pets, animals & meditation

Dogs and owners aim to find inner peace (Sydney Morning Herald)

Sydney Morning Herald: When yoga goes to the dogs, they call it doga.

And while doga may not measure up, fitness-wise, to a game of fetch or a run on the beach, experts say practising yoga with your pet can soothe the not-so-savage beasts of both person and pooch.

“I consider it partner yoga,” said Suzi Teitelman, a Florida-based instructor who has been teaching doga to man, woman and beast since 2002. “It’s my lifelong passion.”

Teitelman stumbled upon doga because her dog liked to lie under her while she practised.

“When you feel good, they feel good,” she said. “They want to be around your goodness.”

Classes, DVDs and a training manual followed. Teitelman said she had trained more than 100 people around the world in doga, some from as far away as China and Japan.

Disco yoga, kid yoga, beach yoga, spin yoga and yogalites are but a few of the trendy hybrids saluting the sun at fitness centres these days, all take-offs on the practice that co-ordinates movement and breath…

But Teitelman insists she teaches a traditional yoga class, even if the downward facing dog is flesh and blood.

“We chant together to feel the vibrations, then we start moving into twists and turns,” she said.

Traditional poses such as warriors, triangles and backbends follow, possibly enhanced by a little dog balanced at the belly or waist.

“The person takes the dog deeper into a stretch, and the dog takes the person deeper,” she said. “If you have a dog on your arm in a standing posture it helps balance and strength.”

Teitelman believes the rewards of yoga accrue to human and animal alike.

“You’re moving their body. They’re getting touched, they’re getting love,” she explained, “and everybody needs to be hanging upside down.”

Dr Robin Brennen, a New York City veterinarian, was sceptical of the hugely popular doga classes at the Bideawee animal shelter and learning centre where she works. Then she attended one.

“I witnessed the demeanor of the animals changing during the class,” she said. “They’ll come in barking, seven, eight, nine dogs in room, but by the end of the session, they’re sleeping. They’re in savasana [the final resting pose].”

Brennen said that, unlike running or jogging, doga was not physically strenuous for the dog.

“It’s a level one yoga class and with this big dog in front of you it’s hard to do poses,” she said. “It’s basically stopping and starting.”

But then doga isn’t about dogs doing yoga, but about owners interacting with their dogs.

“It really highlights the human-animal bond,” she said. “For me, being in animal rescue, and seeing so many homeless pets, and people who very easily discard animals, I like these activities on the other side of the spectrum.”

But she is doubtful about the spiritual side.

“It’s hard to think of a centering practice like yoga being centering to an animal, because it’s hard to know what centres them,” she said.

Teitelman believes doga can embrace other domesticated creatures.

“It definitely works with cats,” she said, “and when I do downward dog my bird comes over.”

But Brennen has her doubts.

“Cats? Obviously you’d have to change the format. They want their feet on the ground. Then there’s the scratching and clawing factor.”,/div>

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‘Yoga meditation music helps cats relax’

Cats relax better if they are played yoga meditation music. When they are unwell, cats become less stressed when they listen to relaxing music, a study shows.

Student veterinary nurse Sian Barr carried out the research on cats being treated at a vet’s surgery.

She found that those who were played yoga meditation music and “Om Shanti” tunes calmed down and began to breathe more slowly while in cages at the practice in Powys, Wales, reports the Telegraph.

Barr, who has just graduated from veterinary school with a first class honours degree, said: “Stress in small doses can be a good thing, such as if a cat is under stress to eat, then it can perform better.”

“But otherwise, it will have a negative effect, such as in a veterinary practice,” Barr said.

“This is because a cat is in a cage and isn’t able to do what it will like to do, so stress levels will increase and it will become angry,” she said.

“This is bad for not only its behaviour, becoming difficult for staff to handle, but also for its immune system and ability to heal,” Barr said.

