What This Little Terror of a Terrier Taught Me Today

cartoon_rat_terrier_toy_fox_terrier_cut_outs-rbf8d08f776494f85ae91b0b85c8b59f9_x7sai_8byvr_512“This little bastard is a blue?” I asked a couple of seasoned volunteers on my way out the kennel door as the little 10-pound Terrier locked his jaws around my pant leg. ‘Blue’ dogs are supposedly gentler and easier t0 handle for us newbies at the animal rescue I recently began helping out at.

But this one – I’ll keep him anonymous for purposes of not blowing his adoption chances – somehow eluded the coding process and weaseled into the Blue camp.

Only later, though, did I realize what a blessing it was to work with him today. After wrestling him into his harness (I had to solicit the help of another volunteer to get him buckled up), I immediately wanted to put him back. At that moment, however, I realized I was reacting without first considering the consequences of my actions.

We do this in life so often. Years of yoga is helping me, at the very minimum, notice when I’m reacting to a circumstance without first considering the potential consequences. Extended Side Angle on the right side gets me every time – I have what seems to be a permanently strained inner groin muscle that screams after two or three breaths in. As a result, I typically want to bail out of the pose before making it to the second or third breath. But bailing, in this case, equals failing – failing my intention to grow stronger, to develop discipline, to truly experience Asana.

Likewise, as I yearned to spin on my heel and lock the little Terror of a Terrier back in his crate, I realized how out of alignment that action was with my intention. My intention as a volunteer is to help socialize these animals, provide much-needed love and attention so they can become adoptable. So too is my intention to develop courage and strength from these pups – overcoming any fear associated with certain breeds, energy levels, ‘challenging’ dogs.

Careful consideration before caving into my reaction allowed me to eventually bond with him, calm him down, and give him an opportunity to develop just a little more trust toward humans.

So thank, you little Terror of a Terrier, for challenging me today and forcing me out of my comfort zone. I’ll be back soon, with a treat and a shin guard!




My Current Yoga Teacher: A Gang Of Shelter Dogs

adopt_a_homeless_pet_poster-r02e8e3c452684aac9c532a69435194ae_w2j_8byvr_512“We’re here to help, Shannon,” the confident young man overseeing the kennel at Main Line Animal Rescue assured me as I struggled to get the collar off a cranky young Beagle I had just taken out for a walk. The frustration must have been written all over my face, prompting him to gently enter the dog run and assist me.

A host of emotions arose with my battle with the Beagle: disappointment (why can’t I figure this damn collar out!); fear (don’t bite!); impatience (that cute little boxer one dog run over is waiting for me!), to name a few.

I’m about two weeks into my animal shelter volunteering  gig, and clearly have a lot to learn. More than I thought, actually. My intention upon signing up was to simply help these furry guys out. You know, give ’em some love, toss ’em a treat or two, scoop their poop. Easy, right?

Hell no, I’m discovering. These dogs are nudging, and in some cases shoving me right into the epicenter of my soul. They’re forcing me to look at myself  honestly – without words, without filters. And the view isn’t always pretty.  And through all this, my yoga practice, my yoga teaching, and even my relationships are benefiting. Here is sampling of what I’m learning:

Struggling is a choice. There were two very different approaches to removing that Beagle’s collar. Mine was to wrestle and yank it off as fast as I could to escape what I perceived as a scary situation. How many times do we do this in a pose, or unexpected life circumstance we aren’t comfortable with? Imagine how different a typically wobbly half moon would feel if you approached it slowly, patiently, and with a sense of curiosity instead of fear? Or how an ill-tempered co-worker would respond to a random offer of assistance on an assignment instead of an audible sigh for not ‘doing their job’.  As I observed the patient kennel overseer take his time in removing the Beagle’s collar – alternating between gentle strokes behind the dog’s ears, reminders of ‘good boy’ – I realized that my struggle got me absolutely nowhere.

Lose the empty talk. Without words to communicate, my new pup friends do so through their bodies. The sweet Chesapeake Retriever likes to nuzzle his snout into my thigh. The energetic 8-month old Boxer wags his tail wildly when he sees me coming. That Taco Bell-looking dog rolls onto his back awaiting a loving belly rub. When I teach yoga now, I’m noticing when I sound like I’m reading from cue cards. Or when I’m talking too damn much and no one can hear their breath. We humans say ‘I love you’, but these pups are showing me how powerful it is to show it without words – a genuine smile and eye contact, a tight embrace, a stroke of the head, to those I care about.

Keep the faith. I am going on year five of daily handstand practice. I still only have about 50% stick rate. These dogs remind me – every time I visit – that they believe. They believe a new loving home is on the horizon, and continue their work of becoming more adoptable with daily socializing drills and interaction with other dogs and humans. My work is to keep going up into handstand. Again and again. As B.K.S. Iyengar says, “practice, practice, practice, and all is coming.”

Don’t judge me. That clipped-eared Pit Bull stared intently through the glass at me, waiting for a much-needed recess break to the big field outside. Yes this breed, as some others, have had their share of bad press with reported tragedies. But I’m learning, through careful supervision in a safe environment, to let go of an unfair presumption that all Pit Bulls are dangerous. How many times do we judge someone or something based on a previous experience gone bad? These dogs are proving that an open mind and heart goes a long way toward happiness.

