You’ve heard of Zumba. You’ve heard of CrossFit. You’ve heard of Yoga… but have you heard of Doga? If not, what are you waiting for? It is the perfect way to keep fit while bonding with your dog. Modern life is so busy. If you aren’t at work, you are commuting, and if you aren’t doing that you are picking up the kids, doing the washing, cooking dinner, or are just plain exhausted. With all that going on, it can be hard fitting in a good workout, as well as quality time with your loved ones. With Doga, you can do both!
What is Doga?
I know what you are imagining. You are imagining your dog sitting cross legged with their eyes shut, somehow howling ‘ooohm’. I thought it sounded a bit ridiculous as well, until I found out what Doga is actually for. It isn’t about dogs doing poses, though you can have fun teaching them a few. The focus is on being relaxed, bonding, being in the moment and, of course, exercise.
Dogs are natural yogis. The famous pose ‘downward facing dog’ is named after them for a reason! They live in the moment, are happy animals, but can also be incredibly peaceful and calm. They are perfect partners for yoga because they read energy well, so seeing you relaxed and stretching can be a wonderful experience for them. They might start a session excitable and jumpy, but watching you focus on your breathing and working on your muscles will calm them.
What Might a Doga Session Be Like?
If you decide that Doga just might be for you, you might want to try it out. But, what can you expect from a class? There are many different instructors, and they can all have different techniques and preferences. Some prefer to use dogs to enhance the workout of the human, others focus on creating a workout for the dog too.
There is no right or wrong way, and you need to find what is best for you and your best friend. Here is an idea of what an average class might be like:
- Walking and standing poses
To start the experience, many teachers lead everyone on a slow, calming walk around the room, interspersed with the occasional standing pose. This a great way of shedding the outside world, and bringing your focus into the moment. Your dog might follow you, or might be playing with another dog. Don’t worry, they’ll shed the outside world in their own time.
- Starting work on your mats
Most often, the class then starts just as any normal yoga experience, although you may be in a circle to create the feeling of being in a pack. You breathe, pose, relax and focus on your core. There should be calmness, no talking and, among the humans, no excitable energy. If your dog is still excitable and playing, you might have to fight the urge to try and control them. That isn’t why you are here. Let them play and let them invade other people’s personal space. Trust me, they aren’t bothering them; after all, everyone here is a dog lover!
- Working with your dog
It is likely that your dog will come back to you sooner or later. They’ve explored the room, the other dogs and the people. Now, they want to know what the heck you are doing! This is where you can choose to incorporable your dog into your workout. If your dog consents to being involved, you can use them as weights or a bolster, depending on their size, weight and strength. It can take time to get into the rhythm with this, so if your dog is content just giving you supportive kisses while you work out, that is fine too.
- Have a bit of a laugh
Yoga is meant to create a focused, calming energy, rather than a hyper, excitable one. But, this doesn’t mean you can’t laugh and enjoy yourself when the dogs inevitably act like the adorable idiots that they are. They might jump on you mid-pose. They might run into a fellow yogi. They might even bark, wee, or hump each other. It’s funny, it’s okay to laugh.
- Getting used to it
At the end of the session, your dog might not be a card-carrying doga master. Most just enjoy seeing the odd sight of their parent make a fool of themselves. But give them 3-6 weeks and most dogs get used to it and even show an interest in joining in and improving.
As I said, there are plenty of different class types, but generally you can expect a relaxing workout and a bit of fun. In some classes, there are some dog poses that you can work with your dog to try. Remember, all dogs are different. They can have different levels of ability and different levels of interest. Don’t every force a dog to participate in something they don’t want to do.
If your dog is the type who will love getting stuck in and trying some poses of their own, you can try out these ones:
- Lie your dog on their stomach
- Gently but firmly pet their back. Remember, the goal is relaxation, not excitement.
- Get your dog to sit on their hind legs, and support them from behind
- Raise their paws in front of them
- Put your hand on your heart
- Put your hand on your dogs heart
- Practice deep and slow breaths
Inner Dog Mudra
- During a pose which is at your dog’s eye level, rest your forehead on theirs.
- Breathe deeply and share your energy
Puppy Paw Mudra
- Lie your dog on their front. Their front legs should be extended in front of them
- Kneel behind them, rest your head on their back and hold their front legs
- Lie your dog on their back
- Gently and firmly rub their belly
- Stand behind your dog and lean forward
- Reach down to their hip joints and gently pick up their hind legs. You must support their hips carefully.
