Yoga with dogs? Yes it is bark­ing mad

It’s im­pos­si­ble to feel self­con­scious do­ing shavasana while a pomera­nian puts its tongue in your ear

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health | Lifestyle - Rhik Sa­mad­der

ABel­gian shep­herd has got snappy with a chow chow, chas­ing it be­tween the mats. Ten other dogs erupt, like school­boys egging on a punch-up. Things can­not be go­ing to plan, if there even is a plan.

The teacher gamely at­tempts to con­tinue, but I can’t hear what she’s say­ing. Tak­ing ad­van­tage of the may­hem, a bi­chon frise is truf­fling in ev­ery­one’s bags, look­ing for rawhide twists.

I should ex­plain: I’m in a dog yoga class. Maybe that makes things more con­fus­ing.

Doga is a sys­tem of bal­anc­ing dogs on the body while in yoga poses. (“If you have a larger dog, use him as a bol­ster,” says the in­struc­tor.) On paper, it is an idea so nau­se­at­ing it would make Anthea Turner want to de­clare a fatwa. De­signed to nur­ture a dog’s sa­cred bond with its owner, it came from Cal­i­for­nia; hard to be­lieve.

Ac­cord­ing to our teacher, doga pi­o­neer Mahny Dja­hanguiri, it’s par­tic­u­larly good for res­cues. An owner prac­tis­ing slow and sus­tained breath­ing will calm down an anx­ious an­i­mal, whose parasym­pa­thetic ner­vous sys­tem will re­spond in kind. This does sound plau­si­ble. Some­one should tell the dogs. Thank­fully, the class is open to non-own­ers, too – those who just want to hang with some mutts. A neigh­bour lends me her minia­ture sheltie, and I spend a few min­utes hinged at the waist, clutch­ing the im­pec­ca­bly man­i­cured beast, try­ing not to drip sweat on to it. Ex­tend­ing into war­rior pose, I hoist the dog like Rafiki lift­ing Simba at the start of The Lion King. I don’t know whether the sheltie is lov­ing or merely tol­er­at­ing this, the way my child­hood dog did when I put stick­ers on him. But the fur is very re­as­sur­ing.

Doga is un­doubt­edly crack­ers, but it’s my kind of crack­ers. I’ve never suc­ceeded in get­ting into straight yoga, and our so­ci­ety’s ob­ses­sion with it baf­fles me. Yoga is an as­cetic means of pre­par­ing the body for med­i­ta­tion. It’s about uni­fy­ing with the di­vine, not look­ing buff in Lu­l­ule­mon. I mean, imag­ine if all the Hin­dus in Ut­tar Pradesh were shov­el­ling down com­mu­nion wafers as a low-cal al­ter­na­tive to crisps. That would be weird.

An aber­ra­tion

Themed yoga should be even more of an aber­ra­tion. Beer yoga, Harry Pot­ter yoga, horse and goat yoga. What the hell are these? Broga, a fit­ness pro­gramme taught “from a man’s point of view”, re­places asanas with names such as “rock star” and “chill out pose”. A friend of mine swears by Ste­vie Nicks yoga, where a chif­fon-clad in­struc­tor re­places de­vo­tional mantras with Fleet­wood Mac lyrics. The (in­ac­cu­rate) mes­sage is that yoga is fun, sec­u­lar and cus­tomis­able: you can go your own way.

The thing is, in ev­ery other yoga class I feel awk­ward, Ly­cra-lumpy, alien­ated by some Blake Lively-alike telling me I am more than enough.

The in­volve­ment of dogs changes ev­ery­thing. It’s im­pos­si­ble to feel self-con­scious in the pres­ence of a bos­ton ter­rier cu­ri­ous as to why you are try­ing to turn into a bridge. Dogs punc­ture the ab­sur­dity of all hu­man be­hav­iours. Have you ever tried sink­ing into shavasana while a pomera­nian puts its tongue in your ear? Ohm. Oh­h­hhm. Oh­hh­m­my­god, is that piss on the floor? (Down­side: there was quite a lot of piss. Not sure who to blame, but the bi­chon was look­ing sheep­ish.)

For­get the res­cue an­i­mals – at the end of the class, I feel calmer, cen­tred and in the mo­ment. That parasym­pa­thetic works both ways. A meet­ing with God may be elu­sive, but dogs will never let you down. When it comes to rea­sons to feel #blessed, they are def­i­nitely more than enough. Doga with­out the dogma: that’s my vibe.

Doga is un­doubt­edly crack­ers, but it’s my kind of crack­ers. I’ve never suc­ceeded in get­ting into straight yoga, and our so­ci­ety’s ob­ses­sion with it baf­fles me

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