“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Part II, Day 22: Down Dog with Dog

The evening of my first full day with Zoe after the trip was yoga night.  I had missed it the week before, and my body needed to stretch after being in a plane and various car rides through the Midwest interstate highways.

As my husband and I sat in the parlor sharing stories about the day--his paper conferences with his students about Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Sandburg and Zora Neale Hurston, my walk with Zoe through new snow--she came in and rolled on her back beneath the couch offering us her paws, her firm belly.  She knew we were talking about her and she knew we were both about to leave, my husband for a lecture on campus, and me for yoga class.

I got up to get ready, and she followed me.  Then she struck a pose: arms outstretched half-covering her eyes, a kind of canine peekaboo, and I just couldn't go.

Before Zoe came into my life nine years ago, I had a home yoga practice.  Six days a week, I did yoga before dinner.  My yoga was a condensed version of my autobiography, in pose form.  The sitting poses I had learned at 13 from a book.  I would plop down on the pink carpet in our grandparents' living room and get into tailor pose, imagining myself into a much more peaceful life, a home of my own with someone who loved me, and of course, a dog.  I learned the standing poses in the Ashtanga class I took back in Port Townsend, Washington from a man named Gabriel, when I was twenty-four.  In town, we called it, "the series."  "Are you doing the series today?  Where?"  In good weather a couple friends and I would grab blankets and head Uptown to Sather Park, a quiet six mile square of grass off Foster and Adams Street, where we would be hidden by trees and shrubs. Then there were the supported poses I'd picked up in the Iyengar studio in London when my husband directed our abroad program there.  For convenience, I also had a variety of tapes from the late 90s by that cutie, Rodney Yee.  Doing yoga I felt like every person I'd ever been was with me now, in the moment.  It made me feel light, but strong, and always much more serene no matter how stressed I was when I rolled out my mat.  I was very committed to this practice; I did it even when I traveled.  I bought a yoga travel mat and would roll it out across hotel room rugs, on busy conference days, or on visits to England to see my husband's family.

Enter, the new puppy.  Zoe is very athletic, and I knew that the only way to bring out the zen-like calm I'd seen in her as she sat in stillness in the pound pen as an eight-week-old pup was to give her as much exercise as possible.

She became my yoga practice.  I didn't have time to do both--walk her for 90 minutes, then do yoga --and it was an easy choice to make.

I missed yoga, but not as much as I had thought I would.  Now and then I would get in downward-facing dog in the living room while she watched.  Or I would relax after a long day of work by doing legs-against-the wall pose.  When she was a puppy, she would take that pose as an invitation to jump on my torso and occasionally, if there was still a trace of food on it from lunch, lick my cheeks. 

This week, I needed to do yoga.  My body was calling out for it.  But my heart said to stay home with Zoe.

While a chicken roasted in the oven, we went into the stove room/library/living room, the same room where she had acupuncture done on her the weekend before last.  The same room where I leaned against the stove the first night I came to this house, over twenty years ago, and couldn't make myself leave because my body knew, before my mind and heart did, that I was meant to become a family with my husband and his two sons.

I got down on all fours and warmed up.  Cat and cow pose.  Fire hydrants, which amused the dog and alarmed her with the fear that I'd kick her.  She backed up a little.

I went through the standing sequence.  Sun salutations.  Modified sun salutations with warrior, side angle pose, triangle, exalted warrior.  I can't tell you how magnificent it felt to stand in warrior, garnering all my strength and pointing it toward Zoe, as though I could pour mightiness into her, and she into me.

She sat very still.  She watched.  She didn't move.

But then I went over, closer to her, for balance poses.  I need the balance poses a lot because I never quite healed properly from some sprained ankles and my right ankle still likes to give out when I walk for too long.  One leg is longer now and more limber than the other.  Balance poses also help me feel more balance in the world, better at juggling all the people I am: writer, teacher, dog mommy, friend, wife, mother, sister, citizen.  I got into tree pose.  She watched.

And then the moment came when she'd had too much of this solemnity.  She got out her toys and started playing with them.

I tried not to lose balance as I stretched into dancer's pose.  She made her beaver pelt grunt, then the skunk.  Soon various animals were all talking at once.  She chomped on their heads, and I smiled and reached for the space above her head.

I made up a new pose.  It's called, Bend Over and Pet the Dog While She Plays with Squeaky Toys.

I did this with one leg lifted behind me, then another.

Then it was time for pigeon pose, and I lowered myself to the rug beside her.  I went through my favorite seated poses, then got on my back for bridge.  She got bored with her toys and went back to quietly watching me.

At the end, in relaxation pose, shavasana, I found room on the rug beside her to rest, spread-eagle, and I sensed when she had closed her eyes.  We rested together for five minutes or so.  When I opened my eyes to look at her, she gazed back at me with that wolfy stare I like.  I didn't want to break the spell.

Afterwards, I felt stretched and strengthened and more alive, relaxed and content as I finished making dinner.

And now I think we'll have a new routine for those nights when I just can't make myself walk out the door, when 90 minutes is still too long to be away from Zoe.

Namaste, gentle reader.  Namaste.

This image comes from Petit Bliss, an outlet for yogic kids.  Ommmmm. . .


  1. When I do yoga in the living room, my cat likes to dart under me while I'm doing down dog and crouch there. This alerts Abbe, who now feels the necessity to chase the cat out from the human cave, and sit there instead. All this maneuvering makes me stay in Down Dog longer than I intended.

    Have you ever done "Doga"? It's a yoga class you do with your dog. Fun! The dog mainly acts as a prop while you do twists, or stands in for a block when you need it. They get massaged and very mellow on the mat.

  2. Doga! I love it. I think Zoe and I are going to invent our own hybrid version, which works well with my new homebody tendencies. Thanks so much for this note, Brenda. I will picture and and Abbe and the kitty when I do down down next!