Time To Get Messy

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Me and Sir Bentley, who passed away in 2013.

“Don’t wear your cute sandals,” the volunteer coordinator warned. No worries there, as I glanced down at my trashed Uggs that somehow survived this record-setting Philadelphia winter. But it didn’t take long to distinguish between the seasoned volunteers and newbies gathered at the Main line Animal Rescue new volunteer orientation. I was clearly a newbie.

One woman in back was a holy mess. Her parka, shoes, pants, even her face were covered in a gumbo of mud, grass stains and doggy slobber. Beneath it all though, her bright blue eyes and massive smile sent me a powerful message:

To really connect with these dogs, to love them like you mean it, you gotta get dirty. Roll-in-the-mud-with-them dirty. Do that, and a kennel-filled load of love in return is pretty much guaranteed.

I’m no neat freak, but this was a stretch. I quickly went through a mental inventory of my grubbiest clothing – how about the old flannel shirt – wait a minute, damn! I threw all that out with our last move. What about coats? Do I really want to surrender one to that cute boxer who insists on launching up to meet me at eye level?

Hell yes. Time to get messy. Not just with the dogs, but other areas of my life too. Including my yoga.

As I practiced in my home studio later that afternoon, I caught myself being overly ‘tidy’ with my sequence. Conveniently racing through poses (extended side angle) I know will get ugly after two or three breaths. Wiping out new transition ideas before giving them a chance, fearing I wouldn’t be able to explain them well enough to my students in a future class.

As I scanned the pantry and fridge for dinner ideas, I noticed my tendency to limit options to those that required little cleanup afterward. Yeah. Seriously. A bowl of cereal instead of healthy, veggie-packed stir fry.

We hear all the virtues of being organized (people get paid to put other people’s shit in order). Ads for cleaning agents promise to kill germs. Fashionistas are lauded for being so ‘put together’. But messing it up, as I was reminded at the animal rescue farm, keeps us real. Humble. Present. Thinking back, I now realize some of my biggest messes led to my greatest happiness. These were times where I took a risk, failed, learned, failed again, learned some more, and met some really cool people in the process.

I’ll be back at the farm soon, seeking out the boxer and welcoming his muddy paws and big, slobbery kisses with all my heart. After that, I’ll be on my mat, joyfully falling out of poses and trying on ideas before my censoring mind gets in the way.

So try it – get messy. You’ll be glad you did.



What A Total Yoga Novice Just Taught Me

happy faceThe room was hot. And the regulars got right down to business – positioning their mats within the designated rectangles taped onto the studio floor, spritzing their Yogitoes towels just so, waving to their fellow 20/30-something lululemon-clad bendy pals in the room. The class in Manayunk – a young and hip section of Philly – was ‘all levels’. But in this case, from what I could see, there was clearly one level in the room today: the Badass Bring It On! level.

In walks Joe – middle-aged, 6’3″ solid-built African American who’d never stepped foot in a yoga studio before, let alone a Power Flow class.

“I’m ready to try out this yoga thing,” he chuckled as I rolled my mat out alongside his. “I gotta lose some weight and I’m gonna try this out. Man, it’s hot in here!” Yeah, I replied, it’s pretty warm alright.

“No, Shannon (we became fast friends) it’s HOT in here!” he emphasized. Indeed it was. Tell it like it is already Shannon!

So here’s the thing. I’ve been teaching yoga for a couple of years now, practicing for a couple of decades, and have practiced alongside myriad yogis over the years – yogis of different ages, ethnicity, fit, not-so-fit, shaved-headed and tattoed, moms from the burbs, even next to the bass player from Nirvana back in my Seattle days when grunge was cool (maybe it still is).

But Joe had an effect on me like no other that I can remember. Since practicing next to Joe over a week ago, I’ve been thinking about my attitude constantly. Am I complaining? Whining? Putting something off that I know is going to suck? Every time the crap attitude starts to emerge – complaining over the monster truck in front of me on the Turnpike, whining over the avocados missing from the produce section, putting off hand stand attempts in the middle of the room – I swear I think about Joe. And what he would do. Even though, “it’s hot in here, Shannon!”, he didn’t complain, whine, or run away from that first yoga experience in a hot, steamy room filled with yoga badasses already familiar with the challenging practice.

Joe sweat. A lot. Breathed. Heavily. Took breaks. A lot. Teetered. A lot. And yet he never, not once, left the room, showed frustration, or gave up. At the end of class he smiled, gave me a high five, and declared loud enough for anyone left in the room to hear, “I’m comin’ back! Tomorrow Shannon. See you then!”

So what the hell could I possibly complain about? This man, who powered through a tough class without a whimper proved to me, through his actions, that attitude is everything. 

The attitude you bring to any endeavor or task determines the outcome. God – we need more Joes in this world. Cool people who are willing to launch themselves into completely unfamiliar settings, with open minds, big hearts, infectious laughs, and a positive outlook to shake the rest of us out of our woe-is-me-I-don’t-know-how-to-do-this attitude.

He just did it. With a positive attitude and a smile. Thank you Joe – see you on the mat!