As pet care professionals, we bend our bodies in awkward positions, overuse our joints and muscles, and stand in the same spot for long periods of time—just to name a few of the demands we put on our bodies daily in the name of caring for pets. One way to help you to relax, unwind and give some relief to your tired, over-worked body is the practice of yoga.
Yoga is truly one the best exercises you can do for your body and also your mind. Studies have proven that there are a multitude of health benefits through the practice of yoga, including stretching, breathing, meditation and strengthening of your entire body. Scientists are now proving that the practice of yoga is able to help with lowering blood pressure, easing pain, aiding with depression and re-setting your mental attitude.
But, have you heard of Doga? Doga is a form of yoga that is done with your dog…or with friends’ or clients’ dogs. The concept was created by Suzi Teitelman, a Jacksonville yoga teacher. Although the dogs may not have the ability to do all the yoga poses, they can still benefit from the aspects of the practice.
You can also incorporate pet massage to help soothe and calm the both of you. Be sure and try to work with your dog when they are calm and want to be touched; never force anything with yourself or your animals. And it is always best to practice on an empty stomach. Give yourself a few hours after a meal to begin your practice for both you and your pet. Yoga is a wonderful way to help with digestive issues by stimulating the intestines with increased blood flow and movement of the core muscles.
Dogs have long since mastered their own form of yoga (enter the “downward dog” pose). They know instinctively to stretch when they get up. They even know to shake out their muscles after resting or exercise. Their bodies naturally do these things to keep their muscles supple and joints well lubricated.
Having a group Doga practice is a fun way to socialize—for yourself and the dogs, too! There are even yoga classes that incorporate yoga with local rescues, and have dogs, puppies and cats and kittens wandering and participating in the class. It is a great way to get some exercise for you and your pup, and it can be much more fun than doing yoga by yourself. And, if you are working with a pet that needs more balance, Doga is great place to start.
The actual practice of yoga with animals has not yet been scientifically proven, but here are three top benefits you and the pets you practice with will receive through Doga:
1. Relaxation: Breathing exercises & learning to relax are the foundations of Doga. Close your eyes. Nice slow, deep inhales through your nose; drawing in the belly and straightening the spine. Slow deliberate exhales through your mouth, softly blowing away any negative thoughts and stress. Relax your shoulders, loosen your jawline, drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth and let it rest. Release your shoulders away from your ears, melt your thighs into your mat or blanket. Place your hands on your thighs in a relaxed pose. Feel your body become grounded. Set your intent for this time together with your pet.
This is paramount for relaxation in hyperactive dogs and people. Through gentle breathing, relaxing of the muscles, stretching and slow, deliberate pet massage techniques, you can reduce your anxiety levels along with your pet’s. This will help calm the mind and put the body at ease.
Like any practice, this will take time. Give yourself a specific time each day to work with the animal so that they can begin to understand “this is time for calm”. Give them cues like taking out a yoga mat or blankets and sit quietly and let them come to you. Over time your pet will begin to look forward to these tranquil moments together.
2. Bonding: This is the key element in Doga; building trust and a bond with your pet. Your pets will begin to expect this amazing time together, will read your body cues and connect with you on a deeper level. There are some poses you can do together; like adho mukha shvanasana, or downward dog pose, and others that you will be able to pose and also massage your pet at the same time; such as Padmassana, or Lotus Pose.
The easiest way to start is with your back against a wall and your legs stretched out in front of you. Now spread your legs as wide as possible, just as far as feels comfortable without over–stretching. Move away from the wall to lean back onto your hands and then lean forward slightly, placing your hands on the floor in front of you. Keep your weight focused on your sitting bones and hips. Breathe deeply as you return to an upright position. You can add a bolster or folded blanket under you if it is hard to sit on the floor. Extend your legs away from you, stretching your heels out and turning your toes up towards the ceiling and let your hands rest on your thighs. Continue to breathe, lengthening your spine while keeping your pelvis firmly grounded on the floor.
Most of your poses will be in Asana, or seated poses, so that you can touch your pet while continuing to breathe, focusing on your intent and exchanging positive restorative energy between you and your pet. Doga really requires a deep level of trust and deep focus from both pet owner and pet; you work together as a team and connect on a heart-centered level.
Touch is a huge factor in giving your brain a way to relax. Through tender, slow stroking of your dog’s body with the grain of the hair growth, you will both reap the tender rewards of touch through this bonding exercise. Slowly rotate their shoulder, knee and ankle joints in clockwise rhythms. Press lightly between toes, and massage foot joints. Take a moment to apply the same movements to your body as well. Yoga is all about balance. You have two sides to your body and so does your pet, so be sure you do each movement on each side to bring about full balance to the body.
3. Health Benefits: There are so many positive health benefits for you and your pet in practicing Doga. First and foremost is the release of endorphins; basically making you and your pet feel great. If your pet or you have sore joints from arthritis or general joint pain, this will help lubricate the joints, open up the neuropathways and allow your body to push out lactic acid and relax the muscles.
Shoulders, knees, elbows, neck and hips all can be stretched slowly and strengthened through this practice. These practices will aid in building the Synovial fluid in the joints. When our bodies are stressed, pushed to their limits and not well stretched out, our joints lack the proper amount of synovial fluids to do their job. Yoga helps restore this balance and harmony to your body’s system—for both you and your pet.
You will burn calories and so will your pet. You may even sweat while trying to hold your poses. Your concentration will improve, as well as your core muscle strength. You will begin to feel your muscles lengthen and see that you and your pet move with more ease. You will also lessen brain fog, improve lung function and increase your blood flow which improves circulation. Skin issues may lessen, and you and your pet will have an overall healthy glow about you.
No matter the technical terms, yoga is just more fun to do with your pet. Body, mind, spirit all connect when practicing yoga, especially with an animal. They are so full of positive energy and want to share it with us. Time spent with a pet exercising, breathing, massaging and connecting on a higher level can heal our souls—both human and animal alike. +