A sleek, black cat is the queen of my house. Phoenix purrs when she is happily nestled in Frank’s lap as he watches the Twins. When I’m late with the wet food (she has some kind of crazy-accurate tummy clock), she speaks in a sharp tone that expresses her annoyance with crystal clarity. Phoenix also wags her tail, but I’m never quite sure what she means by it.
Every dog I’ve ever known, however, has communicated clearly with their wagging. Gina, my rescued greyhound, could wag herself silly. From nose to tail tip, her whole body would swing and undulate whenever I walked in the door. Even if I’d just forgotten my keys. I bet you know a dog who has an all-out-full-on-whole-doggy-body tail wag that radiates pure rapture. That kind of tail wag is the embodiment of joy.
This is unlikely to surprise you, but I would love to have a tail. Rest assured that all outfits (especially Nia teaching outfits) would be designed for optimum tail comfort and expressiveness. Wouldn’t it be nice to thump it approvingly when you saw the food coming out? Or to flip it half-heartedly to indicate that “yes, I am paying attention but I don’t really want to get up”? Or to offer high-octane, coffee table-clearing, shout-hallelujah-he’s-home wag when you’re really feeling the love? I would.*
And I guess, as a daisy-pants-wearing Nia teacher, I do.
In my practice, I’ve discovered that tail-wagging is actually great for body and mind -– and people just don’t do it nearly enough. As I wrote about last fall in Explore from Core, the spine is designed to move in six directions: front, back, left, right, and spiraling both ways. When I wag my tail, I am creating mobility in the notoriously stiff and achy lower (lumbar) spine, as well as creating strength and flexibility in my waist, back and abdomen. By wagging my tail, I am creating movement in my hip joints which can release not just the leg muscles but (perhaps surprisingly) also tension in the jaw.
A nice slow, wide, alligator-tail kind of wag is particularly good for increasing range of motion and strength in the core, hips, back and legs. A fast happy-puppy tail wag can loosen up intrinsic muscles and shake out chronic tension. And a subtle, mid-range, walking-around-town tail wag is a great way to just keep the juices flowing.
In addition to all the physical benefits of some healthy, human tail wagging, a little tail wag reminds me to loosen up, lighten up, and not take myself so seriously. By wagging our tails, we invite ourselves to play, let go, even smile while we’re moving (click here for even more on the benefits of smiling)! Seriously, if your tail wag gets you (or someone else) to smile or even laugh a little, there are immediate and long-term benefits for body and mind.
Not to mention relationships.
Don’t get me wrong. Barking has its place. It’s important to say what is true, to set boundaries, and ask for what I want. In Nia class, by making sound, I not only strengthen my core and protect my back, but I release energy so I can relax more. So I’m not dissing barking, but as the bumper stickers says, my preference is mostly wagging with barking as needed.
Let’s face it, do you want to hang out with the dog that’s always yapping and making a rhubarb about every little thing? Or do you want to be with the pooch that wags her whole self to say hello after you’ve been gone for 27 seconds? I know I want to both be and be with the wagger (who can bark clearly to say, “Um, it was dinner time, like, 40 minutes ago.”).
So this week, whether you’re in class or out and about, wag more, bark as needed, and embody friendly love. I’d love to know what really gets you wagging (or barking) this week!
* Somewhat alarmingly, in the research for this post, I came across this Kickstarter campaign for the Tailly: a wearable, wagging tail that is connected to the wearer’s heartbeat. I’m not kidding. And this is not what I have in mind.