Barr, of Waterlooville, Hants, studied cats when they were first admitted by assessing their ear and eye activity, how they were communicating and respiration levels.

The 21-year-old then split them into two groups, only one of which was played the relaxation CDs.

She added: “I then repeated the test after 40 minutes and was able to assign each cat a cat stress score.”

“By comparing the scores, I found the music had a dramatic effect on respiration rates, with those exposed to the music decreasing to a relaxed rate much quicker than those not exposed.”

[via South East Asia Mail]
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Cat’s guide to attaining enlightenment

After so many years in Japan, I have come to realize that it is not so hard to achieve enlightenment. As long as you’re a cat.

Among the enlightenment-seeking general populace, cats seem to achieve their goal faster than any other animal or human. Even kittens seem to bound out of the womb happy to learn that they came into this world as kittens and not, say, mice. So they have a good platform to start their road to enlightenment.

Just food, water, sleep and meditation can bring one to a state of enlightenment, according to my cat, who achieves enlightenment every day, at least once. To think it takes some people 20 years! They ought to be taking lessons from my cat who, I do admit, is very wise.

So here is the Cat’s Guide to Attaining Daily Enlightenment, a method she herself has developed to perfection over many years of constant practice (well, at least eight years, anyway).

Start off every morning screaming and yowling at around 5 a.m. Don’t worry about waking others up. This is a ritual that is obviously very important to get your meditation off to a good start. Once everyone in the house is awake and moving around, take your place on your meditation cushion.

Find a good place for your cushion, preferably under a Bodhi tree. My cat prefers a position directly under a wall-mounted Bodhi heater.

First, get focused. Sit upright, back straight, paws placed in front of body turned slightly to the outside. If you find it hard to concentrate, try facing the wall.

Now, lightly close your eyes. Smile.

As you slip into deep meditation, you will find your body being pulled downward toward the cushion. Don’t resist. Let your body be drawn, in its entirety, into the meditation cushion. From here, you can take on various meditation positions. Breathing is very important. Breathe deeply, letting out cute little mewing sounds with every exhale. Enjoy the moment! Enjoy the power of the Bodhi heater.

After about an hour, (but certainly don’t rush yourself if you need more time), extend your right leg out in front of you and streeeetch that leg. Open the claw slightly and leave it there. Take in a deep breath and let out a big, long sigh. Put your head back down on the cushion and do a little more mewing.

If you can, envision yourself devoid of life. Drape your body over the cushion with your limbs completely limp. If you hear someone in the room say, “Is that thing alive?” you’ll know you’ve succeeded.

So now let’s, very slowly, turn over and lay on the other side for a while! Relaaaaax . . .

Now, when you’re ready, (no hurry, you’ve got all day), let’s curl up for a bit. Ready? Cuuuuuuurl. Cuuuuurl. Bring your tail around and nestle your nose into it. Contemplate this position for a good long while. Don’t stop smiling. Take your paws and cover your face.

While you relax, absolve yourself from fear and self consciousness. After all, you are in the safety and comfort of your own heated mansion. Gooooood. Release any previous feelings of kitty greed, superiority, aloofness, conceitedness, or any of the appalling 52 kitty mental states. Gooooood kitty.

Enjoy being a cat. A good cat doesn’t ask for much, and appreciates what he doesn’t have. Appeal to these cat sensibilities. Now, when you’re ready, (take an extra half hour if you need it) let’s turn over on our backs. Let your paws dangle above your body in the air, relaxed. Stretch out and turn your body into a half-circle, put your head to the side. Smile. Goooood. Take deep breaths.

By now, 5 p.m., you should have released your attachment to desire and self. You want for nothing. You want no money; You could give birth in a cardboard box. You’d even give away your kittens for free.

You have truly achieved mindfulness, exude contentment and feel a oneness with the Buddha. When you come out of your Awakened state, move slowly, take your time to come out of it completely and only after some thought, take leave of your meditation cushion.

