Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow. That is what the sunflowers do.” ~Helen Keller
Today we are exploring the yoga guideline (niyama) of contentment (also known as santosha). Niyamas are actions that help us be happy and healthy. The contentment niyama suggests we keep a positive attitude, even in difficult times. By choosing to be contented we are better able to navigate challenges, from difficult tests and sporting competitions, to much bigger difficulties like being left behind or the death of a loved one.
I’ve had challenges in my life. When I was 8 years old my human surrendered me to an animal shelter in the middle of winter. He left me caged in a noisy smelly room full of imprisoned dogs and cats. Luckily I was rescued by All 4 Paws Animal Rescue and sent to the vet because my body was covered with bleeding sores. They said the wounds were a result of my diet and a lack of bathing and brushing. So listen to your parents when they tell you to eat your vegetables and take a bath!
I finally landed in a foster home and my temporary human put an ugly Christmas sweater on me so potential adopters would overlook my scruffy appearance. Despite that, I was happy there. It was warm and had an endless supply of food. There were other rescue dogs there, and although I prefer the company of humans over canines, it was reassuring to be in their pack.
When I went to my adoption “meet and greet,” I attracted my prospective family by wagging my tail and sitting in front of them in (what they called) a child’s pose. They liked that I was calm and cute, and after repeatedly showing them my adorable pouty face (see below) they gave me a forever home.
It was my resilience, contentment and choice of a positive outlook that helped me connect with my new human family.
I wish my brother Jake (shown to the left in one of his rare calm moments) would follow my example. When new people come into our home he nervously jumps and barks at them.
They back off quickly because he is big and intimidating.
And sometimes they turn away from him and pet me instead (as shown at right) because I am calm (and, as mentioned before, quite cute). Jake gets jealous and pushy when this happens, and sometimes our human has to pull us both away or send us outside. Jake gets anxious with newcomers because he’s afraid to be abandoned again. As a stray, he spent weeks on South Carolina streets before someone took him to a shelter. This was all very scary, so new people and situations make him worry that he’ll be taken away from his forever home.
How do you act when you meet people? Are you positive and calm when you are with friends? Or do you focus on the negative things or open conversations by gossiping? It’s tempting to act in these ways, but you can wind up alone with no one to talk to. That’s because we’re attracted to people who are positive, content and joyful.
How can we become more content?
One way is to be in the moment. Breathing practices help us forget about the past and future, and be grateful for what you have. My human instructs her yoga students to take 5 to 10 deep breaths and if they notice any tension or negative thoughts they are to let them go on the exhale. Then she asks them to think of three things they are grateful for. They breathe them in one at a time, and exhale anything that gets in the way of their thankfulness. If I were in the class, I’d be thinking about pizza night. My humans have it every Friday and I’m very grateful for that. I love pizza.
Another way to feel more positive is to do something that makes you joyful every day. Summer is a great time to be outdoors in nature, which is instantly grounding and calming. I like to walk with my human every night. There are so many delicious smells in the shopping center dumpsters nearby, and the bushes in front of the vet’s office are intoxicating. Instead of these doggy joys you might prefer riding a bike or running through the lawn sprinklers. Or being creative, with crafting or drawing chalk pictures on the sidewalk. When it’s really hot out, just walking into an air-conditioned room can bring delight and contentment.
Cultivating a positive and contented energy helps us overcome difficulties, enhances satisfaction with our situation, and surrounds us with loving and caring friends.
How might you bring more contentment to your days?
“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” ~ Lao Tzu
Next time we will explore the niyama of self-discipline (also known as tapas). That’s a hard one for me – especially on pizza night.
Until then, Namaste.
Today we are going to explore the Niyama Saucha or cleanliness, purity and clearness. Niyamas are virtues / guidelines (taken from ancient yoga philosophy) to help beings experience peace.
It is January. And I have noticed less leftover pizza (and pizza boxes to sniff and chew) and more soup and salad being served. It is a sad time for us dogs.
In the last couple months, food was everywhere. Turkey, pretzels, beer cheese, and cake. Then suddenly - after one late night with bubbly drinks – nothing. No more delicious food.
