Walking the dog is a great form of exercise that, if done right, canimprove the bond between us and our pet(s) and helphumans and canineslive longer. Then how come so many peoplemiss out on fully experiencing this wonderful opportunity for physical and mental fitness? Instead, they walk the dog while smokingcigarettes, or talking/texting on their cell phones- or both at the same time.
Thiswould seem to defeatthe whole purpose ofexercising outdoors with a dog, which is toinhale clean, freshairwhile staying blissfully in the moment, keeping focus on the dogs and their movements and resisting distractions.And yet, everywhere you look – especially in urban areas – people and dogs seem to be walking alone together, barely even making a connection.
Paige Polisner is a lifelong dog lover and meditation teacher in New York City; she’s affiliated with the Chakrasambara Buddhist Center. “I teach Buddhist meditation, and it’s all about trying to open our hearts and become less egocentric and more othercentric,”Polisner explains. “The way to happiness is having a love connection with other living beings.”
Those loved and loving beings may be human or animal, she adds: “One of the most virtuous things you can do is care for an animal, because an animal can’t totally care for itself, especially a domesticated animal.”Of course,an important part of caring for adog is taking him or her out for regularoutings.
“It’s such an act of kindness to care for another living being,”Polisner adds.”Dogs really are unconditional in their love. They’re so happy to see you, so completely noncritical. So it’s sad that, through mindlessness or distraction, people deprive themselves of an experience that is 1) a cause of peace and 2) a cause of happiness.”
When we keep our focus on the dog(s) we’re walking, and we don’t let our minds wander to the cigarette in our hand, the cell phone in our pocket, or the iPod in our ears (or all three at the same time), we’re equipped todo a much better job of providing the outdoor exercise our dogs so eagerly look forward to eachday.
What’s more, we enable ourselves to enjoy the quiet time of a leisurely dog walk.And that, Polisner explains, is priceless because it means we’re”connecting on a heart basis to other living beings around us. Cell phones andiPodswere born of a human desire to connect, and yet they’re creating the very thing they were trying to overcome, which is a sense of isolation.”
Certainly, a dog walking alongside a distracted person is bound to feel isolated. But the one really missing out is the person who fails to connect with the wonderful creature at the other end of the leash. He or she is missing out on some wonderful benefits of dog ownership. So, when you walk the dog, walk the dog – make the activity itself your main focus.
“When walking the dog, think about how the dog doesn’t have the freedom to walk himself – but we do,” Polisner says. “We have so many freedoms, yet we take so much for granted. Instead, try thinking how lucky we areas human beings to have this freedomto come and go as we please.”
A dog’s unconditional love is a precious gift, and taking time to walk him or her without becoming distracted by tobacco or technology really pays off. “That feeling of love is so amazing,”says Polisner, whose parents rescueGreat Danes.”It really makes your whole day better.”
Like yoga, walking the dog can even be a form ofmeditation – ifwe stay present. “We want to make everything we do as meaningful as possible by cultivating beautiful minds while doing that activity.”
And so, to get your head and heart in the right place before a dog walk, why not stop to assume a yoga posture before heading out with your dog?Give this a try,and you’ll find your dog will probably stop for a stretch too (that’s his way of staying in the moment). And please let us know how it goes in the comments!
Photo credit: Daniel Reichert