Dogs & Yoga Health Benefits
Dogs & Yoga = Doga. Both are things I love, but let me be clear, I am not an expert on Yoga. The former I have spent decades loving, while the later I am a premature novice, and by no means a yogi. That being said, the concept of Doga makes me chuckle.
I, in fact, am such a Yoga novice that the very few poses I know of have funny names like “Tree,” “Crow” or “Downward Facing Dog” (my favorite). To me, dogs, and animals, in general, signify such a grounding presence, that I am not at all surprised by the canine prevalence in the growing practice of yoga. Since I was young, I have had an unshakable love for dogs. Yoga, however, is a different story. These days, you can buy yoga mats in grocery stores, and practice in parks, airports, malls, offices, and rooftops. Yoga has infiltrated society whether we like it or not, so I figured I might as well open my heart and learn a bit more.
The first thing I wanted to learn was where the heck does “Downward Facing Dog” come from. Were dogs once considered gods in India? Does the dog, god palindrome hold a mysterious yogi mystery? Are upward facing dogs full of stress? Is the use of the animal dog totally arbitrary? Could we have “Downward Facing Rabbits”? Seriously, this yoga phenomenon has left me hanging!
Luckily, my all-knowing Shaman, Google, was able to help a sister out. Apparently, Downward Facing Dog is a fairly literal translation of the Sanskrit words Adho Mukha Savasana. Adhas = down, mukha = face, svana = dog, asana = seat. So, naturally, we have the down face dog seat! And apparently, those who first coined the term were really in touch with their four-legged friends. The original yogis perhaps got their inspiration from that deep stretch dogs often take before going out or from a good old fashioned play bow dogs use to incite play.1
I know many times, my dog had the bodily intuition to stretch before we leashed up and went for a walk. It was so cute! She would keep her hind legs straight and hips in the air while bending deeply from her back so that her head was on the floor. After she held that position for a bit, she would shake it off, and off we went!
Now Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Savasana), one of yoga’s most deservedly recognizable poses, has many benefits:
- Calms the brain
- Relieves stress and mild depression
- Energizes the body
- Strengthens the arms and legs
- Relieves headaches, insomnia, back pain, and fatigue
- Relieves the symptoms of menopause
- Improves digestion
- Therapeutic for high blood pressure, asthma, flat feet, sciatica, sinusitis
- Stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches, and hands
- Brings world peace*
*Please note that these benefits are a culmination of musings I gathered from my friend Google, and have not been approved by the FDA.
And guess what?! Dogs help with many of those items on the above list! Yes, things get a little iffy when we get down to the “improves digestion,” but the first few points are pretty solid. The following are ways that dogs can provide the same benefits as yoga:
- Calms the brain – I have known this to be true. Spending time with my dog, really being in the moment petting, rubbing, and receiving kisses, is just a thought-quieter for me. Even if my to-do list is 981274739 tasks long, a dog’s calm presence often has penetrative qualities.
- Relives stress and mild depression – Many studies have shown the benefits of service dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support dogs in managing conditions such as PTSD and depression.3,4 From my own experience, I have known this to be unquestionably true. Dogs offer loyalty, protection, and serenity. Puppy therapy is real.
- Energizes the body – You know when your pup gets the zoomies (FRAP= Frenetic Random Activity Period) and you just can’t help but get a little excited yourself? All that energy is normally contagious through a scientific phenomenon called emotional contagion. And since your dog has to go out and loves to exercise outdoors, you best be joining!
- Strengthens the arms and legs – This goes along with the above, but dogs not only help to strengthen your body but also your heart.
- Relieves headaches – Have you ever been experiencing a mind-numbing headache, and then been attacked with some puppy licks, snuggles, and kisses. Even the most stubborn pain subsides, even if temporarily.
- Relieves the symptoms of menopause – You find me a girl who wouldn’t love to be curled up with chocolates, Netflix and a pup by her side. There’s nothing better!
So it seems as though dogs and yoga provide several overlapping, wonderful benefits. It’s no wonder many yogis tend to be dog lovers! There must be a way to combine the two gifts, and it turns out there is:
- Dog yoga mats – DogiMat was founded by dog owners after they found their pup deconstructed every dog bed they brought home, but had a special affinity for their yoga mats. They went on to design a dog bed with no stuffing. Check out DogiMat5.
- Yoga classes with your dog – Doga classes are a legit offering. I recently learned that humans who practice yoga are referred to as yogi (male) or yogini (female) while practicing canines are referred to as dogi, and dogini respectively. Whodathunk? You can read more about one such experience here.
I believe there is so much we can learn from both dogs and yoga, and from one another. Perhaps next time before your Saturday morning Vinyasa class, acknowledge your pooch as she stretches before her morning walk. What pooch inspired pointers can you carry with you during your practice? Is it any wonder that both Instagram and BuzzFeed go gaga for pups and yoga? We’re onto something here. I’d watch a reality show on the topic. I already know Animal Planet or Discovery Channel are itching to pick it up.2
Also, I’m still waiting for the specialty clothing line for designer yoga clothes, for canines. Come on Lulu, we would all love Fido in a nice pair of yoga pants a yogitoes. Let’s remove the dogma from yoga, and make room for the dogs.
What ideas do you have in mind to fuse the serene, alive positivity of dogs and yoga = doga? Chime in, and Namaste.
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1. Grimm, David. “In Dogs’ Play, Researchers See Honesty and Deceit, Perhaps Something like Morality.”Washington Post. The Washington Post, 19 May 2014. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/in-dogs-play-researchers-see-honesty-and-deceit-perhaps-something-like-morality/2014/05/19/d8367214-ccb3-11e3-95f7-7ecdde72d2ea_story.html>
2. “Doggy Yoga.”Animal Planet. <http://www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/animal-planet-presents/videos/planets-best-doggy-yoga/>
3. Taylor, Myra F. “”Nudging Them Back to Reality”: Towards a Growing Public Acceptance of the Role Dogs Fulfill in Ameliorating Contemporary Veterans’ PTSD Symptoms.”Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals4 (2013): 593-611. No Records. Web.
4. Jacobson, Roni. “Service Dogs for Sexual-Assault Survivors.”The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 21 Nov. 2014. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/11/service-dogs-for-sexual-assault-survivors/382560/