Article by: Everyday Health Guest Experts
Since doga — doing yoga with your dog — is still a novelty, some dog owners have responded with positive and some with negative remarks when I mention that I’m a doga teacher.
I often hear, “But surely dogs would rather fetch a stick or chase squirrels then do bloody yoga?”
I try to clarify that what I teach isn’t “doggy yoga” because dogs don’t actually do human yoga positions (though they can perform an awesome downward dog). I teach yoga for people.
I explain that dogs are incorporated into human yoga poses, which involves yogic breathing and has a calming and soothing effect on the dog’s central nervous system.
“My dog is already calm enough. All he does is laze around watching TV all day,” will be the next response.
There’s a difference between lazing around in front of the TV or computer with your dog and resting in a yoga pose, like corpse pose, with your dog actually participating in your relaxation.
The difference is called intention, or attention.
Your Dog Is Alert to Your Anxiety or Relaxed State
When you watch TV with your dog beside you, it doesn’t mean that you are both relaxed. You may think you are resting, but your dog actually feels your nervous tension or anxiety because your mind is focused on your favorite show, not on your breath.
The way we breathe has a direct effect on our dog’s central nervous system, and that is why yoga is so helpful.
Have you ever noticed that when a larger dog comes sprinting toward your Chihuahua, you may automatically tighten your grip and pull the leash, and most importantly, shorten your breath? You may take a sharp inhalation but forget to exhale for fear something terrible might happen to your dog. You decide to pick your dog up off the floor before Mr. Big Dog gets the chance to sniff out Mr. Small Dog.
Your breath was cut short. So was the opportunity for your small dog to sniff out a large dog and deal with the situation.
Consequently, the next time you are in the park, your dog will be more alert to your anxiety and will begin to bark before you can say, “Sit!”
How Doga Works
Here’s how yoga can help. My doga classes are all about letting go of ownership. In my class the dogs are dogis and humans are yogis. It’s their yoga class as much as it is yours, therefore we must respect each other’s space. In my class all dogs are off-leash.
At first the idea of letting your dog off-leash may sound a little daunting. But eventually, when the owner comes to grips with the art of letting go, good things can really evolve and manifest.
You’ll be surprised to see that your dog is perfectly capable of figuring out where he belongs within the pack. This gives you, the practitioner, the chance to focus your attention on your breathing and posture practice. In doga you’ll be able to learn to separate your own feelings through the art of meditation, or present-moment awareness.
On a practical note, doga classes enable you to bring your pooch to yoga. No longer do you have to feel guilty about leaving him or her at home. And here’s the good news: Dogs really benefit from doga whether they participate or not. They pick up your energy. That’s all that matters. When you become still, your dog becomes still.
Once everyone is calm, you can then incorporate your dog into your yoga poses. My book Doga: Yoga for You and Your Dog includes more than 155 pages of yoga sequencing and individual doga poses. Large dogs aid as a yoga bolster, small dogs aid as a weight.
Benefits of Doga – for You and Your Dog
- Doga allows you to strengthen and deepen your natural bond with your dog.
- It decreases anxiety and relieves stress in you and your dog.
In this way, doing yoga with your dog enables you and your dog to have a stress-free bond. What better way to enjoy that bond than walking your dog off-leash in your favorite park?
Now that’s what I call nirvana.
Mahny Djahanguiri, shown above with her dog, Robbie, is a certified yoga teacher, author of Doga: Yoga for You and Your Dog, and the founder of Dogamahny. Since 1999 she’s been teaching and leading international Ashtanga Vinyasa and kids’ yoga workshops in London and Switzerland. Over the last three years Djahanguiri has developed and taught doga to enthusiastic classes and clients who include celebrities and musicians. You can connect with her at www.dogamahny.co.uk and on Twitter @DogaYogamahny.
PHOTO CREDIT: Top, Thinkstock. Center, Mahny Djahanguiri.