Now would be a good time to get something to eat or drink, take a walk and have a pee. After you’ve finished that, take a sniff around the house to make sure nothing is awry. With the confirmation that nothing has changed since your last inspection, head back to your meditation cushion under the Bodhi heater. It’s time for another session!

[Amy Chavez, Japan Times]
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“Doga”, yoga and meditation for dogs and their owners

Dog-owners and yoga-lovers have finally found a way to bring their two passions together: doga. Yoga classes for dogs and their owners are sprouting all around the United States, combining massage and meditation techniques with gentle canine and human stretching. Ludicrous or blissfully relaxing?

Doga aficionados are adamant: there’s nothing like balancing your cocker spaniel on your belly as you stretch to create a bond between you and your canine companion. The practice stems from an unsaid philosophy shared by many yogis: because dogs are pack animals, they are a natural match for yoga’s emphasis on connection with other living creatures.

Created eight years ago by Florida-born yoga instructor Suzi Teitleman, the popularity of doga classes has skyrocketed in the US, drawing attention from major media outlets like the New York Times and CNN.

But not all yoga afficionados are comfortable with this new development. They fear that doga brings a trivial, fad-like approach to a 2,500 year-old spiritual practice. Teaching doga requires no official certification, so the quality and content of classes vary from veterinary-approved stretches and massages aimed at improving dog’s digestion and heart function, to more dubious courses where dogs are trained into executing poses in exchange for treats.

Instructors vary in their approach to doga – some say it requires the same physical effort and concentration as traditional yoga, while others adopt a more laid-back approach. Brenda Bryan, a Seattle-based yoga and doga instructor who has recently written a book on the subject, told the New York Times her classes are loosely-structured and filled with humour, the essential being that humans and dogs alike leave with a smile.

“My first dog came to yoga naturally”

Suzi Teitleman is a Florida-based yoga instructor and owner of three dogs. She began practicing Doga in 2001 and founded the first doga classes in 2002.

Practicing and teaching Doga wasn’t part of a plan, it was just the organic expression of my lifestyle after I adopted my first dog, Coali, right after the 9/11 attacks (I was living in New York City at the time). I have practiced yoga all my life and did yoga movements at my home every day, and Coali would come lie under me or next to me on the mat, he felt my calmness and wanted to participate. So I began doing some movements with him, and gradually developed what is now called doga. I started giving doga classes in addition to yoga in New York City in 2002, then continued in Jacksonville, Florida after I moved back there four years ago.

Each dog reacts to doga in a different way. My first dog came to it naturally. Other dogs may need more training. I’ve tought classes where a dog won’t stop barking: in those cases his owner will calm him down or just leave the class, there’s no use in forcing a dog to participate. Like for humans, it’s a lifelong practice – some of my dogs weren’t comfortable with all the poses or stretches at first, now they spontaneously follow me when I go to my yoga room, they love it.

I certainly never expected Doga to spread the way it did. I did many teacher training courses, but now there are more doga teachers and classes around the US than I can keep track of. For me, doga is very much an extension of traditional yoga: you flow from pose to pose, work on breathing and concentration, except that your dog is with you and you include him in the exercise. I never use treats to train dogs to do yoga poses: just a lot of love, praise and patience. I know some people don’t quite practice it in that way, but that’s OK – every yoga teacher is different.

I think more and more people realise that dogs are natural yoga partners: they love to stretch, to be in contact with their owners, to participate in whatever their owners are doing. Doing movements together also makes yoga fun for both the dog and the owner – and yoga should be fun.

The Observers (France)

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Setting up for sitting

burning incense

Traditionally in a Buddhist temple or meditation center we leave our shoes at the door before entering. We do that not just to keep the floors clean (although don’t knock that) but it’s also a symbolic act. When we leave our shoes outside the meditation room we’re also leaving the dust of the world behind us, and that symbolizes that we’re leaving behind unhelpful attitudes and habits.

