Yoga for Dogs

Benna Crawford
French bulldog doing yoga plank

Downward-facing dog is the easy part; any canine worth his yoga mat can handle that one. There are any number of yoga poses that are naturals, or easily adaptable, for bendy, adventurous mutts who want to take up a doga practice. That's right...doga...or yoga for dogs. It's a new wrinkle on an old spiritual discipline that has benefits galore for you and your pooch.

Afghans, Airedales, and Asanas

Doga is a partner yoga class in which the partners are humans and their dogs (or, keeping it real, dogs and their humans). It's been around for a few years, but doga is still fairly novel. However, studios offering regular doga classes are dotted all over the U.S. map. The practice entails bringing your pet to your weekly hatha session (no hot yoga tropical torture, please) and performing the poses with your dog - or just letting Rex, the Freestyle King, wander around sniffing the other yogis and dogis. People who are devoted to their dogs and their yoga practice are enthusiastic participants.

Poses With Pooches

If asanas can be modified for you and your intractable hamstrings or your wonky wrists, they can just as easily be modified for Fido. Here are some smooth dog moves to try on your four-legged BFF.

Downward Facing Dog

Once pooch gets with the program, the mere sight of the yoga mat will send him scrambling into a natural dog stretch that's better than yours. Hmmm…

Upward Facing Dog

Why not? After a little rear-action guidance, this is another dog-friendly move that stretches and strengthens. If Senior-Dog's hips won't cooperate, sitting up tall with strong front legs is a good substitute.

Savasana

Encourage the dog to lie on its back on the mat and gently rub its belly. Both of you will zone out. Alternatively, just let your dog lie next to you while you assume the position.

Other Pup Poses

You can try these other poses with your pup as well.

  • Puppy pose - Why should you have all the relaxation and fun? Hunkering down on the mat with front paws extended in front of you is even more delicious when your human wraps her child pose around you, her extended arms stretched along your sides. Define: Bliss.
  • Forward bend a.k.a. dead weight pose - The human assumes forward bend position with the dog between his legs. As the human bends down to touch the mat -- or wherever the arms can reach -- he picks up the pup and allows its weight to increase his stretch. Win-win. If the Great Dane isn't a viable counterweight, it can be a yoga prop. Just bend as far as you can and rest your fingertips on the dog's back. A little light massage wouldn't be amiss here.
  • Heart-to-hound - Sit in easy pose for meditation (or lotus, if you can) with the dog seated directly in front of your legs, facing away from you. Place one hand over your heart and the other hand over the dog's heart. Breathe. Trade peaceful vibes.

Fetch Those Bennies

Doga benefits you and your dog. A special health report published by Harvard Medical School points out dogs have been bred for centuries to be dependent on, and in-tune with, humans. Your dog picks up your mood -- calm or crazy -- and can suffer the same stress you do. Doga is an opportunity for reassurance, bonding, calming, affection, and -- big one -- increasing mindfulness (yours, not the dog's -- well maybe the dog's). You on your mat, with your faithful companion beside you, are entirely focused on that canine dogi. This quiets your mind and focuses your dog's attention on your interaction. Both of you emerge more centered, peaceful, and happy; in short, healthier for sharing a yoga/doga practice. A Rutgers University paper asserts dog yoga improves the mental health of pets (and their people) and can also improve flexibility, strength, muscle tone, alignment, pain prevention, and better breathing.

Cold Wet Nose Poses

Take your dog to doga class. Invite your meditative mutt to join you on your yoga mat at home. Get him his own mat, cheapskate (less drool to clean off yours). Salute the Sun with Boomer, the Wonder Dog, at your side panting to get into downward-facing dog and show you up. Do not attempt to wrestle your puppy into a pretzel shape or push the canine practitioner past his comfort zone. Yoga injuries are a thing; don't pioneer doga mishaps. The whole point of your peaceful bonding activity is a better life, maybe a little fitness, and post-yoga treats. Always offer the prasad of a post-yoga doggie bone or chew in acknowledgment of the grace that has just been bestowed upon you.

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Yoga for Dogs