What do exercise, meditation, and your dog(s) have in common?
All of them provide a little necessary stress to help you get stronger.
I write this as Roxy stares intently at me. I really hate it when she stares so expectantly. It’s even worse when her backup, Rico, enters the picture.
She wants attention, that’s all. And yet she stares so hard, I can physically feel the power of her gaze willing me into cuddling her. Again.
Must. Stay. Focused.
So, I started thinking about this after reading a nice comment on an earlier post asking how I get two dogs on the same page for a photo. It reminded me why I started Dog and Dojo. (Thanks for getting me back on track, Jo!)
And, faced with Roxy’s distraction, I’m really thinking about it now.
This is the analogy I came up with to help this make sense for someone who thinks walking their unruly dog feels more like deep sea fishing. Or someone who has a dog with a staring problem that drives them nuts.
In other words, someone who’s laughing at the idea that their dog’s unwanted behavior could benefit them.
As a one-time, certified personal trainer through the American Council on Exercise (many, many years ago), I learned that exercise causes microscopic tears in muscles. Your body naturally goes to work repairing that damage, building the muscles back up stronger and more resilient. But you have to choose to put your body through enough stress for that to happen, otherwise you’ll just maintain your current level. (For guidelines about how much is enough, please do some research. You can start with ACE.)
Meditation is like mental push-ups. Here’s what happens:
You get into meditation position excited about your quiet mind.
Random thoughts stream in.
You have to keep “pushing” your mind back to that quiet state.
And the longer this goes on, the more irritated or discouraged you become, which means now not only do you have to push your mind back to that quiet state, you also have to work to not get caught up in your emotional response to those unwanted thoughts.
The payoff for your hard work? There are quite a few scientific studies answering that. The Mindful Society provides a nice overview.
In my experience, the payoff has been an ability to think and act very clearly in times of stress – stress that ranges from family crises to, yes, working with dogs and everything in between.
About Those Dogs
OK, so you have to cause a tiny bit of damage to your muscles to make them stronger. And you need those obnoxious thoughts to practice meditation.
Again, this is just my experience. But I need to reach that point of stress with my dogs when I’m tearing my hair out before I can effectively communicate with them what I want.
It’s not for a lack of trying at first.
Maybe a lack of energy? A staring, fixated energy they can physically feel willing them to where I need them to be? (That was a strange, unplanned epiphany.)
In the beginning of a photo shoot, I ask them to sit here. They frantically sit in a million different places, thinking they’ll get a reward for each sit. I coax them into lying down, only to have them both spring up because then I have to ask them to lay down again, which means another treat. I want them back there. They want to get right in front of me, in case I can’t see how pretty they sit. My frustration feeds their frantic darting, which, in turn, makes me even more frustrated.
I want to bang my head against the wall. I need an outlet for this frustrated energy. And I need a picture.
Like meditation, I can let my stress win and give up. Or I can focus that energy into being calm and use that to guide them where I want them to be. It’s all the energy of being pissed off with all of the benefits of being calm.
They respond totally differently. They almost seem relieved and more relaxed because they finally get what I’m saying. That’s when I get a shot like this:
One day I hope to bypass the frustrated stage. But the force in me will have to be even stronger than Roxy’s. Right now, I feel myself bending to her will. I’m going to go hug her.