Or at least we’re intending to leave those things behind. If getting rid of unhelpful mental habits was as easy as taking our shoes off we’d all be enlightened by now!

Still, intention is valuable, so let’s honor the symbolism inherent in leaving the shoes outside the door, and think a bit more about ways in which we can prepare for meditation.

Preparation is not something we do for the sake of it. It’s not a meaningless ritual that we do because it’s “the done thing” or because past generations have done it. We do it because it helps our meditation practice to be more effective.

Before meditation

Having a little quiet time before meditation is helpful. It gives the mind an opportunity to “shift gear” in stages, from busyness, to sitting quietly, to sitting in meditation. Rushing straight from activity to meditating can lead to strong restlessness and even frustration.

You might want to let people who are around you know that you’re going to be sitting so that they won’t disturb you. You may want to put a do not disturb sign on your door in case someone comes into the house.

Unplug the phone, and leave a note reminding you to plug it in again afterwards. Merely taking the phone off the hook can result in loud noises coming from the speaker, so avoid doing that. Without the note you may forget to reconnect it!

If you’re anxious about unplugging the phone because someone may try to contact you in an emergency, then that’s just a sign that you really need to unplug the phone and meditate! (Unless of course there’s good reason to expect an emergency, like you know someone’s about to give birth or someone’s just gone into Intensive Care).

You may have pets to deal with. Some cats and dogs are happy to sit with you. Others may demand your attention. So you need to learn what your pet’s individual response is. Having a pet scratching at the door can be more distracting than having a pet pawing you a few times. To get pets used to you meditating you may want to pet them a few times during your meditation.

Also, remember to send lovingkindness to your pets, and to any other beings who may be disturbing your meditation. Pets can be very sensitive to the vibes you give out.

It’s traditional when entering a meditation room to bow. This isn’t a symbol of submission, but a way of honoring the spiritual teachers of the past and also of honoring your own potential for enlightenment.

The meditation space

It’s good to have a dedicated meditation space. As best you can, create at least a small area where you can keep your cushions, mats, bench, etc. And make sure that the space is clean and tidy. It’s hard to clear your mind when your surroundings are cluttered.

Having an altar can give you a focal point for the mind. You can have flowers, candles, incense, pictures, and objects that are meaningful to you. Many people have natural items on their altars — leaves, stones, crystals, etc.

The base of an altar may be specially made, or it may simply be an upturned cardboard box draped with a cloth.

Some people prefer simple altars, while other people have more elaborate ones. It’s really up to you.

Incense can be particularly evocative. Often we just have to smell a particular kind of incense and we find that we’re calmer and clearer. Japanese and Chinese incense are the most refined. Tibetan incense can be rather overpowering and heavy, and many brands of Indian incense can smell like an accident in a chemical factory. Just make sure you choose an incense that you find pleasing.


Some people go for a full yoga workout before meditating, while others don’t do any stretching at all. But even a couple of minutes spent stretching the hamstrings, back, and shoulders can help you to sit more comfortably and can also help you to feel more energized. But be careful! Stretch only if you know what you’re doing, and be sensitive to yourself at all times.


The first time I chanted before meditation (following along with others at a local sangha gathering, many years ago) I had a strangely enjoyable meditation afterwards. I described the chanting at the time as being a kind of “meditation before the meditation.” That chanting was in Pali, an ancient Indian language, and was the traditional chant known as the Tiratana Vandana, or Salutation to the Three Jewels. Another common chant is the Refuges and Precepts. These are good chants to learn.

But chanting any text that is spiritually meaningful to you will be helpful. For Christians, chanting the Lord’s Prayer might be appropriate, for example.

These kinds of preparations may seem to be optional extras, but in reality they’re part of the meditation practice. Coming back to the notion of intention being important, the more we can blend meditation with daily life, the more effective will be our meditation practice. And daily life will be a bit easier too!

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