It makes my brother Jake and I wonder…did we do something wrong?
Recently my diet changed as well – for the better. I had been terribly itchy and had a never-ending ear infection. I could sense the food I was eating wasn’t good for me. So, I stopped eating.
Have you ever eaten something that made you sick? It is a horrible when food that is supposed to nourish us - does the opposite.
When I stopped eating, my human took me to the vet and she suggested trying a different diet. The hypoallergenic food she prescribed smelled good to me. When offered, I quickly ate it all.
It was like my body knew what was right for me.
I feel so much better now. My skin cleared up, my eyes aren’t full of mucus anymore and I poop more regularly.
Which is a big topic in my house. My humans are always asking – did Yogi poop? I wish they would be quieter about my bowel habits. They don’t have the same conversations about my younger brother Jake. Maybe it’s because he’s only two and I’m ten.
Mmmm…I wonder if the lack of pizza boxes means the humans are following my example. Maybe all the wonderful smelling and greasy food wasn’t good for them either.
All this reminds me of the yoga Niyama Saucha which relates to cleanliness, purity and clearness. It refers to purity of body, mind and speech - and is considered essential for health, happiness and general well-being.
Purity refers to the body’s outside too. Winter is a great time to observe self-care rituals like warm baths, hair-cuts (I hear my grooming costs more than my human’s) and facials.
Saucha also refers to purity of speech and mind. Anger, hate, prejudice, greed, pride, fear, negative thoughts are impurities of the mind. These are cleansed through activities like meditation, creative pursuits (coloring is a great one) or the study of philosophical and spiritual texts.
I have noticed my human reading a few pages of a philosophy book each morning, and then sitting quietly and breathing. She counts beads one by one for each breath. There are many beads on the strand – but it takes only ten minutes or so for her to finish the measured breathing.
Her energy is quieter - and she speaks in a more loving tone after she finishes (what she calls) meditating. I wish all humans would take ten minutes to meditate each day. Imagine what the world would be like - if everyone found ten minutes of meditative calm each morning?
How might observing the Niyama of Saucha and making an effort to purify our mind, body and spirit improve our lives – and maybe the entire world?
Next time we will explore the Niyama of contentment – a favorite of my human.
Until then, Namaste.
Today we are going to explore the Yama Aparigraha or non-possessiveness / non-attachment. Yamas are guidelines to help people find peace.
It has been a rough few months. After successfully fostering and releasing two dogs, my family “foster failed” the third dog they helped. His name is Jake.
Jake is a one-year old lab / hound mix who weighs 46 pounds. I am a nine-year old Shih Tzu who weighs 18 pounds. Jake wants to play all the time and has trouble calming down. I want to sleep all the time and have trouble jumping onto the couch. We are very different.
I was the king of this castle before Jake came. My family used to give me all their attention. Now I have to fight with “Mr. Spunky and Cheerful” for their affection. And sometimes my family gravitates toward him – rather than me.
When that happens I sulk and hide in the corner. My family does carry me back to the center of things - but it is hard for me to share the limelight with Jake. I really miss being the only dog – especially since the new one has stolen my owners’ love, my favorite chair, and sometimes even my food.
But Jake doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. And turns out, he desperately needs my help and guidance. For example, when we are playing in the backyard, he doesn’t understand that going into the house means - we get treats. Oblivious to this, Jake keeps running around the yard - even though there are seriously good snacks to be had. To help I bark “For goodness sake come in you silly dog – there are treats!” He eventually listens – to everyone’s benefit.
And though I am not as young and spunky as Jake, my calm quiet energy can be useful. Recently, we had a houseguest who was recovering from surgery. Because I am peaceful and able to sit for long periods of time, I was able to lay by him and keep him company. I heard him tell my family how comforting it was to have me nearby. It felt so good to be appreciated.
Finally, I have noticed that even though I don’t seek out Jake, he tries to snuggle up to me for support (see below). This is endearing – in a “giant fool who steals my thunder” kind of way. It almost makes up for the times when he isn’t so charming.
