This is Lacy Larue, my sweet little bichon frise. Don’t let the creampuff looks fool you. She’s all dog.
Right now, Lacy is recovering from ACL surgery so she hasn’t been quite her animated self. How, you may ask, does a ten-pound cutie like Lacy wind up with a football injury? Our veterinarian thinks her being very bowlegged put undue strain on the ligament, but he’s never seen her fly off the sofa in a frenzy to menace the UPS man. So I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s been darned near impossible to keep her still and quiet while her knee heals.
Like most small dogs, Lacy’s personality is larger than life. My mom calls her the little cheerleader because of her infectious buoyancy. She’s a few months away from her tenth birthday; while she naps a lot these days, she still embodies the youthful exuberance of her puppyhood. A frilly white ball of kisses and willfulness, one minute she’s snuggled up next to you to watch TV (she’s a football fan) and the next she’s prancing on hind legs, insisting you share your ice cream. She has an uncanny ability to communicate without words, using little grunts, squeaks and a sound I can only describe as a snort to let you know exactly what she wants, and she’s quick to give you the side-eye if she doesn’t like something you’ve said.
Did I mention that it’s been a challenge to moderate all this craziness? The first few days after her surgery, she was a curled-up, pitiful little thing, but as the days went by and the effects of the anesthesia faded, Lacy regained her happy vigor. She was born with an anomaly called luxating patella, which causes her kneecap to shift out of position at times. Luxating patella is a fairly common problem with small breed dogs and both of Lacy’s back legs are affected. It doesn’t seem to bother her much. She can be happily dashing across the yard, and then suddenly she’ll raise a back leg and continue on without breaking stride. Thanks to a lifetime of three-legged running experience, this knee surgery is just no big deal. She can tear off behind Tanner the border collie in pursuit of a squirrel without a second thought.
Except, of course, I can’t allow her do that right now, because sometimes she forgets herself and puts that leg down as she runs. She disregards her knee to jump up and down like a pogo stick when she wants something, like my dinner. And if we’re sitting on the sofa together and the doorbell rings, it’s all I can do to catch her before she launches herself to the floor to bark at the intruder. So it’s my job to protect my little buddy from herself, to somehow contain all this wild exuberance so she doesn’t wreck. Dr. Bink’s good work.
Do you know any people like that? People who push too hard, who rush headlong into every experience? There’s nothing inherently wrong with striving, obviously. But sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between challenging yourself and abusing yourself.
This tendency to overdo it shows up in so many areas of life, like being consumed with your job to the exclusion of everything else, or depriving your body with a crash diet. Why is moderation so hard for many of us to achieve?
I note this tendency in some of my students, and sometimes myself, right on the yoga mat. Adopting a yoga practice is one of the most nourishing gifts you can give yourself, but as in everything else in life, balance and perspective are vital. The Sanskrit word asana, which is the name for the physical poses in yoga, means “comfortable seat.” According to Sri Swami Satchidananda, the goal of Integral Yoga®, the style of yoga I teach, is to develop an easeful body, peaceful mind and useful life. Practicing the poses in a balanced state, with a relaxed body, smooth breath and curious mind is essential. When you’re panting, straining or otherwise in a state of unease, you may be exercising, but it’s not yoga anymore.
This isn’t to say that we should show up on our sticky mats in sloppy apathy. One of my teachers likes to caution her students to “take it easy, but don’t be lazy.” So muscling your way into an arm balance, a headstand, a deep backbend, etc. when you’re fatigued, injured or new to the practice is not a good idea. However, challenging yourself to hold a pose for a few more breaths, or to attempt something new with caution and full awareness develops greater strength, flexibility and resilience. It’s a balance of effort and ease that fosters growth in our yoga practice and every other aspect of life. I cringe when I see people in a seated forward bend gripping their feet with white-knuckled intensity and a frightening grimace instead of allowing their hamstrings to lengthen gradually, safely and naturally. We benefit most when we choose the right action, reach for our limit and allow the rest to unfold.
Back to Lacy, who is relaxing happily next to me on the sofa as I peck out these closing words. Yes, in her zest for life, she gets carried away sometimes. She doesn’t understand anatomical principles or the healing process, so that’s why she needs me. But she’s always known there’s a time to snuggle and a time to bark. A time to play and a time to rest. And we need to enjoy it all.