One of the many psychological benefits of living with a dog is the opportunity Fido provides to be more mindful – that is to deliberately focus all your attention on the present moment. Mindfulness has created a huge hype over the past decade because of science-backed data showing how this Buddhist practice reduces stress and enhances health, almost from the very first minute of practice.
Mindfulness is quite the opposite of multitasking as it teaches us to seize each moment exactly the way it unfolds, as to why it also involves erasing your past and future. Consequently, mindfulness is also a component of a range of other anti-stress techniques, such as deep breathing, reflexology, yoga, massage, tai chi, and others.
Yet, there’s an easier way to cultivate this state of mindful relaxation, as you can indeed let your dog show you how.
First of all: Did you ever watch carefully a happy dog on his walk?
If yes, then you would notice just how joyously present Fido or Snoopy remains during your outdoor activities: Head is held high, tail is wagging, he’s highly alert, in high spirits, and yet, he takes it all in.
All the new scents, sights, sounds, other animals and their people, the traffic, the environment and all those poor people without dogs….. Each walk is viewed as a great adventure.
This is exactly what you can grab, since you can easily use the mindfulness technique to reduce stress, anger and anxiety, all the while you are walking your beloved dog.
Dogs epitomize the joyful act of being in the present moment and can help you be more mindful, calmer and more present in your life as well.
And there’s more: Walking with your dog puts you more in touch with nature and helps you focus on the important things in life, her and now, while you push your worries away.
Studies have also backed how dogs tend to alter our daily behaviors, helping us to feel more relaxed, forbearing and tolerant, all the while our levels of stress, anxiety, and/or anger fade away. In fact, people also tend to speak more peacefully and judge things more softly, if they live with dogs – as compared to the dog-deprived people.
Even your kids will become less frantic, feel more secure, self-confident and act more responsible towards other kids, when they have pets in their homes, as shown in recent research studies of households with or without furry pets.
Science also shows how kids from dog-owning homes tend to feel less lonely, more joyous and socially outgoing than kids from dog-deprived homes.
The dog is also very often the first friend, who will serve as a morale booster when something is going wrong either at school, work or elsewhere – or when quarrels loom.
Dogs seem to be the most loyal allies, our constant supporters within reach and the most nonjudgmental companions we have – all of which are valued qualities that people generally are in search of, as they sign up for the popular (and expensive) mindfulness classes.
Who would do that if you may as well take a short cut by means of Fido or Snoopy? In particular this goes as a friendly dog is second to none in terms of providing a sense of safety, protection, bonding and unconditional love, and in return, while the two of you take a walk outside, Fido will teach you some valuable lessons about joyous relaxation and mindfulness – right here, right now.
Here is how to cultivate the mindful mindset in your daily life:
- As you start your walk with Fido, take a moment to bring your attention to the sensations in your body and mind.
- Breathe in deeply and through your nose, until your abdomen expands fully. Then breathe out through the mouth. Notice each inhalation and exhalation carefully.
- As you continue to walk, engage your senses fully. Notice each scent, sight, sound, touch, temperature, wind, and living beings around you in order to appreciate every sensation.
- As you learn to focus on the here and now, you will find yourself less likely to get caught up in worries about the future or regrets over the past (NB: Something Fido is not bothered by).
- When you notice that your mind has wandered or left the present moment, -and it undoubtedly will several times- bring your attention back to the moment (or Fido), including also your dog’s delight at being with you and being outdoors.
- And most importantly: When in doubt, watch Fido, as you go out.
For those who can cultivate mindfulness and yet remain physically active with a happy dog, life has so much more to offer in terms of health benefits, happiness and resilience.
For more details on this and related health subjects, read the book Dogs & Human Health (Balboa Press, 2015)