ImageThe title of my blog is “Finding Peace in the Middle-” in the middle of this crazy journey called life, in the middle of the life of a marriage, in the middle of an extremely hectic job, in my middle- aka my waistline. Yoga has become a big part of the quest for serenity. I have always loved yoga, but not for its stillness. I love sweating, shaking muscles and pulling my limbs farther than I think they can go. When I first started my practice, I used the poses as an opportunity to multi-task, thinking through show designs, lesson plans, and household to-do lists. Clearly I did not get it. This summer in the Bikram studio it took every ounce of my concentration to attempt poses and manage to breathe, and it clicked. Yoga is peace. Aggressive peace, but peace nonetheless.

With Meet-the-Teacher night, a visit to my vocal cord specialist, trips to the fabric store, and fighting a sinus infection, I have only managed walking and some time at the track. This evening, for the first time in three weeks, I was able to haul out the mats. It was a beautiful evening, the temperature moderate for Houston with nice breeze, so I did my practice on the back patio. Within five minutes my legs were trembling and sweat was dripping down my arms. Temple pose nearly broke me, but I went into downward dog, which in this practice is a really nice breathing transition before it gets tough again, and who should come give me a kiss but my own sweet dog, Audrey.

When I practice yoga, she always stations herself nearby. She gives me kisses while I am in downward dog, then lies beside me patiently waiting through plank and bridge and boat. When I finally relax onto my back for some wind releasing pose, I get more kisses, as if to tell me she’s proud of my hard work.

See, Audrey is also one of my most treasured sources of tranquility. A rescue schnauzer around the age of eleven, Audrey is also living in the middle (well, maybe closer to the end, but I refuse to consider that). She carries a little extra weight, has two enormous benign cysts on her tummy, is losing her teeth and eyesight, and naps a lot. Yet she also loves to go for walks, brightening when she sees me put on my athletic shoes and eagerly dragging me out the back gate. She walks with purpose, too. No crazy meandering or dragging paws, she sets her sights straight ahead and trots happily along, her ears bouncing in the most perfect dog shadow ever cast on a cement street. In that way she is very much like me. Her favorite sleeping place is in my closet, preferably on top of one of my sweaters or t-shirts. She likes her isolation and takes a while to warm to strangers, but once she has accepted you, you are hers forever. In that way she is also very much like me.

I believe the loving and caring for an animal may be one of the very best sources of peace and healing the the Divine created for us humans. We get so bogged down in our daily concerns, so worried about paying bills and losing weight and impressing peers that we lose our joy. My grandfather kept shelties after my grandmother died. He named them Buddy or Feller, and they walked with him every day, and he talked out all his loneliness when he brushed their luxurious coats. He administered their heartworm treatments faithfully according to the schedule on the sheltie wall calendar hanging on the kitchen cabinet. The dogs went fishing with him in his boat and sat with him while he went through physical therapy after knee replacement surgery. I am convinced that his love for his dogs, which was returned a hundred fold, was what kept him alive, healthy, and alert into his eighties. It is no coincidence that he died just a year after giving up his sweet Feller.

Dogs just sleep and eat and play and scratch and chase squirrels and love their people.I am not sure what cats offer, not being much of a cat fan, but I imagine it has something to do with the pacifying effect of rubbing their fur while they make that wonderful purring sound. Fish swim soothingly, hamsters entertain and make us laugh (especially when they put on hip-hop clothes and dance), and rats like to cuddle (at least, that’s what rat owners tell me). Reptiles as pets I will never understand, and have no desire to.

Animals are simple. They don’t try to acquire more belongings, they don’t stress over promotions or grade point averages. They love, and they listen, and they let us know each day in their own ways that life is a simple and precious gift.