Unconditional Love With Puppies
by Veronica Beltran and Sabrina Moscola
Photos Renee Choi
Having animals around benefits the mind, body and spirit, teaches us lessons about ourselves and life, and proves to be excellent for companionship both on and off the mat. Pets remind us to always have a sense of humor, be open to love, and that sometimes we need to slow down. We think that dogs of yoga are here to stay!
Scroll your social media feed, and you are bound to come across a picture of a yogi and their four-legged best friend. Whether the dogs turn into complete hams posing for the camera or sneak into the shot, it is hard not to look at the photos of these pups with joy and affection. People are incorporating their pooches into their practice like never before. How can they not, when there are numerous health benefits and lessons to be learned from their companions?
There is a reason why founding yogis took cues from the animals around them. They named many poses after those with abilities and aptitudes they wanted to emulate so they could live healthier. When talking to different teachers about the relationship with their dogs and their practice, the common thread seems to be the lessons they embody from them — like love, joy, detachment, empathy and so much more. We also learned that many of the yoga teachers adopted their dogs from rescue centers as a better way to pay it forward on and off the mat.
This past Spring we attended the event Paws for Yoga at Pure Yoga East. Proceeds from the event went to the rescue organization, Muddy Paws, entirely made up of fosters and volunteers. Phoebe Rule, general manager at Pure East, brought this project to the studio to combine her love of yoga and puppies. A few years ago, she asked herself what made her happy. After coming up with the three things of yoga, puppies, and babies, she began her career at Pure Yoga, adopted a dog on death row and started babysitting. Phoebe and her mom started fostering puppies through In Our Hands, where the founder of Muddy Paws was working at the time.
Phoebe beautifully described: “At first it was heartbreaking when the pups found adopters. I would connect with the puppies when they lived with us. The first time I had to give a dog to their new forever parents I cried and then thought this is the lesson of non-attachment, that we love them while we can then we let them go.”
She adds: “For me yoga and dogs align because they bring me into the present moment, they ease my anxieties and help put the important things in perspective. I'm not living in the fear of the future or replaying the past when I'm on my mat or with my pup, in that moment I'm able to be in the present, and when I'm in the present I'm at peace.”
Here are a few benefits of having them around
They help to act as mental floss to raise our brain’s levels of dopamine and serotonin, the neurotransmitters associated with pleasure and tranquility.
Their presence lowers the heart rate and blood pressure
They help instill compassion, kindness, happiness, and contentment in our interactions with ourselves, our pups and others
Meet a few of the yogi community’s mascots
Yoga Teacher: Faith Hunter
Yoga Mascot: Sebastian
Rescued from: a loving family who already had 3 dogs and 2 cats.
Favorite Charity: Currently I have 2 favorite charities: City Dogs Rescue & City Kitties and HER Resiliency Center.
Breed: Shih Tzu
Age: 10 years
When & why did you get Sebastian?
I’ve had Sebastian since he was 3 months old. At the time I was just getting over the death of my cat. I grew up around all kinds of animals. I figured it was time for a puppy, and it would be nice to have a loyal companion at my yoga studio. A friend introduced me to a Maryland family that had two extra puppies. The connection was instant.
What lessons have you learned from Sebastian on and off the mat?
Sebastian has always been a sweet nugget of unconditional love, from the gentle morning alarm licks to cuddling on the sofa at night. Seb is also a master at meditating and staying calm. He’s my guru of “staying cool in chaos.” Seb turns into an explorer in the park, forever reminding me to be open and dive in for some unexpected fun!
Why did you name him Sebastian?
His dad was named Sebastian, and Seb had his intense yet sweet side-eye gaze. Why not make him Sebastian Bach Hunter, Jr.
Yoga Teacher: David Zach-Shemesh and Elian Zach-Shemesh
Yoga Mascot: Shapiro
Rescued from: Socialties
Favorite Charity: Let Live Org
Breed/Age: Shapiro is a handsome little mutt. We're not entirely sure what breed he is, but we like to say that he's part dog part deer. Shapiro celebrated his 5th birthday in September.
When & why did you get Shapiro?
