Zen Master Pets Help Master Their Masters

When was the last time your dog turned the tables on you? When was the last time you were going through a rough patch and a lick of a tongue or a wag of the tail changed your mood from somber to gleeful? When it comes to making things more zen-fully mindful, our furry-four-legged-friends are sometimes the best medicine.

Relaxing Studies

"A number of studies support the relaxing effects of interacting with pets," says Sandra Barker, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at the University's School of Medicine.

At Harvard University, their research study noted that 87 percent of people felt less anxious after pet owners spent some quality time with their pets. ‘Get Healthy, Get a Dog’ details the many ways that dogs can improve the lives of humans. It offers healthy lifestyle changes for both masters and their dogs. For instance, if the two are already exercising, it offers ways to expand one’s exercise regimen.

Research published in Science Magazine noted that just by looking at your pet's eyes, you release a dose of oxytocin and prolactin, hormones that leave you feeling majorly blissful. “If you really want to up the feel-good factor, go ahead and pet your cat or dog—the act of touching your animal activates even more serene-fueling hormones, like dopamine,” Barker added.

Keep hearts pumping at a normal rhythm . . .

Pets can help support a healthy heart. For instance, when your heart rate is elevated, pets can actually return it to a normal pace.

The American Heart Association recently published research on the health benefits of having a pet, and actually linked it to reduced heart disease, lower cholesterol and a greater chance of surviving a heart attack. It's believed that pet owners are more active, which helps keep one’s ticker ticking properly.

“Not surprisingly, dog owners who walk their dogs are more likely to achieve the recommended level of physical activity than dog owners who do not walk their dogs,” according to the study. “Unfortunately, a significant proportion of dog owners do not regularly walk their dogs.”

More than 5,200 Japanese adult dog owners engaged in significantly more walking and physical activity than non-dog owners, and were 54 percent more likely to get the recommended level of physical activity.

Pets for Mindfulness

Staying plugged into the moment helps relieve stress — and your pets are more often than not, the ones who allow you do this on a regular basis. If you’re having a tough day at the office, or just had a fight with your spouse, you can replace squeezing that stress ball with a hug of your dog or cat.

Mindfulness can be reinforced through relaxation practices, such as deep-breathing, tai chi, massage, yoga and prayer [to name a few]. However, in addition to those techniques, you can combine most of them while walking the dog. In fact, let your dog demonstrate how. By example, notice how joyfully-present your pooch is when he or she is out in the world. Their tails are wagging a mile a minute and they are consistently alert and taking life in, one moment at a time.

Be your pet. Be open to new sights, new smells, new sounds, new people and other animals. Let your pet become your master. Make each walk a zen-fully satisfying experience.