December 4th, 2020

Yoga Pug Update

Written by Jay Koh

As we approach winter (yes, as of today, December 4, 2020, it’s still technically autumn), a little heart is beating with anticipation for seeing her 13th winter. The heart belongs to Lucy Berkin, Pug Queen of Hingham. I’ve spent a lot of time observing her because it’s rare to see a dog who is as much into yoga as this one is. So, an update on the Yoga Lab’s website seems fitting.

Whenever, I teach, it’s clear that a lot of yoga practitioners have trouble settling down in Shavasana. It’s the major reason why top yoga gurus say that Shavasana is the hardest of all yoga poses to master. And yet Lucy has an otherworldly ability to suddenly stop barking and go right into it. At first I thought she might have narcolepsy. But judging by the energy aura around her – and her twitching nose – it’s clear that she is a yoga master with a Shavasana that we could all learn from.

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While growing up, my family had big dogs, and so when I first met Lucy, I didn’t immediately warm to her. But if ever there was a dog that made me believe in reincarnation, Lucy is the one. Her highly expressive eyes, her vocalizations, and the way she uses her tail like maritime flags to signal how the winds are blowing combined with all the yoga poses she naturally gets into makes me think that in a previous life she was one of the great yoga masters.

The other thing is that I’ve never met a 13-year-old dog with the spirit and kinetic energy of Lucy. Her hind legs might be barely useable, but the rest of her is like a 2-year-old dog. So, she pretty much alternates between two states: highly kinetic and comatose. She embodies the duality seen in the Yin-Yang symbol.

I should say something about her tail. When I first met her four years ago, her tail was as curly as described in www.yourdogadvisor.com (note: this website has all sorts of useful info, such as this great tool that makes removing ticks a breeze, and who knew there was even a dog breed named Basenji???). But time and some slipped disks have a way of straightening out even a pug’s tail.

And this is where yoga and the concept of psychological flexibility enter. The one thing far more important than a flexible body is a flexible mind. The reason is because the body can take all sorts of huge hits that dramatically decrease it’s ability to function properly, and yet there are endless numbers of highly inspiring stories about people who are able to overcome their new/latest limitations and not just survive but actually thrive because they possess psychological flexibility. But I have met countless numbers of people who have wonderfully flexible bodies but are lacking in psychological flexibility, and invariably they suffer.

What is psychological flexibility? It’s the ability to mentally be in the moment and make rapid mental adjustments depending on one’s current circumstances so that a person can continue to stay in the moment and not get swept up looking backwards with regret or warily peering forward with apprehension.

And Lucy Berkin has psychological flexibility in spades. When her hind legs started giving out on her a couple of years ago, she didn’t sulk even for a moment. In fact, she moves around today as if she doesn’t have any physical disability. That’s because she can focus on the now – especially when she hears the distinct rustling of a bag of Zuke’s dog treats being opened. And her eyes and ears are as alert as any dog I’ve ever met.

But it’s not just her that requires psychological flexibility; all the humans around her need it as well. For example, whereas before she would occasionally pee in a puddle, now she kind of repeatedly streaks it across the floor as she drags herself from one area to another. Also, her tail has straightened considerably as she uses her hind legs less and less. In fact, her tail now often resembles a German Shepherd’s. But there are times when she springs up on all four legs and her tail regains some of its former curly glory. In the end, those around her need the psychological flexibility to not look at her and reminisce about how she used to be but rather to appreciate her for who she is currently.

When I see Lucy, I see many of my yoga students. Some injury or another has altered their practice to be physically less than it was, but they continue because their psychological flexibility and resilience has increased. Like Lucy, new disabilities for them are not causes of dejection but rather opportunities for finding new solutions.

As Lucy overcomes one obstacle after another, she’s accumulated a whole host of nicknames: Pug Queen, Notorious P.U.G., Chocolate Speed Bump, Bathsheba, Drippings, etc. But far greater than her growing list of sobriquets is what matters most: she operates in the possibilities of the now with the constant optimism that something wonderful (e.g. peanut butter) could appear at the very next moment. Don’t worry girl because Hannukah and Christmas are right around the corner 🙂

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