What Pets Can Teach Us about Mindfulness
I wake up some mornings and am about to turn over to check my phone when I notice that my dog, Meerie, is precisely curled into the crook of my thighs. Her rib cage rises and falls as she snores lightly. As a result, I wait. I sense her warmth, hear her breath, and realize how at ease I am. I’m no longer asleep, but it’s OK to just be comfortable and still.
Being with pets can help with mindfulness in a variety of ways. Even observing animals, especially with the assistance of a therapist, can help us break free from our thoughts and into full awareness of the present moment.
“Interacting with an animal and enjoying each other’s company can be a mindfulness exercise,” says Andrea Beetz, a psychologist and inclusive education professor at the IU International University of Applied Sciences.
Beetz has investigated how dogs, cats, fish, birds, and horses help humans cope with stress. Interacting with animals has been shown to lower stress hormone cortisol levels, blood pressure, and heart rate. Physical contact or eye contact with a creature with whom you have formed a link — even birds! — might cause your brain to release oxytocin, the relaxing “cuddle” hormone.
Stress is reduced by oxytocin, which promotes emotions of well-being and empathy. Of course, oxytocin can also be obtained through human relationships. Animals, on the other hand, appear to induce calm and build trust in a more global, interspecies fashion, according to studies. Human pulse rates decreased lower when petting a dog than when conversing with friends, according to Beetz’s meta-analysis of animal-human interaction studies. Similarly, having a dog in an elderly home alleviated loneliness more effectively than simply having other people around.
It is necessary for people to learn it. This is something that all animals do naturally.
Bringing your pet back to the present can happen in a number of ways. Perhaps you’re out walking your dog, listening to your cat purr, watching your goldfish swim, or watching your hamster go around in its wheel. Walking, paying attention to repetitious sound and motion, and enjoying nature are all recommended strategies to unleash mindful moments, and it’s no coincidence.
“Attention, intention, compassion, and awareness are the cornerstones of mindfulness,” Dr. Ann Berger, a National Institutes of Health researcher who teaches mindfulness to those suffering from pain, told the NIH’s News in Health email. “Animals bring all of those things to the table,” says the narrator. It’s something that people have to get used to. This is something that animals do naturally.”
Of course, many of the advantages of being around animals are contingent on the animal being calm and well-behaved. Having a dog with behavioral issues might make it more difficult to practice mindfulness since it adds more stressors to your life. In a recent episode of the popular dog-training podcast Drinking from the Toilet, Grisha Stewart, a dog trainer who focuses on positive training methods, remarked, “It’s hard to get our baseline of calm when we have dogs with sensitivity.”
Even a difficult animal, though, provides an opportunity to develop mindfulness. Stewart explained, “Sometimes I’ll regulate my breathing so they [dogs] relax.” “If we learn to pay more attention to our breath, we’ll be able to pay more attention to our dogs and see what they really want.”
Beetz warns that we shouldn’t expect animals to transform us into mini-Buddhas on their own. “It is possible to naturally take up awareness from the example of an animal,” she explains. “However, humans nowadays are so preoccupied with so many technological devices, communication, and knowledge, that truly taking the time to be in the moment outside in nature or at home with their dogs is unfortunately not very possible,” Beetz added. “Most people require some kind of help to learn mindfulness.”
Meerie chooses a bright seat on the patio after breakfast on sunny days. She sits with her head held high, definitely paying attention but also appearing to be at ease. I can feel how warm her fur is if I come out to pet her. When I sit in the sun, I consider how frequently I grab for my phone or allow my mind to wander to whether I’m too hot or chilly, or whether I should be doing something constructive. Is there enough sunscreen on my body? Is this going to cause me wrinkles and spots? My thoughts are clearly on the future, and I am not appreciating the tranquility of the present.
Listen up: sunscreen is crucial. But sitting under the sun’s rays with a mild mental focus on nothing, in particular, might be relaxing at times. That’s something Meerie has taught me. What can you learn today from your pet?
Information Credit: Mashable