7 (human) years ago, in the 2009 Oct-Dec issue of YWM I wrote an article about the lessons my ‘SPCA special’ Great-Dane-Shepherd-Lab-everything-else crossbreed and faithful sidekick Daisy, had taught me about life.
As you can imagine, a few things have changed since penning (typing?) that article. For example, both of Daisy’s ears now stand perfectly erect with only the slightest hint of the puppy-flop that used to affect the left side. Her sleek black coat isn’t as rich as it once was (neither is mine), and her once break-neck greyhound-like speed is now more Basset Hound (stops to smell more than she runs) than anything. Yet many of the yogic lessons she taught me then are true today. However, with age comes wisdom and change, and as such, some of the things she has taught me have taken on new meaning.
To read the original article click here.
- Do Down Dog and do it often! Daisy’s Down-dog, albeit not as deep as it once was, is still pretty darned perfect and I’d argue, is still better than most humans, but the point is she still does it. EVERY DAY. It’s still her response to her favourite words like “park” and “dinner” (this has replaced “run”), and it is still how she greets the start of each day. I truly believe that Daisy’s ability to stay as agile even at her advanced age is partially the result of her daily practice of Down-Dog. Sun Salutations for longevity anyone? You better believe it.
- Follow Down Dog with Up Dog. Daisy’s Up Dog isn’t as great as it used to be, but then again, neither is mine. We both have low back and hip issues that prevent full extension for a ‘perfect’ up-dog, but the intention isn’t perfection is it? That’s what Daisy has taught me. Even though you can’t do the full move, modify it to suit your body. Honour where you are, but make the attempt to balance each posture with it’s opposite.
- Meditate. Daisy still has this incredible ability to focus on anything that captures her interest. As was the case 7 years ago, even today virtually nothing can break her ‘meditative state’. Such focus is still something I yearn for when trying to meditate, or even when just sitting quietly. The lesson is one I’m working on. Be engaged, and empty your mind of all things except for that which you seek.
- Play: Do it! Just maybe don’t do it for as long, or as hard as you once did. Daisy still loves to chase a Frisbee, ball, stick, squirrel, whatever, but just for not as long as she once did. Don’t let age stop you from having fun! Play is mentally and physically stimulating and an essential part to aging “gracefully”. Do something every day that brings you joy, and moves your body. Smile, laugh and pant, err, um, breathe.
- Drink Water: lots, and lots of it and don’t worry if you’re a slobbering mess afterwards. Water tastes SO GOOD! Sometimes it’s hard to not get it everywhere. Water is essential to good health and an aging body. It not only helps to lubricate joints and keep skin and other body tissue hydrated, it’s also important for healthy digestion. Daisy drinks A LOT of water, always has and despite the more frequent trips to the lawn (bathroom), it really does a body good.
- Have regular bowel movements and observe them: I know, it still sounds gross, right? But it’s true. Observation around shape, consistency and frequency can alert you to more serious health problems. As the body ages, bowel problems such as constipation can become bigger issues for some people (dogs too). To help keep your bowels healthy, it’s important to have regular daily bowel movements. Daisy recommends doing things like “Down-dog”, “play” and “drinking water” as part of an overall plan to keep your bowels happy (of course eating fresh greens helps too).
- Listen. When your ears start to fail you, listen with your eyes. When your eyes start to fail you, listen with your hands (paws). When they all start to fail you, listen with your heart. This seems complicated, but it’s something I see Daisy do every day. Although I’ll swear she can still see squirrel running up a tree down the block, or hear her favourite person’s car coming down the road, she’s not as alert as she once was, and on uneven ground, trusts her body less. Yet her ability to communicate love with the world around her hasn’t diminished. It is inevitable that our senses become less acute as we age, but how we choose to let that affect us comes from a deeper place. The lesson: if we return to our centre (heart) and allow a deeper place of connection to help guide us, we will never be out of touch with our surroundings.
- Know your limits… and ask for direction. Daisy still tries to run, jump, and play like she did when she was a puppy, but it’s up to me now to place limits upon her so she doesn’t injure herself. She looks to me more frequently than she used to for direction too. When she’s unsure of which fork to take on trails, or which way to go at a street corner, instead of just barrelling in any direction, she looks to me for guidance. Oh, how times have changed. I used to trust her to tell me when too much exercise was enough, or which fork in the trail was the ‘right’ way. But my guru taught me well. Her lesson? TRUST in others and be open to the notion that they may have a better solution than you do, especially when you’re not sure of yourself.
- Eat fresh green food. The lesson here is the same as it was 7 years ago with a slight variation. According to TCM theory, as the body ages, it’s original ‘fire’ or yang diminishes. To help conserve the body’s yang, trade the raw cold foods for more easily digestible options like roasted root vegetables or steamed greens. Your qi and digestive system will thank you.
- Rest. Daisy has really perfected this one. She sleeps much more than she used to as a young pup, but really, she’s pushing 90 in human years (large breeds go by a 8 year to 1 human year rule), and the fact that she still is up and ready to play each and every day means she needs rest to replenish her qi. Perhaps she has lived as long as she has because she followed the all-important rest to play ratio. I too get more rest than I used to, although those who know me would shake their heads in disbelief. It’s true. We all need to learn from this one.
- Be thankful and appreciate everything in your life. The average life expectancy of most dogs is about 10 years and in human lives, that’s not a whole lot of time. As Daisy’s 12th birthday approaches in March, I am more acutely aware of the time that has passed, and wonder how much we may have left. This ‘knowing’ makes me more thankful and appreciative of every moment I get to spend with her, and this is perhaps Daisy’s greatest lesson of all. For 4197.5 days (give or take a few), she has consistently met each one of them and every person in her world with the same enthusiasm and joy as she did when she was a pup, and it strikes me more often than not as to why we as humans have such a hard time doing the same. Perhaps if we had a firmer grasp on the concept that our time together is limited, as it is with our pets, we would make better efforts.
Thank you Daisy. I couldn’t have asked more a more patient and gentle Guru to help guide me through these years.