If so, you're not alone. There is no shortage of scientific evidence that explains the shift in mood you feel when you interact with a furry friend. Numerous studies have shown that the companionship of a dog has immense physical and emotional benefits... benefits that are closely linked to those of a yoga and mindfulness practice. Human-animal bonds help us to cultivate a sense of compassion, keep us active, ward off illness and depression, and improve our mood.
Yoga is the practice of quieting the mind. Dogs have a lot to teach us about this. Rather than getting stuck in constantly-spiraling thoughts and feelings, dogs help us to learn to let go, breathe, enjoy simplicity, and to cultivate compassion. Not only can pets teach us how to cope with our own neurosis, but we can also benefit just from being around them. Pet companionship has been shown to decrease symptoms of depression, and dogs provide emotional support and stability for people who have a hard time relating to others, or who are prone to isolation. This can be especially important for older people who may be living alone.
In a study conducted by psychiatrist Aaron Katcher of UPenn and psychologist Alan Beck of Purdue University, it was found that a “person’s blood pressure lowered, heart rate slowed, breathing became more regular and muscle tension relaxed-all of which are signs of reduced stress” when they were interacting with a familiar dog. Stress can cause or worsen the symptoms of numerous health problems including MS, lupus, high blood pressure and insomnia—anything you can do to alleviate stress is, of course, essential for optimal health. The reduction of the release of stress-related hormones in the blood from interacting with a dog for just a short period of time was actually shown to be more efficient than many drugs prescribed to treat stress. Much like the stress-reducing effects of yoga and meditation, playing with a dog increases levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, inducing feelings of pleasure and calm.
Dogs not only boost your mood, but spending time with your pet can increase longevity and quality of life. Dog parents are said to be healthier than non-dog parents. In a study done in Melbourne, Australia, as cited by Dr. Stanley Coren in an article for Psychology Today, it was found that pet parents “had lower levels of blood pressure and cholesterol than non-pet-parents, even when both groups had the same poor lifestyles involving smoking and high-fat diets.” And it’s a two-way street: Dogs also benefit from being around people!
Contrary to popular belief, having a furred friend around can also increase your immunity to allergies, especially in children. Kids who grow up around dogs are less likely to develop asthma and other allergic conditions such as eczema. This is great for yogis especially, as much of the practice is focused on cleansing the body and building up a natural immunity to common ailments.
Dogs also help to promote relationships with other people. Caring for a dog requires getting out of the house and being around and conversing with others. As we all know, people with dogs are far more likely to be approached by a stranger. Chances are you may just develop a lasting relationship with someone who you only had the chance to speak to because they wanted to say hello to your pup!
Yogic practice helps to boost our self esteem and to set intentions for ourselves. It gives us feelings of empathy, gratitude, and self-confidence. Dogs too have this effect on us. Loving and caring for a dog instills within us a nurturing sense, and allows us to get out of our own head. We find that we can love and give gratitude to ourselves when we can offer ourselves to another living being. So give all the pups in your life a big kiss and belly rub to say “thank you for being my friend.”