Mindful Dog Walking

Counseling in Boston, therapist in Boston, Animal Assisted Therapy, Work StressWhen Thor and I became a team, I thought, “Great now I will take energetic walks and lose some weight.”  We would start out from my house with a bounce in our step.  I knew he would have to sniff around our bushes but then we could begin a power walk that would get my heart rate up.  Well…that didn’t happen.  It was a lot of starts and stops and I could feel my frustration rise.  Where was my increased heart rate?  We were both supposed to get thirty minutes of exercise a day!

Thor doesn’t walk to exercise.  Thor walks to sniff. As soon as I was able to realize that, I could change how I walked.

Whenever frustrations arise, do you notice it’s because your expectations aren’t being met?  Now whenever Thor stops to sniff, I take a deep relaxing breath, a belly breath.  So many of us are stress breathing all day long.  A deep belly breath is one where on the inhale you feel your belly fill with air.  On the exhale you slowly let the air out while pulling in your belly.  Doing just five to ten of these breaths will activate a relaxation response.  Our stress response is hard wired.  It kept us alive when there was a tiger ready to pounce on us.  Now it often operates on overdrive.  So anytime you can give your body a break from feeling stressed you are exercising your relaxation muscle.

So now Thor and I go on sniff walks. He drives the walk.  Deciding when and where to sniff.  Every time he stops to sniff, I do one of three things:

  • I notice where the tension is in my body and take a deep breath, breathing out the tightness on my exhale
  • I notice how Thor is sniffing – sometimes his nose is to the ground and he is like a bloodhound tracking some elusive wild animal; other times he takes a deep sniff in one area, sometimes sniffing so deep that he sneezes when he is done!
  • I take a moment to tune into my senses- Do I feel the warm sun’s rays on my skin? What sounds do I hear? How does the air feel coming in thorough my nostrils and into my lungs?  Where is the wind?

I worked at MassGeneral Hospital for over 20 years.  I found that the minute I entered the hospital, there was this pulsing energy – you had to walk faster. The building seemed to demand it.  You would get swept away in the masses of people walking down the halls. Now I know that it was the collective stress of many people driving that.

Taking these small breaks to center yourself and become aware of your environment will ground you.  Having a moment to really catch your breath, observe your feeling state, and honor that moment can set you on a different path for the day.  The best thing?  If you get on the stress train, you can always step off…just by taking a deep belly breath.  Adding in an intention – “I am enough.”  “I am doing the best I can.”  “This will pass.”  – Is just icing on your relaxation cupcake.

Counseling in Boston

Thor and I provide Animal Assisted Psychotherapy in Jamaica Plain, MA.  We see teens, individuals and couples living with depression, anxiety and relationship challenges. If you would like to learn more about my services click here.