There’s a prescription-free treatment that improves your health and makes you feel better in mind and spirit. Lucky us! It comes in many varieties, including furry, feathery and scaly.
Research shows that pets and other animals can reduce blood pressure, loneliness and stress and increase self-esteem. Gazing at fish in a tank is soothing and can lower blood pressure. Walking a dog provides exercise, and extends your social connections when you stop and chat with other dog walkers.
Touch & Acceptance
Stroking a pet is therapeutic, says Ann Pardo, Director of Life Management at Canyon Ranch in Tucson. “The slow, repetitive touch is meditative, soothing and healing.”
Therapy animals in hospitals can help patients in a similar way, she says. “The connection with an animal, and simply its presence, are therapeutic. They’re not treating you like a sick person; they’re noticing you without judgment or complications.” Human relationships are complex, but your relationship with a pet is purer and simpler, says Ann. “When you need comfort, a dog doesn’t need the full story, it just knows you’re upset and stays near you. Dogs relate to you unconditionally.”
No Pets? You Can Still Benefit
Many people can’t be around animals due to allergies, or because pets just aren’t their thing – but even if pets aren’t part of your lifestyle, they can play a role in your well-being.
“People who can’t have pets may still enjoy animal movies, like Milo and Otis or Finding Nemo,” she says. “I once had a cat called Grumble who made a ‘yum yum’ sound when he ate. He appeared on David Letterman, America’s Funniest Videos, and even a rock band video. He was just a scruffy cat missing a tooth, but he did something endearing, and had meaning for people who had never met him.”
You might tap into the soothing power of animals by wearing kitty earrings or animal T-shirts, or enjoying animal pictures or those irresistible video clips. You might collect figurines of swans, cats, horses or another favorite creature. And we all know how comforting stuffed animals are to kids, and their attachment to animal cartoon and storybook characters.
Your Personal Totem
Identifying a personal totem animal can also be spiritually enriching, says Canyon Ranch in Tucson naturopathic practitioner and acupuncturist Carol Revak, who absorbed the lore of animal totems while working among Native Americans.
“The word ‘totem’ comes from the Ojibwe word Odoodem, meaning kinship relations,” she says, “But it’s come to be a personal symbol. Having an animal – or even a plant – you identify with is a way of reaching across the physical world to the unseen. Each animal is identified with distinctive qualities: Elephants are sensitive and intuitive; a dog can mean loyalty, protection or empathy; butterflies suggest airiness or joy. Totem animals are teachers that are closer to nature – to something larger that we’ve lost.”
To discover which creature you feel a connection with, take your time, says Carol. “Meditate and let it come to you; let it bubble up from within. It’s a very personal journey.”
Animals Enrich Your Life
Whether your connection with animals is spiritual, physical or symbolic, it’s likely to help you feel better and experience less stress, adds Ann. “Anytime there’s a cross-species interaction, you’re in the presence of something sacred and meaningful.”
Horses as Teachers
The next time you visit Canyon Ranch in Tucson, check out our new, immersive Equine Inspirations workshop. Led by Allan Hamilton, MD, Harvard-trained brain surgeon and author of the award-winning book Zen Mind, Zen Horse, you’ll hone your intuitive potential as you feel the powerful spiritual connection between horse and human.
Developed by Dr. Hamilton, the program uses ground-based work with horses to engage your right brain’s intuitive function, while silencing the dominant left hemisphere’s analytical inner voice. As you interact with the horse, you’ll nurture personal growth, creativity and spiritual enlightenment. No previous experience with horses is required and riding is not part of the program. Group or private sessions are available.