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CANINE CONNECTION: Zen and the art of dog walking

My dogs have been the grounding force in my life that has helped me through many of life’s challenges.

My dogs have been the grounding force in my life that has helped me through many of life’s challenges.

Their peaceful nature, their simple joyful ways and their ability to be so completely content within each moment is something that I have learned to adopt into my own life.

I cherish my walks with them and actively seek out places void of human interlopers. Sometimes that means walking while the sun rises or testing my car’s off-road capabilities.

In any case, my need for solitude with my animals brings me personal awareness, internal peace and mindfulness – all of which makes the stresses and drama of life rather trivial. 

Mindfulness is described as the ability to live in the moment as it unfolds and accept that moment without judgment.

Being mindful is a practice, it is not something you try out for a week. It is a part of spiritual growth and maturity. It takes effort to be aware of thoughts as they pass through our minds and to not allow them to sabotage the present moment.

In fact, it is such an effort many people find participating in yoga, pilates and tai chi helps them become aware of their thoughts and learn how to stay present.

There are even apps for our phones to help us become more mindful, even though, ironically, it is our reliance and addiction to cellphones that is contributing to our mindlessness!

But for me, there is no better mindfulness teacher than the four legged guru’s that live in my home. A dog in its natural element along a walk is completely in the moment and we can all learn how to be as well, by following in their pawprints.

Start your journey into a mindfulness walk with your dog by leaving your cellphone at home. If you are not emotionally prepared to do this yet, then at least turn it to silent or do not disturb mode.

Start your walk by focusing on your dog, don’t try to analyze what he is doing, just observe without judgment. Take a moment to acknowledge your breath. Breathe in through your nose allowing your abdomen to fully expand then breathe out through your mouth.

Be aware of how your body moves through each inhale and exhale.

As you walk with your dog, pay attention to how Fido moves with the environment, watch how each step is placed with purpose and imitate this. Place each of your footsteps with intent, by trying to feel the earth beneath you. Like your dog, find the point where your body is in perfect balance with each step and your movement flows gracefully.

When your dog stops to investigate a smell, do the same. Close your eyes and become aware of the aromas around you such as the smell of the pine trees or the wild honeysuckle. Take your dog’s lead and engage all of your senses with intention. Notice the insects buzzing or fluttering by, what kind of birds are singing in the distance. Reach out and touch the ferns. Like your dog, savour every sensation. 

When your mind wanders – and it will – don’t get frustrated, just start centering yourself again. Remember it’s not a race to quiet your mind, it is a process that takes time to master. When you notice your mind has gone elsewhere just gently bring your attention back to the moment by focusing on your dog. Observing your dog’s simple joy of being outside on a walk with you helps center your mind and release the drama-filled chatter that fuels anxiety and fear.

The goal is not necessarily to be free of thought – that will never happen – but rather to recognize when your mind has taken a detour and your thoughts are nothing more than a rambling mess of either past or future nonsense.

Being mindful can help you to better appreciate simple everyday experiences like walking with your dog. By learning to focus on the moment, you may find yourself less likely to get caught up in worries of the future or regrets of the past.

Joan Klucha has been working with dogs for more than 15 years in obedience, tracking as well as behavioural rehabilitation. She can be reached by email at k9kinship@gmail.com.

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