Full Title: Doga: Yoga with your Doga
Author: Amber Clisso
Date of Publication: August 6, 2015
Research Paper Text:
Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual practice meaning “union” in Sanskrit developed in India over 5,000 years ago. It has become very common in western civilization along with the popularity of dogs in our families. It is only natural that doga, or dog yoga, has become the latest trend in activities with our dogs. Doga is the union of yoga practice with our furry canine companions.
Dogs naturally stretch in the poses of upward facing dog and downward facing dog. Centuries ago, the founders of yoga named the poses for what they observed in nature. When a dog rises from an extended period of rest, they raise their heads to the heavens and lean their weight onto their front legs while flipping the tops of their toes to the ground in upward-facing dog pose, or Urdhva Mukha Svanasana in Sanskrit. Bowing their heads to the earth with their front paws extended forward while rear ends are lifted to the sky creates the downward facing dog pose, or Adho Mukha Svanasana. It only seems appropriate that dogs should join their favorite human for pack time while they practice yoga. Connecting with our dogs calms our minds, creates balance in our dog’s world, and fosters a loving bond with uninterrupted partner activity.
In the United States, doga has been taught in fitness centers, community centers and dog shelters since about 2001. Suzi Teitelman, founder of Doga-Yoga for You and Your Dog, was an early pioneer in teaching doga classes to others. She was a yoga instructor in 2001 in New York City who, shortly after 9/11, decided a dog would be a good addition to her life. She adopted Coali, an American Cocker Spaniel, who accompanied her everywhere including her yoga classes. He became magnetized to the unrolled yoga mat and the students and that is how Suzi got the idea of yoga with dogs started with his guidance.
Suzi has a doga video, Doga Dog, that came out in 2002 along with a training manual on how to lead a doga class and many other videos instructing yoga poses with your dog. Amy Stevens’ video, Yoga 4 Dogs, also gives good technique in both small dog and large dog sessions. There is a handful of books available with instructions and photos of yogi and dogi, human and canine practitioners, as they focus attention on each other. Brend Bryan, a dog yoga instructor and author of Barking Buddha, explains her doga method as “connecting with our mats and our dogs at the same time, and it shares the many ways dogs bring joy and harmony into our lives.” Classes are taught in most areas but are limited and may need to be requested by a group who show interest in doga before a class is made available.
There are some guidelines to follow for attending a class. It is a good idea to get your dog used to the yoga mat if they are not already by having a 5 minute play time on the mat or giving treats while on the mat so the pet is familiar with this being their space. Some dogs are more active than others and may wander a bit, which is accepted. Be mindful of those around you because some dogs are not as friendly as others and may be protective of their owners. A leash kept on your dog would help keep control of your pet. Some pets may be more vocal then others with barking or whining. The owners must keep an open mind and let dogs be dogs with some limits. Knowing your pets and your own physical limitations is a must. You never want to overstretch in any way because this can lead to injury and you want to be as gentle as possible with your precious pup. A towel might be useful in slobbery situations. Walking your dog prior to class would be helpful to eliminate any “accidents” that may occur and alleviate any unnecessary, cooped up energy. Bring water for you and your pet for after class. Most importantly, enjoy the shared time with your pet and have fun.
Instructors of doga classes teach in different ways. At times, treats are encouraged to help keep the pet involved in the activity or promote a stretch while other instructors may see this as a distraction and wait until after class for treat time. Class begins with breath work to quiet the mind and bring peace to our existence from hectic lives. Your dog will pick up on your emotional awareness and, hopefully, it will help soothe their energy. Meditation and guided relaxation help your dog maintain calming centeredness. Make sure you are in tune with your dog’s body language and reaction to their surroundings. The size of your dog determines if your dog can be used like a prop in poses or whether they are standing or laying down near you until it is their turn for a pose. Smaller dogs are much easier to cradle in your arms or hold on your lap. Some poses allow both of you to stretch as the same time like a “paw shake” pose in Yoga 4 Dogs where the human is in a lunge and the dog alongside is assisted to raise one front paw at a time and gently stretched forward. Other poses require that you just breath and be mindful while facilitating a stretch for your pet. A twister pose from Yoga 4 Dogs would be an example while your pet lays on their back, you slightly twist their rear legs to one side then hold for a few seconds and continue with the other side.
Massage and stroking sets your pet at ease while helping you become aware of lumps, abnormalities, and discomfort. More involved classes may use stimulation of pressure points through massage. The hands-on touch allows you and your pet to grow closer and it creates trust through the shared energy being experienced. Class ends with breathing, meditation and possible chanting and finally Savasana, or corpse pose, where you and your pet lay down and feel the effects of the lightness and power achieved through the doga practice.
Although doga is not seen as a traditional yoga practice, it encourages the union through harmony with you and your dog. It helps with flexibility and stress release while building connection with your pets. It forces us to take calming time from our frantic lives and focus on the furry babies at your feet who inspire us to be better people through unconditional love and aliveness in the moment. As they say at the end of a class in yoga, Namaste (the divine in me acknowledges the divine in you) or Nama-stay in dog terms.