10 Tips for Breathing in the Benefits of Yoga with Your Dog

You can do yoga with just about every animal imaginable — goats! kittens! kids! — so why haven’t you and your best buddy gotten your zen on yet? 


If the thought has crossed your mind but you quickly deemed it impossible, it’s time to think again, especially as International Yoga Day (June 21) approaches. 


Mahny Djahanguiri, a certified kids and adult yoga instructor, and the author of Doga: Yoga for You and Your Dog, says all dogs are capable of participating in yoga, it all depends on the structure of the class. 


One-on-one sessions can be less tricky than say a group yoga session, and a dog owner should know whether their dog would be a good fit for a group atmosphere. 



“With a rescue dog that has social anxiety, new groups should be avoided or if the dog is in season, deaf or blind and of mature age,” Djahanguiri says. “However all dogs benefit from an owner doing doga even if it’s in their home. That’s why I do home visits, so the dog feels safe and not threatened by other new dogs.”


Djahanguiri, who is currently campaigning to put an end to the Yulin Dog Meat Festival — the annual festival in China in which dogs are slaughtered for food, click here to learn more — shared with us her best tips for fully engaging in yoga with a furry BFF, especially in a group setting.


Note Djahanguiri’s dog-tastic class rules: all dogs should be off leash and allowed to roam around freely to do whatever they want. “Piddle pads are always available in class so you needn’t worry about accidents,” she says.



1. Doga should be pleasant for everybody involved. Under no circumstances should doing yoga with your dog be upsetting or frightening for your pooch, or you for that matter! “If the dog is unhappy and begins to growl and flesh their teeth it may not be the best idea to keep them in a group session,” Djahanguiri advises. “But from my experience of teaching 6 years, most dogs really enjoy group sessions because they can socialize and be themselves without an owner giving commands.” You see, yoga shouldn’t be about telling your dog what to do. “They can place themselves wherever they want and that’s the exciting part,” she adds. “You never know what’s going to happen. Non-dog owners join my sessions for that reason.”


2. Both of you should breathe in the benefits. The mental and physical benefits of yoga on people are real and Djahanguiri says your pup can experience the same positive effects. “The dogs benefit the same way as owners by simply being in a collective group session when humans slow down their breathing and regulate their central nervous system,” she says. “This is an incredible benefit to the dog’s nervous system. They become calmer, more confident and sleep better.”


3. Focus on the bonding experience of doing yoga together. Forget the dog park dramas, the dog food run you need to make later — now is namaste time!  So focus on your breathing and just enjoying his moment of calm with your canine. “It is the most natural and deepest bonding experience you can ever have with your dog because the human is in present moment awareness,” she says. “So when they touch and stroke their dog they are fully present and aware of each movement, each touch, each experience. Yoga helps to relax the mind, your brain isn’t thinking, you’re just existing alongside your dog in [a] meditative state doing your yoga poses and breathing deeply.”



4. Don’t worry about your pooch getting the poses right. If doggy can’t quite get downward facing dog, don’t fret. Just like your pal can sense when you’re feeling sad, he can sense what you’re feeling in class. “Sometimes we can even incorporate our dog into our yoga poses but it isn’t necessary for the dog, as he absorbs your calm regardless of him being on your yoga mat,” she adds.


5. Take a potty break before class. Before you start posing, go potty. But if an accident should happen, don’t stress, this is a doga session after all. “In my classes dogs are allowed to mark their territory,” she says. “Of course it is advisable to walk your dog before you come to the session.”


6. Just go with the yoga flow. If you spend your entire yoga session worrying about what your dog will do, everybody loses. “The less expectations you have the more the doga, yoga bond will happen,” Djahanguiri explains. “If you focus too much on your dog’s behavior then you are not focusing on yourself and your breathing.” The less you think, she adds, the more you breathe from your abdomen and the more your dog will relax.


7. Remember, they’re dogs — don’t judge! Who cares if one pup tries to hump another pup while you’re doing Warrior II? Everyone knows that dogs will always do the unexpected! “Yoga is about non-judgment. We don’t judge our dogs or other dogs for that matter. As long as all dogs are happy and well socialized the dogs will eventually settle,” she says. 



8. Leave toys and treats at home. You don’t need them here! Djahanguiri advises leaving these items behind as some pups tend to get overprotective of food or belongings. 


9. Be ready to work it! She suggests bringing a decent yoga mat to class so that you can “perform awesome yoga poses.” Remember, you’re working out, so wear suitable yoga clothing and bring water. “Be prepared for a strong yoga workout,” she says. 


10. Be patient, it can take some time to master doga. The same is true with all modes of exercise, you need to stick with it to see changes in your mind, body and spirit. “Try and understand that doga is a process,” Djahanguiri says. “It may take 4 to 6 sessions to help [bring about] that inner transformation in you and your dog.”


To learn more about doga or Djahanguiri’s work campaigning to stop the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, visit her Facebook page.


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Amy Jamieson

A former senior editor for People.com, Amy launched People Pets for People magazine in 2008. Now she writes about pets, lifestyle and more from her bucolic saltbox in Collinsville, Connecticut, usually with a cat in her lap and a dog at her feet.

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