Working on developing your mindfulness? Here’s how spending time with animals can help!

Mindfulness offers a host of benefits including enhanced mental clarity, improved concentration and the ability to better relate to others. Many of us are actively seeking ways to become more mindful – and pets can help! Cats, dogs and other critters add so much richness to our lives and this is one more area where spending time with them can help.

What is mindfulness?

When you’re feeling aware and focusing on what’s happening in the present moment, you are experiencing mindfulness. Rather than worrying about things that happened yesterday or mulling over potential occurrences that might affect you in the future, you’re simply experiencing your current reality.

How your pet helps you become more mindful

Pets have the amazing ability to soothe our worries and fears simply by being there. As anyone who has ever experienced the pain of losing a pet can attest, animal companions play a vital role in daily life, offering no judgement and providing a listening ear for secrets and emotions that otherwise might go unexpressed. On top of all that, here’s a few ways a pet can sharpen your mindfulness skills:

1. Pets live in the moment

As Eckhart Tolle famously said, “I have lived with several Zen Masters – all of them cats.”  If you’ve spent much time at all with cats, then you’ve witnessed their remarkable ability to simply be. Watching your cat or another pet is a fantastic way to see mindfulness at work. Animals are completely unconcerned with anything other than what is happening now, and when you interact by playing, petting, or snuggling them, you can experience that same sense of presence.

2. Pets help you relieve stress

Stress can prevent you from experiencing mindfulness, and anything that takes the pressure off will help you feel calmer while increasing your ability to enter a state of mindfulness. Multiple studies show that simply interacting with pets can improve quality of life by relieving stress and even alleviating depression in some individuals. Simply making eye contact with a dog can increase oxytocin, which is an important bonding hormone. Petting and cuddling releases a positive mood neurotransmitter called serotonin while reducing the stress hormone, cortisol.

3. Pets promote awareness in relationships

Mindfulness can help you enjoy successful interpersonal relationships. Learning how to pick up subtle cues from your pet naturally attunes your mind and makes it easier to gain a deeper understanding of coworkers, significant others, friends, and family members. All About Cats, an online community for cat lovers, agrees. “When you practice being completely present and fully engaged when interacting with your pet, you build important relationship skills that transfer to interactions with others,” they said. “With the awareness and empathy you build while taking care of your pet’s needs, you enhance your ability to be more mindful in everyday interactions with friends and strangers alike.”

4. Pets encourage interaction with nature

If you want to improve mindfulness, it’s essential to reduce the amount of time you spend in front of a screen. Pets – particularly dogs – encourage us to get outside and spend time in nature while focusing on the environment. Whether you’re walking along a tree-lined street, watching your dog express interest in park-dwelling squirrels, or breathing frosty air on a snowy, wintery morning when you’d normally be under the covers with your phone in hand, your pet brings you face to face with nature. In turn, these moments help you develop a greater sense of mindfulness.

5. Pets can help you meditate

At its most basic, mindfulness meditation involves sitting quietly while focusing on your breath as it enters and leaves your body, perhaps while repeating a mantra. At the same time, you are aware of any sights, sounds, smells, sensations, or tastes that you experience; these are noticed and then released in the moment. Through meditating with your pet, you can enhance the practice of mindfulness meditation by noticing everything about your pet in the moment. Touch them, look into their eyes, feel how soft their fur or feathers feel under your fingertips. Watch their breath as you feel your own. Notice the tiny details that make up a pet’s facial features; the whiskers, eyelashes, and minuscule markings that give your animal companion a unique appearance. If you’re snuggling, notice how their heartbeat feels while becoming more aware of your own.

Simply being together, spending time in the moment, and enjoying the unique way that your pet’s life intersects with yours can bring a sense of calm awareness. Extend the same attention and care into other aspects of your life and you’ll soon discover that mindfulness comes easier.