So, letting go of my attachment to being the top dog to let in this large energetic abandoned pup hasn’t been so bad. And because of Jake, I have discovered that I am appreciated, needed and loved – even though I am smaller, older and lacking in spunkiness.
Are you attached to possessions, people or specific situations? How might observing the Yama of Aparigraha bring you more happiness and peace?
The discussion for today is on the Yama Brahmacharya or Self-Control. Another translation of Brahmacharya is “right use of energy.” Yamas are guidelines to help people find more peace.
I haven’t been writing much recently because my human fostered several dogs in past two months and eventually adopted the last one. His name is Jake and he is a one-year old Lab/Hound mix (picture of us both below)
This fostering and adopting activity has been very difficult for me. All the foster dogs were much larger, younger and more energetic than me. They also were very nervous when they came to our home and weren’t at their best when interacting with me. Finally, they didn’t show respect to me as their elder – I am nine after all!
Having these doggy visitors made it hard for me to be the calm and mature when interacting with them. The dogs were infringing on my house, my owners and – more than once - on my food.
Once I actually lost my cool and started to bark and nip at a dog that was three times my size. He thought I was playing and started to pay me back in kind. My human quickly snatched me away – but this brief loss of control almost got me into a fight I could never win.
Afterward, I worked to accept the foster guests. I was more cautious around them and let my humans protect me when they got too rambunctious. It was good to have support from my loved ones and it helped me use my energy more positively. Recently I even let our new addition – Jake – sit next to me. Even though he was obnoxiously chewing his bone (see below). Why can’t the young just relax and just take a nap sometimes?
Some other ways to control impulsive behavior include counting to ten before acting, or channeling your energy into other activities like drawing, painting, writing or taking your favorite dog for a walk (I am always up for that).
Are there new people or situations that cause you to lose your cool? How can you remember to be kind to those going through difficult times and use your energy to comfort them and make them feel safe? Would leaning on your loved ones for support make your self-control efforts easier?
Hope this discussion of the Yama Brahmacharya on Self-Control has been helpful. My next blog will be on the Yama of Aparigraha or non-possessiveness.
Until then, Namaste.
Do you have someone in your life who is constantly on their cell phone? I do. And I could understand this obsession if it brought them joy. But their continued swiping and typing away makes them sad and angry. Especially since early November.
The picture below was taken last week when my human became increasingly upset while looking at her cell phone. I actually growled to distract her from the little glowing screen.
This incident made me think of the Yoga Yama Asteya or Non-Stealing. This Yama refers not only to refraining from stealing items that are not yours, but also time, ideas and attention as well. Clearly this cell phone device is stealing away my human’s attention – from me. Once I got her attention she quickly picked me up and gave me the cuddling I sorely needed (see below).
Now you probably aren’t stealing things from other people because that is an obvious no-no. But are you stealing attention from your brothers or sisters by interrupting them? Or do you take someone else’s ideas at home or in the classroom?
How do you feel when you steal attention or ideas from others? How do you think others feel when you steal these things from them? Would it be better (and less trouble) if you were respectful of their feelings and refrained from stealing attention and ideas from them?
And, just a hint, when others steal from you - maybe a little growling might be in order. It certainly helped get my human’s attention.
Hope this discussion of the Yama Asteya (Non-Stealing) was informative and will help you refrain from interrupting or taking ideas from others.
Next blog post - on Brahmacharya or Self Control - will help with keeping all those New Year's Resolutions.
Until then, have a wonderful holiday season. Namaste.
I have noticed a lot of raised voices in my house recently related to something they call the "Presidential election". Now being a dog, I really don't understand much about elections, but maybe this process could have benefited from observance of the Yamas. And one Yama in particular – Satya or Truthfulness.
Most children know the story – “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” The story involves a boy who keeps crying “Wolf!” when there is no wolf in site. He just wants to see what would happen when he cries wolf. He cries wolf a couple times, and the villagers come running to protect him. When they realize he is safe, they angrily scold him and walk away. The third time the boy cries wolf, he is actually being attacked by a wolf, but no one comes because he has cried wolf one too many times. This is a good example of what can occur when you are not truthful.
