September 27, 2018

Mindfulness: What We Can Learn From Our Dogs

Anxiety & Depression
Mental Health & Wellbeing

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the self-regulation of attention with an attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance. It suggests that the mind is fully attending to what’s happening, to what you’re doing and to space you’re moving through and the air you’re breathing. Too often, our mind can veer off taking flight, and we lose touch with our body. Then soon enough, we’re engrossed in thoughts about something that just happened or fretting and worrying about the future. Let’s break it down: “self-regulation” is a mindfulness practice that refers to how you can take control of your attention or “regulate,” your focus. Mindfulness doesn’t stop with self-regulating, but the second part of the definition is just as important. It refers to our approach of being open to whatever we place our attention on, being interested, curious and nonjudgmental. It might be something pleasant, unpleasant, or dull, and in any case, your openness, curiosity, and acceptance can be utilized.

“So, is it just yoga? What can we do?”

Mindfulness can seem abstract, and that’s normal to feel that it is a hard concept to grasp! It can be taking yoga classes as many classes focus on your breath and paying mind to your body. Some other examples would be deliberately shifting your attention to an object you see on the ground, noticing the scent of the bakery you’re in, thinking of a memory, a future goal, or conducting a body scan to check in with various parts of your body and sensations.

A Personal Example:

On a Saturday, I was sitting on the couch in my apartment planning out upcoming events for the next few weeks. One of my furry roommates, Bruno, recently got a new squeaky ball for his birthday. He had been actively playing with it all the time. Yes! If he’s not sleeping or eating, he’s playing with this toy. Squeak, Squeak, Squeak. I look over at him, instinctively with slight annoyance, but then after seeing his happy eyes enjoying this simple act of playing with a ball, I couldn’t help but smile. I noticed my shift in mood and even my shift in mindset as I realized that all Bruno is doing is enjoying the moment. There are many things we can learn from all that is around us, but one of the things that Bruno reminded me of is the act and practice of mindfulness.

Dogs Are Super Present

Although dogs remember things like where the treats are kept, what street takes them home, and who they’ve met before, they only access that information when they need it — at that particular moment. Whether they’re eating a bowl of kibble or squeezing a ball, dogs live entirely for the present moment. They are always aware, attentively listening and in tune with what they need and want. Our dogs don’t have some big master plan (although, perhaps that involves how to play the next game of fetch in a new and innovative way). They aren’t worried about the past, and they aren’t terrified of the future.

Give It A Try

Close your eyes and breathe in the fresh air. Put your phone down and fully experience where you are. Roll down your car windows. There is nothing like the wind in your face to remind you to live in the present. Even with all of this, you might be thinking that mindfulness is still very abstract and that it can be difficult just sitting there with all the thoughts running by. If you would like guidance in mindfulness in efforts to combat anxiety, don’t hesitate to reach out to me as I would love to work alongside you in making this a practice you can incorporate into your everyday life!

Written by therapist Tina Choi

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