Photo: Huxley, Medito's Chief Kitty Officer. Photo credit: Steven Yorke.
“I have lived with several Zen masters; all of them cats”
— Eckhart Tolle.
Do our pets meditate? And if they do, is it possible to connect with them more through meditation and mindfulness exercises?
There are reasons to believe that animals do meditate:
Sometimes our pets remain silent, staring into the void, or deepening their breathing pattern (even with no apparent reason).
From my experience, and others agree, our pets like to sit next to us when we meditate, and they become calmer than usual.
Mindfulness is being fully aware of what's going on in the present moment without judgment. Our wandering minds and our egos often get in the way of this and take us out of the present moment. Maybe non-human animals are constantly in a state of present awareness, due to their lack of language and lack of ego.
Still, do animals actually need to meditate?
Thinking from our human perspective, animals (especially domesticated ones) live much simpler, easier lives than ours. Still, we observe stress and other disorders in our pets. So, although our lives are very different, we cannot just assume that they don't have their own complexities, anxieties, needs, and desires too.
There are still only a few sparks of evidence that animals meditate, so this new ground needs a lot of work and research. What matters is that if they do meditate, this could be an additional way to connect deeply and develop a higher quality of life for both, together.
Here are a few facts based on our experience and science:
Present Moment Awareness
Meditation's core essential is bringing attention to the present moment. So as far as we can tell, animals have the basic qualifier.
Purring and OMs
Cats purr and dogs do something similar to show they are experiencing pleasure, comfort, and joy.
Purring looks like a different form of chanting OMs, a method that many describe as a "nerves massage".
Although the beneficial effects of chanting mantras are positive, there is still not enough evidence to define its effectiveness for humans. The point is to acknowledge this similarity.
The survival element
No matter the comfort we provide them, our pets have not abandoned their instincts and natural habits. That's why our dogs keep turning in circles before lying down (to position their body in a defence or on-guard posture and also flatten any nearby tall vegetation), or why our cats keep bringing us the weirdest "gifts". An animal will take care of its wellness. So, if they actually need meditation's benefits, they will take action, one way or another.
Although scientific research cannot yet back up everything, here are two experiments that help us keep an open mind.
Calm mind in exchange for marshmallows
At the Biomedical Primate Research Center in Rijswijk, Netherlands, they ran a bizarre Neurofeedback (NFB) experiment. Each time the marmoset monkeys managed to tune their brains to a specific frequency range, they received marshmallows as a reward.
In humans, this specific frequency range (12 to 16 hertz) is associated with a relaxed but focused state of mind. One of the researchers, Dr. Ingrid Philippens, says, “It’s like meditation. When you see the monkeys doing it, they look very restful but they have a focus like they are staring at something.”
Mice, theta brainwaves, and lights
At the University of Oregon, USA, they wanted to test meditation's impact and so investigated the relationship between theta brainwaves and the brain's white matter. To test their theory, the team used pulses of special lights on mice, to stimulate theta brainwave-like activity. For 20 days, mice received 30 minutes of this stimulation. To test the lights' impact, before and after the treatment the mice underwent behavioral tests to measure their anxiety. Mice were also placed in boxes with light and dark areas, and in general, fearful mice spent more time in the dark.
The results? The team found that the mice with theta wave stimulation were less anxious than the others, and they preferred the light areas at the end of the experiment.
It's important to mention that Professor Michael Posner, part of the team, declined to speculate on whether the mice would have experienced mental states similar to mindfulness during the light stimulation, or whether instead the lights replicated other effects of meditation training.
Oxytocin and hugs
Adding to the above, it's been proved that both the human and the dog brain release oxytocin during hugs. Oxytocin is a hormone associated with love, connection, and trust.
It's one of the three famous "happy hormones" (the other two are dopamine and serotonin) and proved to have a relationship with wellness and meditation.
We still need more data to investigate further. For many people with pets, although nothing is backed by science, it feels like meditating with their pets might:
- Enforce trust
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Strengthen communication and deepen the connection
- Create a deeper understanding of and a connection with your pet
- Improve physical and mental wellbeing overall
Meditation and mindfulness exercises are beneficial for us.
So why not enjoy it with our pets as well?
Meditating with your pet aligns with a similar (if not the same) philosophy about meditating with friends:
- Create a peaceful and comfortable meditation practicing area
- Welcome your pet and invite them to get comfortable
- Set boundaries and help your pet to sit nearby and follow your flow
Try using Medito, the 100% free meditation app, to guide you into a state of mindful awareness with your pet.
Make the most out of it for the both of you.