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Furry and Four Legged for our Yoga Practice??
by Donna Davidge

 

 

Animals are so important in yoga practice that many poses are named after them: frog,cat(more than one pose is named for these super stretching beasts!), tortoise, pigeon, rabbit, camel and peacock to name a few.

 

Also important in yoga is the image of the serpent, that energy which moves along the spine. This is referred to as the Kundalini, the life force energy which when flowing freely and in balance keeps us healthy, happy and whole. The image is so important that it is used as our medical symbol which we see for example on the prescriptions we take to the pharmacy.

 

We can learn much from our friends in the animal kingdom. Not only do we have stretches and poses that relate to or remind us of specific animals but also we can relate to the traits of these animals in our life and in our yoga practice, perhaps things we are also attempting to develop in ourselves:

 

the spryness of the frog

 

the patience of the tortoise as it takes it’s time plodding along it’s path

 

the haste of the hare in times we need to think and be quick

 

learning when being cautious serves us and when it does not!

 

These are the physical aspects we bring into our yoga practice. By watching animals we also see their ability to be focused, totally immersed in what they are doing in the present moment. Part of yoga is developing the senses and strengthening the nerves.

 

The cat shows an examples of sensitivity to sound, movement and the benefits of a intricate nervous system, as do birds and many other animals.

 

Downward facing dog is one of the most telling postures in yoga. Dogs effortlessly lift their tailbones to the sky and touch their heads to the ground, getting a great stretch for the spine and shoulders. For most of us this pose takes time and practice and we rarely get the head to the floor. We have to get the spine, legs and shoulders really stretched with practice to look like the dog.

 

By observing skills that animals have that we are working to develop we can curb any urge to feel separated from our furry- or scaley or feathery- friends, allowing ourselves to be humbled by the gifts they have at living, both mentally and physically. There are phenomenol stories about the gift of sixth sense that cats and dogs possess. We humans do possess it as well. Meditating at the third eye point between the eyebrows is a key practice in Kundalini yoga and other practices as well that help us get in touch with that sixth sense, the intuition.

 

Pets can also teach us a lot about love and joy.

 

Animals, like us, thrive on the air they breathe, the food they eat and respond sensitively to the environments that they are in. My cat is much happier and more mellow in Maine than in a confined city space. Don’t we too not feel as well, as calm, as happy when we are in environments with noise and air and even too much people pollution?

 

Yoga means union of mind, body and spirit but also important is the union, the

 

Oneness, we have with all living beings. Even the scorpion has a yoga pose named for it.

 

As we learn to love and be loved by our pets often it can facilitate real healing, which is also a goal in our yoga practice. People with pets live longer and couples with pets have healthier relationships.

 

This summer I had an incident in a yoga class that is about animals and how we relate. There was a woman at my retreat who had seemed to do her best to let everyone know that she was unhappy with life and with almost anyone around her. Both guests and staff had told me that her negativity was creating some real challenges. She also had problems with my cat. Though she said she was allergic and could get medication if she needed it, she exhibited no symptoms and basically it seemed more like just another thing for her to complain about. We had started a Kundalini Yoga class. The theme I had chosen was negativity. About five minutes into the class my cat appeared in the studio, as he sometimes does, and came and sat by me. Immediately the woman piped up, “Does the sphinx stay?” in a rather sarcastic tone. “Yes”, I quietly replied. In no time she was up and out of the class that she definitely could have used. I had made my choice. The cat was not bothering her or anyone else and my instincts were to let him stay and let her make her choice about that. Was I right or wrong? Our teacher Yogi Bhajan says


nothing is right or wrong, only our thinking makes it so. The woman had a choice to be in the class or not. The cat was not near her. As a teacher we are also taught to poke, provoke and elevate. That is not always comfortable. You might now win any popularity contests. But the true goal in yoga is self realization and this cannot come without some real looks at ourselves, our behaviors and how we affect ourselves and others. Having the cat in this classroom gave both myself and this woman and the other students a lesson beyond asana.

 

Remembering again that yoga is more than just the physical asanas(poses) that we name for animals but also yoga is about our relationship with our mind, watching how the mind of the animal works and the wonders of nature, here is a quote from a Buddhist card, one of a collection that I often read from at the end of yoga class on topics like the Material World and Meditation. This one is under the topic of Enlightenment:



“It was said at one monastery that the monks could tell when their head lama had become enlightened.

He stopped meditating and started playing with the cat.”

 

 

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About the Author

 

Always keenly interested in health, Donna Davidge, ATH Assistant Editor of Yoga, discovered Kundalini Yoga in 1985: “From my first class I knew I was experiencing something life changing”. She has created a large and devoted following of yoga students in NY and across the US. Her focus is Kundalini Yoga, though she practices and teaches Hatha, Vinyasa, and Ashtanga. She is certified by 3HO (Kundalini yoga) and Yoga Alliance.

 

She teaches or has taught at Equinox, N.Y. Sports club, Waterside Swim and Health Club, H.B. Studio, Pura Vida Spa (Costa Rica), New Age Spa (N.Y.), and Kundalini Yoga East. She has an extensive base of private clients, conducts regular workshops and is a guest-instructor at Solstice (Annual Kundalini Yoga Conference). Donna currently teaches at Golden Bridge in New York City. She has released the videos Strength and Serenity (1990), The Challenge (1996) (Top 10, Yoga Journal, 2000), the DVDs The Awakening (2004) and Flexibility and the Spine (2005).


Donna and her husband Kent Bonham established a YOGA RETREAT at Sewall House, her great-grandfather's 1865 homestead in Northern Maine. They lovingly restored the house to its original glory and it is now listed in the National Registry of Historic Places. Gayot rated Sewall House #3 of 10 top worldwide retreats in 2009.

 

Donna is available for interview and for private yoga sessions. She divides her time between Maine and New York teaching yoga. For further information please contact amrita@mindspring.com or 646-316-5151. Visit her website at www.sewallhouse.com.



 

 

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