Zen and the Art of Doggieness

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Zen and the Art of Doggieness
A yogi’s journey from darkness to light, and the angels who helped him get there

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About a year ago, I hurt my foot training for the Las Vegas marathon. A bummer, to be sure. After three months of doing nothing but consuming white carbohydrates (read: Chardonnay) and moping on the couch watching Law and Order re-runs, my husband and I decided to spend Christmas in Montego Bay, the land of beautiful bikini-bearing tourists and beautiful geneticallyastounding locals. Ahh, just the place for a person suffering the ill-effects of over-consumption to feel even more bloated and puffy. Thankfully, the all-inclusive nature of our resort meant no shortage of champagne (read: more white carbs) for Chad and I to toast new beginnings. Sure, we agreed, I needed to take a break from running, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t engage in something a little less hard on the joints. Hadn’t I always admired (read: envied to the point of madness) those nauseatingly sculpted contortionists with their chiseled yoga backs? Yes, that’s it, we clinked our flutes, I will become a yogi! Las Vegas, you can keep your silly marathon.

New to the community of Deep Cove, a seaside enclave just 20 minutes from downtown Vancouver, I’d frequently passed Maa Yoga on my way to and from meetings. Unbeknownst to the Zen masters sitting in lotus position behind the doors of this uber-chic studio, Maa would be the chosen locale of my newfound quest; the Cheers to my Norm. Which, it goes to say, would make its founder, yogi Farhad Khan, the Sam Malone to my Cheers.

Like the character played by Ted Danson in the sitcom classic, so too is Khan indisputably welcoming and indisputably attractive. But the similarities between the two end there. While Khan possesses the physical attributes of someone who makes a living folding his body into poses that leave him resembling a human piece of installation art—trust me, I’ve seen this man in “crow”—it’s his eyes that give him away. Darker than charcoal, they provide a sense they have seen things that lead a person to a deeper level of understanding and compassion, disclosing a rare combination of sweetness and survival. But the eyes only hold you for so long. After all, flanking their dad behind the counter are Rokko and Koko, his Yorkie-Havanese canine co-workers. “I share custody with my sister,” he laughs. “We each get them for ten days at a time.” As enchanting as Khan and his sidekicks are—the gentle and approachable Rokko and Koko serving as evidence that dogs are frequently a reflection of their owners—his isn’t just a story of a nice guy who takes his dogs to the office. No, his is a story of an appreciation for animals that blossomed from the mire of family tragedy.

“I honestly believe that dogs are my angels,” he tells me. “It’s not lost on me that ‘dog’ is ‘God’ backwards.”

After his father was convicted of the 1993 murder of his sisterin- law, life for the then-teenaged Khan entered a period of great struggle. “I was lost,” he recalls. “It was a time of tremendous darkness.” The mood changes ever so slightly when he tells me who helped him get through the days following his father’s incarceration.

“Aboo, our family dog, was our saving grace. He kept our foundation intact. He was the light our family needed in a dark time.” As he speaks, I’m reminded that while I typically hear stories of people who have rescued the family dog, this is a story about a family dog who rescued his people.

“When Aboo passed away, it was like we lost the family baby, after everything he’d helped us through. A month after, I couldn’t take it anymore. I went looking for the new family baby. And that’s when I found Koko and Rokko.”

Unlike my own yogic journey which saw me come to the mat to access muscle, Khan’s saw him come to the mat to access spirituality.

“It was an instant connection,” he remembers of his first yoga class. “I began to realize that, through my adversity, I had gained strength. I was gifted this experience for a reason. It was transformational. Like a lotus flower out of the mud, something beautiful was appearing.”

Less than five years after opening, Khan’s studio offers approximately 2,000 students about 60 classes a week led by some of the area’s most skilled yoga practitioners. Maa, he explains, is the Hindi word for “mother” and the studio itself is as a testament to maternal care in the figurative and the literal sense.

“Maa is my tribute to my mother. She’s a very strong woman. And we all need to learn to mother ourselves. When we take care of ourselves, we are better able to take care of the people—and the animals—in our lives.”

Based on being acutely mindful and treating all living beings with respect, Khan’s lifestyle philosophy is a symbiotic merging of both yogic and dog-loving values.

“Gandhi said that the moral progress of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated and I believe that. My relationships with Aboo and Rokko and Koko are an important part of the bigger picture. Dogs teach you to let go of whatever it is you’re hanging on to. And the same can be said for yoga.”

Talking to Khan, I recognize what the eyes have been trying to tell me all along. There is joy where there was once sadness. There is love where there was once loss. There is light where there was once darkness. Be it a fractured foot, a fractured heart, or a fractured sense of self, at one time or another, we will all find ourselves in the dirt. But with a little help from our angels—on two legs or four—we each have the power to make like a lotus and blossom. After all, that’s what Farhad Khan did.

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