it might be fun to compare doggie pranayama with our own, so here are the top three lessons I learned from my dog about pranayama.
This is the sound she makes when she is warm and secure, and we give her a scratch and a cuddle. It evokes that sense of comfort when you feel satisfied, snuggled up on the sofa and cosy warm. It’s a bit like the soft purr of a cat but usually only occurs for short periods of time.
I liken it to ujjayi breath. A soft sigh on both the inhalation and the exhalation, not as consistent as the rise and falling ocean waves of a yoga ujjayi, but nevertheless seemingly produced using the same throat constriction. It is a sign of contentment, slowing the breath and slowing the mind, producing a feeling of calm.
My dog always lets out a big audible sigh when she's feeling tired and settling down for a nice snooze. Uma Dinsmore-Tuli teaches the importance of sighing when practicing pregnancy yoga as it helps to relax the muscles required for birth.
Sighing is a sense of letting go, and the more audible your sigh, the greater that sense can be. Further, a deep exhalation clears the lungs of stale air, making room not only for a deep new inhalation but also clean air, rich in Oxygen.
3. Nose Between Paws
This is something that I know cats do, but I’ve seen my dog do it too. To help them fall asleep, cats restrict their breathing by putting a paw against their nose. I think my dog does this as well. For us humans, taking deep, calm breaths help us not only to calm our minds—it's also been proven to help us fall asleep.
This reminds of the natural breath we come to in Savasana. When we lie down in Corpse pose, we learn to take natural, effortless, unimpeded breath—often shallow but completely sufficient to nourish our body and mind as it lies at rest. The parasympathetic nervous system takes over and we can rest.
Animals can enhance our lives in so many ways and teach us a lot of things about life, and this is just one of them. Does your dog do all three things too? What has your dog or pet taught you?