- Encourage them to stretch and flex their body.
These poses might not feel like they are as strenuous as the poses that we as humans have to do in yoga. But that is the key difference between yoga and doga – the dogs. They only have to do as much, or as little, as they like, and you absolutely shouldn’t force them into anything. Like yoga, the goals are bonding, relaxation, calm and good health. Good health for humans might mean twisting into a strange pretzel, but good heath for dogs means not forcing their joints into uncomfortable and damaging positions.
Once you are more experienced, you can even instinctively create your own poses with your dog. Just always be cautious and make sure they are being fully supported. Don’t put much weight on them, don’t pull at their joints and don’t keep them in places they don’t want to be. Just stretch with them and see where they like to go. Some dogs particularly like supporting their owner’s backs, while other like to fit into comfortable gaps, and some just like to be held.
If you can’t already tell. I am a fan of doga, and I think there is an endless list of benefits that you can take from the experience. Both as an individual and as a dog owner. Here a few to try and convince you:
- It keeps exercise in your life, particular yoga. Quite simply, it is a great multitasking opportunity. You get to stay fit, while spending quality time with your dog.
- It is great socialisation for your dog. There will be plenty of dogs at the class who they can become friends with, play with, and generally get to know. Socialisation is important for dogs as without it, they can become anxious and fearful of new experiences.
- It is a bonding experience for you and your dog. Rather than a walk or run, where you might be tempted to tune out and listen to music or chat to friends, or ten minutes of hyperactive play with a toy, doga is quality bonding time spent with your dog. They get your undivided attention and love.
- It also builds trust. As your bond grows and you spend more quality time with your dog, their trust in your also grows. This can improve their responsiveness to training, commands and makes them better behaved.
- You and your dog can benefit from the stress relief properties of yoga. Ensuring that you have at least one hour a week in which you are focusing on your own mind, and living in the moment can drastically relax you, and your dog. Your dog feeds off your energy. If you are a stressed or anxious individual, they will be a stressed or anxious dog. Doga can work wonders of anxious, or hyperactive dogs.
- There are physical health benefits as well. Like yoga, doga will strengthen your core and keep you fit. However, in dogs, doga can improve their circulation and their range of motion, ensuring a better quality of life now, and as they age.
- You can make some friends of your own! If you are used to apologizing for your dog’s, perfectly normal, behaviour in public, it will be so refreshing to be with a group of people who just accept it when your dog tries to sit on their head.
I don’t want to give you a completely biased account of doga. It isn’t for everyone. There are some dogs and humans who won’t enjoy it and that is perfectly normal.
- Particularly anxious dogs might find the sight of you stretching, and the presence of so many other dogs, to be very daunting and intimidating. Keep an eye on your dog in your first sessions and see if they are displaying any signs of unhappiness. This doesn’t have to mean that your dog can never do doga. But maybe you should start small. Introduce them to yoga at home, in an environment they know, and organise some one-on-one puppy play dates so that they get used to being around other dogs.
- Very hyperactive dogs might not be happy being inside in a strange environment. The presence of so many potential playmates might just motivate them to bark non-stop. While ‘misbehaviour’ is tolerated, if your dog doesn’t calm down even a small amount during the hour, it might not be for them.
- If you are a serious yoga enthusiast, doga might be a bit of an annoyance for you. Although the focus is on calm, peaceful reflection, there are, obviously, much more distractions than with normal yoga. If you hold the spiritual aspects of yoga dear to your heart, this might be too much to bear. That being said, there is no reason you can’t work both into your schedule as separate activities. If you normally do 3 yoga sessions a week, try and do 2 yoga sessions and 1 doga session a week instead, your dog will thank you (in their own way).
So now that I have hopefully convinced you to at least give it a try, where do you begin?
- Try finding a class. Doga is ‘the next big thing’ so there are plenty of opportunities to try it out in most big cities. But, that doesn’t mean you can find it everywhere. If you are lucky enough to have a class near you, call them up to check their availability, what the class entails, and if they have any house rules. They might have size, or breed limitations, for example.
- If you can’t find a class, don’t worry. You can happily practice doga at home if you have the space. You can buy doga books, and find videos online. If you are already proficient at yoga, try doing it at home with your dog, and incorporate some of the poses I’ve outlined above.