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Teddy Tried It: Dog Mindfulness

A new canine-centric wellness program gets dogs (and their humans) to Zen out


“Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you can’t not know what mindfulness is,” says Julie Potiker, referring to the studies, articles, TV segments, and general wellness gossip that have championed the health benefits of giving your brain a break through meditation. Potiker founded the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center’s new Balanced Mind Meditation Center, and she saw so much success teaching a drop-in guided meditation there, that when Potiker heard about dog meditation, she was all ears.

“We know from science how beneficial dogs are to humans,” she says. “Petting an animal lowers your blood pressure and heart rate—the same things meditation does. Dogs are so mindful, they’re so in the moment. They’re not worrying about the future or ruminating about the past.”

So she brought on Amanda Ringnalda, a yoga and meditation teacher and lead educator and event host at The Chopra Center in Carlsbad, to lead a six-week workshop launching January 25 at the JCC (you don’t have to be Jewish to attend or become a member). Ringnalda began delving into canine-centric wellness when her Doberman-hound mix, Graham, was severely ill. Nothing Ringnalda tried worked, until she started using remedies from ayurveda, a form of holistic medicine founded in India centuries ago. The result: a 100-percent recovery. So, she thought, why not use those remedies on all dogs?

Teddy and I attended JCC’s Dog Wellbeing 101, a primer for the six-week workshop. The 90-minute class began on the JCC lawn, where we did what anyone does to get their dog to focus: exercise them. We walked a few laps, and my four-year-old golden retriever, Teddy, couldn’t even do that without getting distracted. A notorious puller, he yanked on the leash, eager to greet other pups, and at one point had to make a bathroom pit stop. Once we sat on yoga mats under a tent, the real challenge came: How do you get an excited dog to sit still—for 90 minutes, no less?

But most dog owners know that dogs mirror our emotions. If we’re calm, they’re calm. So once we settled into deep breaths and began to gently massage our dogs, they got the message. It was time for Teddy and his new friends to Zen out.

Class time was divided into six “pillars” (each session of the upcoming workshop will be dedicated to one of them): dogs as multidimensional beings, ayurvedic principles, connection, nutrition, balancing the five senses, and daily routine plus training.

To prove just how multifaceted our furry friends are, we went around the room sharing tales of canine greatness. Ringnalda told us a story from her childhood about her family dog, who dragged her out of a pool when she was drowning. Another woman shared a story about passing out during a stroke, only to wake up and find her doodle licking her to consciousness. Ringnalda’s point was that dogs aren’t just vacant beings; they have thoughts, desires, and impulses.

The connection portion of the class meant looking straight into our dog’s eyes. Direct eye contact is said to boost a human’s oxytocin levels, which are connected to feelings of nurturing and mother-baby bonding. And I can confirm: There’s a reason they call them “puppy dog eyes.” Swoon.

Ringnalda also talked about proper diet, and the increased incidence of canine cancer and its link to processed foods. She offered drops of essential oils like chamomile, a tool she recommended using at home to relax our pups. I’m sure the dogs enjoyed it, but also, what dog doesn’t enjoy sniffing a new scent?

At any given time during class, each dog was in a different state of mind—some were seated, others wandered (on leash), another barked when someone walked by, and Teddy alternated between rolling on his back for a belly rub and sniffing the Labrador in front of us. But it wasn’t about my dog achieving a Buddha-like stance. It was about realizing how deep the connection between human and dog runs, and how, if we dial it down and focus our own thoughts, our companions are likely to follow suit.

Dogs & Their Humans Wellbeing, $330 for 6-week workshop ($275 for members), Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, 4126 Executive Drive, La Jolla, lfjcc.org

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