I've been practicing yoga since I was in high school, and over the years, I've tried just about every style — Bikram, Vinyasa, Yollet, you name it. So, when I heard out about a new kind of yoga called Doga, I knew that I'd found my next challenge. Yoga designed for you and your dog? This I had to try, so I grabbed my four-legged friend and got my hands on a copy of the recently released Doga: Yoga For You And Your Dog by U.K.-based yoga instructor Mahny Djahanguiri and did just that.
In the image-heavy instruction book, Djahanguiri introduces the basic principles of a Ashtanga Vinyasa style-yoga that she had adapted to include her own dog, an adorable Maltese terrier named Robbie. "I began incorporating him into my yoga practice," Djahanguiri explains in the book's introduction, "and noticed how easily he bonded with me. I wanted to explore this interconnectedness and came up with various creative yoga postures and sequences in which you can involve your dog and that you will both benefit from."
Using full-color photos and easily adaptable instructions, the book walks readers through practicing Doga at home from start to finish, from individual poses to advanced series to massaging your dog after your session. After reading through a few of the chapters of it myself, I felt confident enough to give it a try.
But there was one problem. As I was flipping through the book, I noticed that most of the dogs pictured were drastically smaller than my 65-pound Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Haley:
A safety note in the first chapter informed me that Doga was designed with dogs weighing less than 11 pounds in mind. I briefly considered borrowing my neighbor's cat, Bella, and trying to practice with her, but we all know how fickle cats can be. So, instead I turned to YouTube and found a video of Djahanguiri's Doga with a larger dog that proved Haley and I were up for the challenge. For the safety of myself and my pooch, though, I avoided poses that involved picking up the dog and stuck to Doga in sitting position.
With just my yoga mat, my dog, and Djahanguiri's book as my guide, I gave Doga a try for the first time, and this is how it went:
Doga focuses not on perfecting poses but instead on connecting with your dog — and trust me, that's a good thing. Before jumping into practice, I sat with Haley and practiced breathing techniques side by side on the mat. Or, at least, that is how it started, but it wasn't long until lap sitting, face licking, and pawing began to occur. I learned pretty quickly that when it comes to Doga, you just have to go with the flow and enjoy your dog's company. After all, this isn't doggie yoga where your pet tries to school you in Downward Facing Dog, it's yoga practice for you that incorporates your dog as a casual participant.
The Doggie Twister
This modified Revolved Staff Pose is designed to help open the outer hips and loosen up the lower back and neck, but it was a great starting place for Haley and I to get in sync.
After getting Haley settled next to me, with the help of a little belly rubbing, I extended my legs and elongated my spine and began my breathing. Haley leaned against my thighs, and after a few beats, I could feel her breath rising and falling with mine — seriously. The subtle movements and light touching involved in this sequence helped gradually involve the dog into the routine and acclimate her to the moves to come.
This deep bend focuses on stretching the legs, releasing your groin, and strengthening your spine, while the dog relaxes on the mat near you, waiting for its next rub down.
During this sequence, I could feel both Haley and myself fall deeper into relaxation. The dog nuzzled her hind quarters into my outstretched legs, and by the end, I was nuzzling her right back. The last pose was so comfortable, I considered staying there and taking a nap on my furry pillow, but we had some serious Doga to keep exploring.
The Resting Dog
Sure, the dogs doing Doga with you can't be expected to master the tree pose, but they have to put in a little work, right? Restorative sequences like this modified child's pose are a great exercise to give them a shot at channeling their inner Dogi.
Another affectionate series of poses, Haley dozed off for a bit of this sequence. That is until she realized she got to climb on top of me. With less prompting than one would think, Haley was all to happy to rest her weight against my back — and by that I mean sit on me while licking the top of my head. More playful then the other moves I had tried, this one was clearly someone else's favorite of the day.
To Doga or Not to Doga
After trying these three sequences and many more from the book, was I able to get Haley to rest on my stomach while moving into seated bridge pose? Absolutely not. But I learned that's not what Doga is all about. Instead, it was a fun, relaxing way of connecting with my canine while getting a little exercise. With the focus taken off of perfection and put instead on connection, this kind of yoga practice is freeing and strangely amusing. The frequent rubbing, petting, and massaging that you do with your dog even make yoga comforting in a brand new way.
So, will I Doga again? Absolutely — but I might try borrowing a smaller dog.
Images: Sadie Trombetta