"Namastay:" The Benefits of Doga For You and Your Pup

Posted by Billy Francis

What is Doga? The most basic definition is “yoga with your dog,” but it’s much more than a fun, pet-friendly activity. Thousands of experts and practitioners swear by the tangible healing properties of Doga for both you and your pooch. If you’re thinking about taking a dog yoga class, here’s everything you need to know about what it involves, why it’s more than a fad and where you can try it.

They Don’t Call It “Downward Dog” for Nothing

Whether they realize it or not, dogs take part in a form of dog yoga every day. When they’re not sleeping and eating, they’re contorting their body into a variety of shapes by stretching, lunging and yawning. This makes them perfect partners for Doga. Along with their flexibility, canines are born with an innate ability to live in the moment. This natural tendency, something that humans strive for during a yoga session, is a blessing for dogs.

To learn more about yoga with dogs, I spoke with one of its pioneering trailblazers. “I have the privilege to be the founder of Doga in Europe, and to be able to teach humans and invite them to surrender what is sacred and innocent,” said Mahny Djahanguiri. She is the author of the book, “Doga–Yoga for you and your dog” and a practicing instructor in London. You might have even watched her achieve worldwide fame when she and her dog successfully auditioned on Britain’s Got Talent.

Mahny Djahanguiri hard at work.Photo by @bensdogs / Ben Starr

Mahny is convinced of the positive benefits of the practice, but worries that some people don’t take it seriously enough. “I often come across as this lunatic who is obsessed because the media doesn't edit the footage correctly,” she said.

“They don't even show a before and after. They just show humans lifting and swinging dogs around and some superfluous text saying, “Now you can bring your dog to yoga.” Most footage looks pathetic and we look like idiots, and it really isn't what’s happening behind the scenes.”

To Mahny and her enthusiastic students, it’s no joke! They believe the science behind Doga is very real. “Healing is what Doga is all about. Dogs really can heal humans and visa versa,” she said.

“If the owner’s central nervous system replenishes, then so does the dog’s. The fight or flight system is accessed in the sympathetic nervous system of a human as well as a dog. If the nervous system starts kicking in, which is responsible for sleep and digestion, then the active system and the brain can replenish. This process can happen in a 90-minute Doga class if we allow it.”

Zen and the Art of Dog Yoga

“This is my warrior pose.” Photo by @bensdogs / Ben Starr

Yoga is thought to be around 5,000 years old and is believed to have originated in the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India. Doga is comparatively new on the scene, with varying practices emerging over the last 20 years in the western world. Although Mahny wasn’t the first person to start teaching it, her discovery was a spiritual affair.

“I believe that Doga found me,” she affirmed. “I wasn't seeking it. It came to me one day. I saw an elderly couple working out with their personal trainer on a lawn, and beside them, they had this enormous Golden Retriever who was joining in with their workout. I was thinking to myself, ‘I’ve done this before. I have actually been here and taught humans with their dogs.’ Electricity surged from the crown of my head all the way down to my toes. My hair stood on end: ‘Yoga with your dog!’”

Every Doga class is different, but there are two main concepts. The first is humans helping dogs to perform yoga poses, and the second is humans performing yoga poses while dogs interact with each other. Mahny’s classes ask you and your dog to move at a comfortable pace that suits you and not to lift or touch your dog if they are not ready.

So I Tried It …

Mila and I try the Hot Dog Pose. Photo by BringFido

I wanted to get a feel for the Doga process, so I asked Mahny for a pose I could try at home. She explained the Hot Dog Pose from her book.

“Simply place your smaller dog on her front paws on top of your thighs and stroke her gently. Incorporate your Ujjayi breathing and just listen to the sound of your breathing,” Mahny said.

“With your palms on your dog’s navel, feel the heartbeat and breathing. Now, try and imitate her rapid breathing, then slow down again. Keep going like this for 10 minutes, until you gently come into forward fold. Reach for your toes—easier with larger dogs between your legs—and rest your head on the nape of her neck. Stay there for five minutes and keep breathing.”

The calming stretch released tingling endorphins throughout my body. Mila, our canine Doga volunteer, was confused as to what was happening at first, but then relaxed into it and accepted that it was probably just another weird human thing she’d never understand.

If Doga gives you the push to finally join that yoga class you’ve been meaning to try and achieves the desired response from your body and your dog, who is to say it should be taken any less seriously than more traditional forms of yoga? Melba Sanchez, one of Mahny’s students, thinks her Mini Schnauzer, Kasey, benefits from the classes. “Doga is a different way to connect and bond with your dog while doing something that’s good for you,” Melba said. “We both end class in a calm and Zen-like state. My dog knows that when we go it's time to relax.”

Where to Sign Up for a Doga Class

Lap dog yoga. Photo by @bensdogs / Ben Starr

You can join one of Mahny’s classes at her yoga studio in London, Dogamahny, check out her YouTube videos at Dogamahny, or buy her book.

You can also sign up for Doga classes all over the world. Among the studios and instructors you’ll find on BringFido are:

  • Austin Doga, LLC in Austin, TX offers private classes, small classes (three-dog limit) and Doga lessons at events and homes.
  • Downward With Your Dog in Miami, FL hosts Doga classes on the first Saturday of every month in different parks across Miami.
  • The Dogue Shop in Montreal, QC is a science-based animal behavior and training school that conducts regular Doga classes.
  • Puppy Yoga at Laughing Frog Yoga is the only place in LA to enjoy downward dog with bounding puppies.
  • Doga by YogaForce in Burlingame, CA has been featured on the Today Show and Nat Geo. Dogs are invited to attend one of instructor Annie's popular events around the county. Register for a class here.

Have you taken a Doga class? Leave a comment or tweet us @BringFido!

Banner photo by @bensdogs / Ben Starr.