Friday, May 27, 2011

You can re-program any dog

I went on a camping trip with friends this past weekend and got to hang out with their dog, who is the most anxious dog I've ever met. There was one time when I had to watch the dog while my friends went away for about an hour. This dog wailed, whimpered and shivered pretty much the entire time they were gone, no matter how much I tried to pet, rub and reassure the dog that its owners would come back soon. When we went hiking, whenever it sensed a presence of another species of its kind it would go berserk, eyes bulging, barking aggressively, ready to launch at that other dog. We would have to take turns holding our dog down, either holding a death grip on its leash or sometimes even grabbing its snout until the other dog walked out of sight.

This dog came from an animal shelter and my friends suspect that it had a rough time on the streets with other dogs. That's probably why it had abandonment issues and had to act all tough to fend itself against other dogs. My friends take a patient but firm approach raising the dog. Sometimes they get frustrated but they never give up. So far they have gone through a few dog trainers and are starting group lessons for problem dogs soon.  Apparently the dog's behavior has already improved since they first brought the dog home, but they still have a long way to go. One of the trainer told them (paraphrasing a bit here), "With the right techniques and patience, you can re-program any dog."

I felt like I got smacked in the head by an imaginary hand when I heard this. I realized this is what I've been doing to myself the past few years - all these physical exercises that altered my body shape, yoga asanas and pranyama to alter body alignment, tendon/ligament/fascia arrangement, breathing patterns, etc; meditation to alter brain waves/thinking patterns, eating differently to alter the physical body, madly reading yoga/Buddhism philosophies to change the way of my thinking, all of these efforts have been attempts to reprogram myself because I disliked the old me. I hated the way I was brought up, since the upbringing shaped me into someone I despise despite my endless struggles not to obey what my parents ask of me. I have years and years of post-secondary and post-graduate education under my belt, yet I feel I possess about as much self-confidence as a confused teenager. The book knowledge I acquired helped me pass courses and get through exams, but they taught me nothing about real life, society, and humanity. I don't know why I seem to be stuck in an endless personal development vortex, never satisfied about my physical, mental, social, intellectual or professional self. This whole yoga thing seems to be my latest effort in re-programming my negative behavior/thinking patterns and my neurosis. I was kind of hoping it would just help me breath more smoothly, calm my nervous system, and then I could get on with life. But apparently yoga will not fix my broken life. Luckily my life itself is not actually broken; I'm just confused about why I hold so much angst and how I got myself into the position I am in today. Michael Stone describes it much more elegantly than I ever could: I've been living my life with my eyes closed, thinking doing well in school is all I am responsible for, while ignoring how the education system, my parents, relatives, old friends, and my culture have been shaping my way of thinking and acting in a direction that's different from what I intended. With tension in my body released through yoga, and meditation practices getting past my habitual thinking loops, older memories that I have suppressed or thought I have forgotten would occasionally surface at random times of the day, causing emotional turbulence. Sometimes I would burst into tears for no reason in the middle of the day, while going to get groceries or on my way to school.

When my friend's dog is around its owners and other human beings, with no other dogs around, it acts completely happy and relaxed like a normal dog. You cannot tell there is anything psychologically wrong with it. When another dog shows up, it's as if the dog is programmed to go into anxious attack mode. Kind of like how some innocent phrase that my mother says in a casual conversation will send me into an automatic defensive/anger mode, with me scratching my head afterwards at why this is the case. Or how I automatically cower at the presence an unfriendly, rude, and demanding person when I ought to be able to defend myself now as an educated, informed adult.  Looking at the dog, I see that deep-seeded behavioral patterns are deeply ingrained and will take a lot of patience and persistence to be re-programmed. I must have faith that with my eyes now open, my efforts in re-programming myself will help me get past the emotional wounds that I didn't even know I've had.


  1. What matters most is that you're aware now. Thank you for sharing. it's a good wake up call for me to reprogramme myself, too.

    Time for eyes to be be wide open.

  2. Bee-u-ti-ful. Really, I loved this. What a wonderful way of describing in relation to the dog.

    Yoga opened my eyes too in many new directions, for that I am grateful. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. @yoginicory and @Meredith, thank you for your encouragements! Reprogramming is a long road but I'm on it! Yoga's a great tool to help with heart-opening and eye-opening. I get frustrated why I'm not "all fixed" yet but I have to remember it takes time.

  4. Great post, Yyogini. I have the same issues too. I think one issue is that most of our education and training (even yoga "training") takes place mainly on the rational level, whereas most of the values and things that we learn from our parents and upbringing take place on the emotional level. Which makes reprogramming such a long and difficult task. Maybe the goal is not really to get "fixed" (I actually don't know what it would be like to be "fixed", in any case :-)), but to become aware of our "initial programming" for what it is, and then try to respond appropriately in different situations in our lives based on this awareness. I think this is an important step to begin living with our eyes more open, rather than living with our eyes closed.

  5. You're right Nobel. By "fixed" I meant "become aware of our initial programming for what it is, and then try to respond appropriately in different situations in our lives based on this awareness." :-)

  6. 這篇寫的真好,不輸給許多檯面上有名的作家。沒經過很深層的反省,是寫不出來的。佩服妳願意改變,且採取行動。人的心靈真的很奇妙,許多事經常事在一念之間就決定了方向與後來的結果。瑜珈也許不是萬靈丹,但不可否認的,透過瑜珈可以使人靜下來,沉澱思慮,在腦海開拓另一大片空間。很開心妳在瑜珈中開始找尋自己真正想要的。這個世界上似乎絕大多數人都不曾認真尋找過。其實我也還在尋找當中。希望聖經(Matthew 7:7)這段耶穌說過的話能實現在我們身上:"Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you."