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Yoga for Dogs: A 'Doga' How-to Guide

By Susan McCullough
For thousands of years, people have positioned themselves in poses
like The Lotus, Salute to the Sun and Downward-facing Dog in an effort
to achieve inner peace and improve physical fitness. These individuals
practice the ancient art of yoga, whose benefits are widely touted.

Only recently, though, have some devotees come to realize that yoga
and its resulting benefits can be extended to their canine companions.
That’s why increasing numbers of people bring their pooch to yoga -- or
as it’s more popularly known, doga.
Benefits of Doga
“This is a great socializing experience for dogs,” says Kimberly Wilson, a yoga instructor who
conducts doga classes in Washington, D.C. “It’s a wonderful bonding experience to be
together with your dog while doing something that’s good for you.”

That said, doga means different things to different instructors. For example, Wilson conducts
her classes for humans while the dogs simply mill around. “When I lead a dog class, I’m not
taking the dogs through any poses,” she explains. “I just encourage people to bring their
dogs while I teach yoga to the people.”

Other instructors, however, take a more dog-centered approach. Seattle yoga teacher and
licensed massage therapist Brenda Bryan teaches human students to help their dogs
perform doga poses. “As we lift, stretch and massage [the dogs], we’re teaching them to
trust in the relationship they share with us,” explains Bryan. “They also receive physical
benefits, such as relaxation, stress release and an improvement in circulation and range of
motion.”

Doga for Dogs Big and Small
Dogs of any size can get into doga. Although many poses appear to involve lifting a dog,
which would be problematic for large dogs, lifting is not a requirement. “I have a mastiff who
comes to class regularly, and recently a Great Dane also attended one of my classes,” says
Bryan.

Here are some doga poses that dogs of all sizes can perform easily with your help:

  • Chaturanga Have your dog lay on its stomach while you stroke its back.

  • Chair This pose requires your dog to sit on its hind legs while you hold the dog from
    behind and raise its front paws in the air.

  • Savasana Your dog lies on its back while you stroke its exposed belly.

  • Puppy Paw Mudra Created by Bryan, this pose requires your dog to lie on its stomach
    with its front legs extended outward. You kneel down behind your dog and place your
    head on its back while holding its front legs outward with your arms. Then you turn
    your head to one side.

  • Heart-to-hound Mudra This pose, also created by Bryan, simply requires you to place
    one hand on your heart and the other on your dog’s heart. Close your eyes and
    breathe slowly.

Getting Started Think doga might be a great way for you and your dog to spend time
together? Here’s how to get started:

Be realistic Don’t expect your dog to be a canine contortionist. Striking a classic Lotus pose
is probably far beyond your pet’s physical, much less mental, capability. That doesn’t mean
your dog can’t get into the spirit of yoga along with you. Plenty of poses are easy for both
people and pooches to master.

Recognize talent Your dog may not be able to do a Lotus or a Tree, which involves complex
human body movements, but many everyday canine postures are very similar to yoga poses.
For example, a typical doggie play bow -- front legs on the ground, hind legs standing, rear
end and tail in the air -- is similar to the classic Downward-facing Dog pose practiced by
human yoga adherents.

Look for classes Many major metropolitan areas hold occasional doga classes. For example,
Wilson offers her classes to raise funds for the Washington Humane Society. If you can’t find
a doga class, consider searching for a traditional yoga class or instructor. Ask if that person
would be willing to teach doga or at least allow dogs to join their humans. YogaFinder online
contains a searchable worldwide directory of yoga classes.

Do it at home If you can’t find a doga class anywhere, don’t despair. Doga is something you
most definitely can try at home with your best friend. Take a look at Bryan’s book, Barking
Buddha: Simple Soul Stretches for Yogi and Dogi (Skipstone Press 2009). If you’d rather learn
while watching, check out Amy Stevens’ Yoga For Dogs DVD, available online.

As you and your dog practice doga together, you’re both likely to gain more than simply a
few minutes of quality time together. “The word ‘yoga’ means union -- and dogs are pack
animals, so they are all about union,” says Bryan. “Union in yoga means discovering a feeling
of connection to all living things. In doga, we move toward that union by first feeling that
open-hearted connection to our dogs, then opening up to a broader connection.”
Pet Health Articles
About the Author
Susan McCullough is an award-winning pet writer and the author of
Housetraining for
Dummies, Senior Dogs for Dummies and Beagles for Dummies.