The word “Namaste” essentially means “I see the light in you and I reflect my light back to you.” It is a mantra of peace and respect lived both on and off the yoga mat. In a world that has both lightness and darkness, love and fear, we have a choice of what we choose to see in others.
As a child and young adult, I lived most of my life anxious and frozen in fear of dogs. In fact, when a dog crossed my path, it felt more like “the darkness in me (my fear) sees the darkness in you.”
My fears were not totally unfounded. I had several disturbing showdowns with the canine breed. There was a time as a child when I was out selling Girl Scout cookies in my neighborhood. I slowly approached my neighbor’s front door and reached up on my tiptoes to ring the doorbell. Suddenly, a large German Shepherd came running out of the garage. My sister was able to run back out to the street but I was trapped on the front porch, frozen in fear. The dog stood guard of its’ house, barking until my sister returned with my dad to distract the large dog so I could getaway.
Additionally, my grandmother had four small Boston Terriers that she kept tied up by the garage. As a child, they yapped incessantly and nipped at my heels as I walked by. They may have been small physically, but their bark was large enough to frighten me and have me running between the house and car.
As a teen and young adult, I was a runner and a cyclist. I came across many dogs that had wandered off their property. Some came out toward the road, barking ferociously. I knew they were defending their territory; however, I was always afraid they would break free of their leash. One time, one did.
On that particular day, I was out running when an Akita dog ran through an open gate of a fenced-in yard. I moved to the far side of the road, but he was too quick for me. He lashed out and bit me, breaking the skin. The owner was nowhere to be found. After contacting the local health department, I had to endure the pain of rabies shots.
These challenging experiences in my youth led to a fear of all dogs. Whenever any dog came close to me, I had an uncontrollable physical response of anxiety and concern.
Recently, there has been a huge shift. I have had the opportunity to interact with several gentle, nonaggressive dogs.
Last year, I attended a lunchtime Reiki session. I lay down and covered myself with a blanket. I closed my eyes and began to relax. That’s when I felt something settle in between my feet. I looked down just as the facilitator’s small dog dropped his head on my leg. She looked so cozy. I decided there was no need to disturb her and we both relaxed into our midday meditation.
A few weeks prior, I was in Maryland visiting my friend Augie. As I sat on his couch, his dog jumped up, turned around twice, and sat down next to me, leaning into my side. She didn’t jump on me, lick me, or bark. She just leaned. Somehow, I found that comforting as we enjoyed an evening with friends together, side by side.
Last summer I met a man named Ryan at a yard sale that I was co-hosting. He was new to the area and bought several pieces of furniture from me. To help him out, my husband and I delivered it. When we arrived at his house, the cutest dog came to the door.
“Don’t worry, she’s friendly,” he said.
I’d heard that before. But she was quiet and calm and I found myself drawn to her. Normally anxious around dogs, this one felt soothing to my soul.
As I reflected on my more recent experiences with dogs, I pondered over what had changed. What was different about these particular dogs? Were they calm, or was I?
Then I remembered that several friends had recently told me that my voice was soothing. They said that they enjoyed my calm and peaceful vibe. Each time I hear this, I smile, fully receiving and embracing the compliment.
I realize it is not the dogs that changed. I changed.
In my forties, I embraced the practice of yoga as a tool for self-care. Yoga not only helps to relax my physical body, but it also helps me to alleviate anxious thoughts. Yoga allows both my body and mind to gain and maintain a sense of calm and ease.
In addition to yoga, I began a daily practice of meditation. I experimented with Reiki, Qi Gong, and Tai Chi. The more I practice these elements of self-care, the calmer, and less anxious I become. Nowadays, I share my light of calmness with others, and in turn, I see it in the people and animals that I meet.
The other day, I was out running errands. As I pulled into a parking spot, I looked over at the car next to me. Staring back at me from behind the windshield was the cutest little dog. His mouth was open, his ears were perked upward, and his tongue hung out. He turned his head to the side and nodded at me, almost as if to say, “Namaste.”