According to a 2004 BBC article, New York City-based yoga teacher Suzi Teitelman invented doggie yoga, or “doga” as it’s sometimes called. As an instructor for the fitness chain Crunch, she had an inspiration and decided to include her cocker spaniel in the class, since he frequently joined her on the mat during her home practice and “Ruff Yoga” was born. Since then, a flood of doga classes have emerged across the United States. There’s even a book, called “Doga: Yoga For Dogs,” by Jennifer Brilliant and William Berloni.
What is “pet Yoga,” and can it honor the real practice of yoga? Formats vary, but practices typically last 30 minutes, rather than a full hour or more, to honor the pets’ shorter attention span. Asanas done are standard hatha yoga poses, adapted to include the pets. This may mean a standing forward bend holding the dog’s hind legs, as he performs a wheelbarrow pose. Standard yoga mats are used, but no other props, perhaps to avoid tempting the canine participants. Doga classes start with setting an intention and can end with savasana, modified to rest the human’s head on her canine partner. Some studios even provide bubbling water “fountains” for the dogs to drink from after a practice.
Teitelman claims that after four years of practicing with her, her dog is more flexible, calmer and can go into poses more deeply. Others claim that their pets become more focused and that older dogs’ joints benefit from the practice. Animal therapist Dan Thomas at London’s Pet Pavilion company claimed that “after a few minutes, even the most unruly of participants appeared to chill out, relax and become calmer,” and he also noted that the dog’s breathing seemed to be in synch with the human yoga practitioners.
Whether or not pet yoga can provide all the benefits of standard yoga, there is no doubt that pet owners want to incorporate their companions in every aspect of their lives. According to the 2011-2012 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 62% of U.S. households own a pet. That means 72.9 millions homes have a pet, and the spending on these furry friends tops $50 billion annually. At least 16.5 million Americans practice yoga, according to statistics available from NAMASTA, the North American Studio Alliance, giving these two industries much overlap. Should you choose to incorporate a pet yoga practice at your studio, training videos are available online.