David got Shapiro at Socialties, a shelter in the East Village in November 2012. David and Shapiro united about 3 months before I joined the family. Why? That's an easy one: Love.
What lessons have you learned from Shapiro on and off the mat?
UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. He is a live testament to the fact that it is indeed possible to love and be loved unconditionally. The yoga practice is a great tool to reaffirm this, but our bewhiskered bundle of cuteness is the perfect constant reminder.
Why did you name him Shapiro?
David used to be partner in a restaurant named Schapiro's on the Lower East Side. In many ways, those were Shapiro's first steps as the shrewd CEO he now is. The WOOM team would agree, he is a strict and fair boss.
Yoga Teacher: Ali Cramer
Yoga Mascot: Marty
From: He is not a rescue but he is from Florida
Favorite Charity: Lineage Project
Breed/Age: He's a one year old toy Australian Shepherd. Marty's birthday is June 7, same as Prince, which makes me happy.
When & why did you get Marty?
I wanted a dog for a really, really long time but could not commit until my father said he would dog sit when I go out of the country to teach.
hat lessons have you learned from Marty on and off the mat?
I have learned to slow down, to snuggle on the couch instead of running off on another meaningless errand, and I learned that if he messes up, it's because I messed up, and wasn't conscientious of his needs.
hy did you name him Marty?
Because my dad was going to be Marty's primary dog sitter, when my father asked what we were naming him, I said, "MARTY, of course!"
There is a movie from the 50's called "Marty," where every Friday night he hangs out with his buddy and says, "Whaddaya wanna do tonight?" And his buddy says, "I dunno, Marty, whadda YOU wanna do?" When I used to go visit my dad, we would go through this same skit.
Yoga Teacher: Jenn Tardif
Yoga Mascot:: Maybe
Rescued from: Hope from Hannah
Favorite Charity: Social Tease
Breed/Age: 2 years old, Havanese Maltese
When & why did you get Maybe?
A couple years ago, I went on a Tinder-like application for adopting dogs.
What lessons have you learned from Maybe on and off the mat?
I think what’s really nice about having a dog and living with an animal is all of the ways in which they can be a teacher to you. She’s a teacher in patience in that she embodies this idea that things will take as long as they take. I’m able to take cues from her as she lives her life without inhibition. I also think she’s a really nice reminder to be empathetic. On the mat, she completely mirrors the practice. When we’re really focused, sitting up and doing pranayama, she’s often sitting up and looking everybody in the eye. Whenever there are moments where the energy drops down and people are mediating or in savasana, she sleeps. She’s like a little thermostat for our nervous systems.
Why did you name him Maybe?
While training her everything was yes and no, so we decided to name her Maybe.
Yoga Teacher: Jen Carter aka ZenJen
Yoga Mascot: Speedy
Rescued From: The street
Favorite Charity: Ronald McDonald House Charities. I volunteered for them a lot while I was recovering. It helped to take the focus off of my own condition.
Breed/Age: Chihuahua, about eight years old
When & why did you get Speedy?
I rescued Speedy, or perhaps, he rescued me almost seven years ago. I fell down a flight of stairs and suffered a traumatic brain injury. I had been experiencing a type of vertigo that made me feel like I was constantly on a boat rocking back and forth. However, when I held Speedy in my arms, it would counter the feeling of equilibrium imbalance that I was feeling. His shaking had the opposite effect and made me feel as though I wasn’t moving anymore.
What lessons have you learned from Speedy on and off the mat?
Had you asked me ten years ago if I ever would have considered bringing a dog with me to yoga, the answer most definitely would have been NO. I didn’t understand how people could even allow dogs in their homes.However, despite how much we think we are in control, sometimes the universe has other plans for us.
Rescuing Speedy (or Speedy rescuing me), has opened my heart in a way that I didn’t know it could be opened. Animals are healers.I believe they are in tune, perhaps even more than humans. They love unconditionally. That is the real yogaanymore.
Why did you name him Speedy?
One day, early in my days of recovery, I saw Speedy running through a major intersection. He was almost struck by several oncoming cars. After chasing him for more than a mile through the streets, the name Speedy, shortened from Speedy Gonzales, seemed too perfect!