Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Clicker Training and Yoga: Ahimsa

"First, do no harm."

That's one way to interpret the word ahimsa, one of the yamas, which are guidelines for our relationships with ourselves and others as laid out in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Yoga Sutras is ancient book of the code of yoga, a manual that lays it all out in a spare poetry that might just take lifetimes to master.

It's true confession time: Crossover trainer here.

What that means is that in my ignoble past I have used choke collars, prong collars, electronic bark collars, citronella bark collars, alpha rollovers, screaming mimi-fits, rolled-up newspapers...ugh. It hurts to even think about it.

And 'hurt' goes against ahimsa. So, if I am to follow this first of principles, then I need ways to work and play with animals that, first, do no harm. Enter clicker-training.

I learned to clicker train when I moved to the city from the country with our Gilly, an Akbash Dog, a livestock guardian breed who was dog aggressive. I took her to the general public classes offered by Handi-Dogs, an organization that instructed people how to train their own service dog through clicker training. I showed up with 115 pound Gilly in a pinch collar and was promptly shown how to fit a Gentle Leader and given a clicker. From there I went to volunteering and eventually taking on a role as a clicker training instructor.

I wasn't a yoga teacher then, but was in the midst of my career transition from scientist/statistician. My work with the dogs and their people lead me back to horses (I once nearly completed a PhD in equine exercise physiology) and horses lead me back to yoga, and the spiral of learning continues.

Clicker training is positive, concrete, and specific (first learned from one of my teachers, Robert Birnberg). The critters love it, the consequences of the actions of clicker training are beneficial to the relationship, everybody learns, and no one gets hurt. Ahimsa.


Yoga with Animals - First Step - Observe the rhythm...

What is the rhythm of your life? In mine, sometimes its poetry. Sometimes its beading. Sometimes its hiking. Much of the time its teaching yoga, walking the dog and grading statistics papers or being online. It's preparing that morning cup of coffee or tea, driving to class, practicing asana, practicing pranayama, meditating, thinking, thinking, thinking, quiet moments with my partner, sleeping, dreaming, walking with horses.

When people ask me about 'yoga dog training' I tell them that I train dogs using yogic principles. But, what does that mean? To do yoga with animals? Today, while walking with Ellie and practicing our Loosh Leash Walking, I had an epiphany - it's about rhythm.

It isn't about putting the dog into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) - What would I have to teach the dog about that? Any dog dipping into a play bow to entice another to play demonstrates way better than any yoga teacher that particular position of stability with comfort.

And yet, our domesticated companions, much like ourselves, do get themselves into uncomfortable physical, mental, and, yes, spiritual dilemmas. The dog that always sits slouching on one hip is likely to have some stiffness and discomfort as they get older. The cat or dog rescued from an abusive situation or adopted from a shelter may suffer in ways we can't imagine. The horse ridden by a fearful, stiff-backed rider suffers the consequences of the rider's imbalances.

So, a first step in practicing yoga with your dog, your cat, your horse, your fish, your bird, your ??? is to observe their rhythm, and to observe your own - and - start noticing; Where do your rhythms connect and flow?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Peaceful Yoga for Relief for Haiti - Tuesday 1/19 8:30

Yoga House at Civano is donating to the Red Cross this week through dedicating yoga class fees and instructor compensations to the Haitian relief effort.

My Peaceful Yoga class on Tuesday will go to this effort. The theme for the class will be Release-Stabilize-Strengthen-Restore-Release and is suitable for all levels.

Peaceful Yoga is breath-centered, incorporating vinyasa (gentle movement) with gently increasing holds and is appropriate for beginners, people returning to yoga after absence, and those desiring to explore your innate deep peace through breath, mindful movement, stillness, sound, and meditation.

Join us in spirit if you can't be with us in space and time.