Anyone who’s familiar with yoga knows what an incredible mind/body experience it offers. We humans practice yoga to reduce stress and tension, improve concentration, increase flexibility, and lift our moods. Wouldn’t it be great if we could share that same experience with our dogs? Well, luckily for us, we can!
Doga is a specialized yoga class that lets you share your zen with your dog. Yoga, an ancient Indian Hindu practice dating back to 2500 BC, combines relaxation, stretching and breathing techniques to help increase circulation, improve posture and body movement, and reduce levels of cortisol (the body’s stress hormone). According to a 2016 research study conducted by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance, approximately 36 million Americans are now practicing yoga regularly. And since approximately 44% of U.S. households include at least one dog, it only makes sense that some people would want to share the yoga experience with their canine family members.
Doga was born In 2002, when a forward-thinking U.S. yoga instructor named Suzy Teitelman noticed that her cocker spaniel loved to sit close to her and watch her while she practiced. One day she started slowly lifting him into poses and incorporating him into her routine. Over the next several years, doga began to spread around the world, creating raving fans in Japan, England, Australia, and many other countries. Doga classes are now taught in health clubs, yoga studios, animal rescue shelters, even in luxury hotels.
So What Exactly Happens In a Doga Class?
First, an expectation setter. These are dogs after all, so if you’re looking for the quiet stillness and deep tranquility experienced in a traditional yoga class, you probably aren’t going to find it in doga. That being said, many doga classes do allow for a few minutes of interaction between dogs at the beginning and end of class that helps them settle down.
A typical doga class can last anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour. During class, dogs are incorporated into activities by acting as additional weights or bolsters for their humans, while being gently massaged and stretched. Massage improves the dogs’ circulation and helps them feel calmer, while stretching increases their flexibility. Many of the poses are designed to allow both the human and the dog to work together so that both receive the benefits of the pose.
Dogs are actually natural yogis – in fact, many traditional yoga poses are done by dogs in their everyday environment. Anyone who has ever seen a dog in a puppy-bow knows that this is very similar to the downward-facing dog pose in yoga. For many dogs, it only takes about 4 or 5 sessions for them to pick up on what’s going on. Many people have reported that by the end of class, their dogs are actually synchronizing their own breathing to match that of their humans. Some dogs get so relaxed that you can hear them sighing deeply.
The video below gives a peek into what a doga class can look like:
Benefits Of Doga
Doga practitioners will be the first to tell you that doga seems to create a harmonious energy flow between dogs and their humans. Since dogs easily pick up on people’s energy and emotions, the calm that humans feel during and after any type of yoga practice can be transmitted directly to their dogs, making them feel relaxed, more confident, and more secure.
Doga also offers tangible physical benefits:
- Dogs learn to tolerate being touched on various areas on their bodies. This can help some dogs overcome a fear of having their feet or ears touched, or their nails trimmed.
- Many dog parents have reported increased range of motion, especially in their older dogs. Done correctly, doga is considered a safe and low-impact activity for dogs with arthritis, hip dysplasia, and other joint issues, as well as for seniors or dogs who are overweight.
- Doga encourages bonding between dog and human. While being lifted and placed into position for poses, dogs learn to trust their humans more fully. Doga also provides an opportunity for dogs to get prolonged, undivided attention from their humans during class.
- Participating in a doga class can help with obedience training. Doga classes are a great addition to traditional obedience training, since the focus is quiet and relaxed. While obedience sessions are more structured and dogs are rewarded for performance, doga is a calm activity that allows dogs to participate rather than perform. They also receive the additional reward of physical touch.
- Being in close contact with your dog’s body provides an opportunity for a regular health check. Due to the hands-on nature of doga, some dog parents have found lumps or bumps on their dogs during class that might have gone unnoticed otherwise.
If You’re Thinking About Trying A Doga Class
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you decide to try doga with your dog. First, there is currently no certification for doga instructors, so be sure to do your research and find an instructor who is experienced, knowledgeable, and committed to safety. As with any physical activity, there is always a risk of injury (to both you and your dog) if postures aren’t done properly. Make sure to inform the instructor about any health conditions your dog has prior to the start of class.
Classes can vary greatly, with some classes allowing dogs to just hang out with their humans during the activities, and others allowing dogs to be active participants. Cost is also variable, with most classes running about $15-$25 for an hour-long session (private lessons are usually more).
Although dogs of any breed and size can participate in doga, they should never be forced into any poses or to do anything they don’t want to do. If for any reason your dog resists a movement, just stop and wait for the next one. Since one of the main reasons for doga is to build trust and bond with your dog, you want to make sure that nothing about the class is unpleasant or scary for them.
Lastly, if your dog does not have some basic obedience training under their belt, it’s best to work on that first before joining a doga class. At a minimum, your dog should know how to sit, stay, and lie down, as well as be socialized and friendly around other dogs. Although reactive dogs may not be well-suited for large, public doga classes, they can still participate in doga with you under the guidance of a private instructor. Whether in a public or private class, remember to always keep an eye on your dog so you can gauge when he or she has had enough.
There’s No Place Like Ohm!
The word yoga means “union”. Dogs are all about union and living in the moment, and for people, the simple act of touching their dogs can reduce tension, lower blood pressure, and boost immunity. Doga offers the perfect opportunity not only to better connect with your dog, but also to improve your physical and mental health. As for your dog? They get to spend quality time with you, relaxing and being petted and massaged.
Kari Harendorf, a doga instructor in Manhattan, said it best:
People always ask me, ‘Do dogs need yoga?’ I say, ‘No, you need yoga. But your dog needs your attention, and bonding with your pet is good for your health.’
I can’t think of a better win-win than that. 🙂
Have you ever taken a doga class with your dog? Would you? Please share with us in the comments below!