But the Satya Yama is not only about being honest. It is also about being careful with what you say so you do not cause harm to others. This includes gossiping as well as using words to mislead others.
This is particularly important to me as a dog as I only understand a few words humans say. Recently, my owners were working on a puzzle and kept saying, “You need to work on the outside pieces first. The outside ones are the easiest to put together. Let me help you find the outside pieces.”
When I heard the word – outside – I was sure they wanted to take me outside for a walk (see picture below). So I jumped up and went toward the door.
No one could understand why I was moving toward the door so they kept working on the puzzle and discussing the outside pieces. I started to whine at them and sat by the door. Finally they realized that their use of the word outside was making me believe that I was going outside for a walk. This is a great example of the power of words and how misleading they can be – especially for dogs like me.
We all took a walk and everyone shared ways they hurt each other with words. One of the ways was to call each other “stupid” or “dumb.” Everyone decided to make a pact not to use those words to describe anyone anymore.
Are there words you use that hurt or mislead other people? Do you lie about some things? How can you remember to be more careful and truthful with your words?
After our walk was over, the children did some yoga postures. Pictures of the postures they are most proud of can be found below along with my favorite yoga pose (sitting on bed where my owner just was – so warm and snuggly). Can you do any of these moves?
Hope this discussion of the Yama Satya (Truthfulness) has been enlightening and you will think a little bit more before you speak - at least around the dogs in your life.
Can’t wait for next month when we discuss the Yama of Asteya or Non-Stealing.
Until then, Namaste.
Last night I was helping watch three children while the fourth children was transported to and from his Homecoming dance. As everyone was restless, it seemed like a good time to talk about one of the fundamental Yamas (also called restraints - or rules) of yoga philosophy - Non-Violence.
The Non-Violence restraint is the idea of causing no harm to others or ourselves. Another way to define this is:
What a great example of kindness.
Then we discussed how to be kind to people or animals. One way to be kind is to give treats to dogs like me. This is one of my favorite expressions of kindness.
Then we discussed what you can do when you feel the urge to hurt someone because we are frustrated, tired, bored or angry. A great way to avoid being unkind is to take a personal time out.
Close your eyes and take 5 long inhales and exhales. If that is not enough, take 5 more long breaths. Try to notice your thoughts without reacting to them. I also highly recommend trying to take a nap. It can be hard to be our best selves when we are tired and cranky.
I hope this Yama discussion on Non-Violence has been helpful to you.
Over the next few months I will be sharing the Yamas and Niyamas from yoga philosophy with the children in my life. Next up - Truthfulness.
Leaving a loved one behind can be very tough.
Afterwards it can be hard to break old routines. You keep looking for your loved one, only they are no longer there.
When feeling sad, it is important to ask for help. Your friends and family want to be there for you - you just need to let them know you are in need.
Maintaining a work routine and staying close to loved ones really helps too.
Hope these tips on coping with saying goodbye provide you some peace.
Namaste. - Yogi
With school fast approaching it is helpful to remember a few things when making new friends:
It is important to take an interest in your new friend. Here I am saying "How do you do?" to my new friend Maggie who was also adopted from All 4 Paws. Maggie is an adorable Lab mix puppy that is being trained to become a service dog.
It is also important to maintain healthy boundaries when making new friends. Here I am being asked to be a little too close to my new friend Tucker - who was visiting with my owner's cousin. Here I am showing my need for a more healthy distance in this relationship. It is important to ask for what you need when making new friends.
Finally, making new friends can be tiring and even stressful. Self-care through yoga, good nutrition and rest is essential. Here I am taking a much needed nap after a long day of making new friends.
I hope these tips are helpful to you as you begin the new school year. Please check my owners blog (Donna's Blog) for more tips on how self-care and yoga can help you through large life transitions. Namaste. - Yogi
It was 100 degrees outside and the kids were getting restless. Time to do yoga. Child's pose is my favorite position so of course I had to join in!
Yogi Bear is the friendly and wise mascot of Mini Change Yoga.