Yoga for Dogs
People have been practicing Yoga for thousands of years. But there are now even yoga classes for dogs!
The practice of Yoga has evolved over the centuries, passed on from one teacher to another, incorporating each individual’s unique experience and approach. The American Yoga Association estimates that there are over 100 different schools of Yoga. Yoga (the Sanskrit word for “union”) combines meditation, breathing, and exercise to improve physical, mental, and spiritual wellness.
Now dog lovers have their own school – Doga. Sometimes referred to as “Yoga for dogs,” Doga is really more than that. It is a way to incorporate our best friends into the practice of Yoga, creating a meaningful bonding experience for both humans and canines. And really, who could do “Downward Dog” better than, well, a dog?
So are you and your dog ready to give Doga a try? Here are a few things for prospective “Dogis” to consider:
Why Do Doga?
Doga is good for you.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the health benefits of Yoga include stress reduction, weight loss, and improved all-around fitness. It can also help manage chronic health conditions and reduce heart rate and blood pressure.
Doga is good for your dog.
San Francisco-based Doga instructor Anne Appleby notes that Doga can help calm down young, anxious dogs, and help with hip problems in older dogs. Her own 10-pound dog, Madison, “gets a message and calms down. It also helps to open her lungs.”
Doga stretches can help increase mobility and decrease stiffness in dogs with joint problems. A Doga class can provide great socialization for dogs, too, helping some of the shy ones to come out of their shell.
Doga is a fun bonding experience.
Appleby says, “Doga is a fabulous way to bond with your pet. There’s lots of expressive eye contact … my students and dogs come in all excited and leave in a Zen state.”
Brenda Bryan, author of Barking Buddha: Simple Soul Stretches for Yogi and Dogi, agrees. “We get so busy with work and everything else, we don’t always take time to focus on our dogs,” she says. A Doga class is a great way to do just that, by stretching and massaging them, breathing with them, and letting everything go except your relationship with your dog.
Dogs are natural “Dogis.”
Since dogs are pack animals, they are innately suited for Yoga’s emphasis on unity and connection with others. They are also naturally flexible – what dog owner has not seen their dog comfortably snoozing while curled up like a pretzel?
That being said, Doga isn’t about forcing the dog into poses. Rather, the dog can be gently stretched and massaged by their person. They can also provide extra weight to help the human partner extend further in their own stretches.
Can My Dog Do Doga?
Yes! Dogs of any age and size can do Doga, although it may be easier to start when they’re younger. Small dogs work well, says Appleby, “because you can do more with them.” But don’t leave your Rottweiler at home! Appleby says, “big dogs can take you into a deep stretch, as you can use them as anchors.”
Do I Need Any Experience?
Opinions differ from instructor to instructor. Some, like Appleby, feel that a few introductory Doga classes for the owner are essential. Others, like Bryan, welcome novices and experienced Yogis alike. In fact, Bryan says, sometimes the more experienced students are so concerned with doing the poses perfectly, that they miss out on some of the joys of Doga.
How Do I Choose an Instructor?
One thing to keep in mind is that Doga instructors are not required to complete certification, so quality and content vary from class to class. The most important thing is to find a teacher that you like — after all, Doga should be a joyous time for you and your dog.
“It’s important to let go of any preconceptions and have fun,” says Bryan, who teaches Doga in Seattle, Washington. “Doga is different from Yoga. It’s a fun class and we laugh a lot.”
It may be easier to find classes in larger metropolitan areas. If there are no Doga classes in your area, or if you’re just nervous about going to your first class, a book like Bryan’s can help you get started with Doga exercises you can practice at home.