Roll Out the Mats and Bring on the Animals

August 25, 2017
Kerry Lengyel

Veterinarians Money Digest, August 2017, Volume 1, Issue 3

Yoga is going to the dogs — and the cats and the goats and the horses and the bunnies and the llamas — with benefits for all.

People everywhere are striking poses with all sorts of furry friends — from cats and dogs to goats, horses and more — with surprising benefits for yogis of all species. It’s no wonder yoga with animals is gaining momentum across the country.

There is no such thing as a typical class because these unpredictable and playful creatures own the studio floor (or lawn). It can be a feat in itself to hold a pose as long as desired while a kitten or puppy paws at your ponytail and scampers under your legs. But therein lie the unique benefits. Yoga with animals is said to relieve the daily stresses of life and bring happiness to participants by boosting two of the so-called happy hormones: endorphins (from exercise) and oxytocin (from pet therapy).

Cat Yoga: “Purr-fectly” Zen

Both animal shelters and yoga studios are joining the trend of cat yoga to provide relaxation for participants and promote cat adoption. Yoga with cats is more fun than serious practice as participants share their yoga mats — which seem like catnip for kittens — with their furry classmates. Humans get the feel-good benefits of bonding with cuddly cats, while the kittens enjoy stimulation, love, affection and socialization.

“You’re not just doing something healthy for yourself,” said Lisa Johns, manager of the Good Mews cat shelter in Marietta, Georgia. “You are doing a bit of good, too, for these shel- ter cats that will only get even more adoptable with the extra time and attention.” Good Mews holds its own cat yoga classes three times a month in the shelter’s cage-free adult cat room—turned–yoga studio.

Dog Yoga: “Unleash” Your Stress

Dog yoga — “doga,” for short — allows dogs and their owners to bond through meditation, gentle massage and stretching. According to those who study and practice doga, dogs are pack animals, making them a natural match for yoga’s emphasis on union and connection with other beings.

Owners and their pets work as a unit while performing doga. Owners help their dogs perform poses, and sometimes the dogs are used as props while their human counterparts perform their own poses.

“People always ask me, ‘Do dogs need yoga?’” said Kari Harendorf, who teaches doga in Manhattan, New York. “I say, ‘No, you need yoga. But your dog needs your attention, and bonding with your pet is good for your health.’”

Doga poses include Upward Paw, in which owners lift dogs onto their hind legs for a gentle stretch, and Chaturanga, in which dogs, supported by their owners, sit with their front paws in the air.

Doga can be relaxing for both owner and pet; helpful for injured, elderly or obese dogs; and useful for owners trying to better connect with their furry friends.

Horse Yoga: The “Mane” Event

You might think that performing yoga on horseback seems like an extreme way to get a workout — and you’d be right. Even so, plenty of people are doing it.

“[Horseback yoga] is not a question of domination; it is a magical connection with an animal that’s bigger than you,” said Laura Garcia, an equestrian and yoga professional who combines the two as an instructor at La Donaira, a luxury resort in Spain.

La Donaira has more than 70 purebred Lusitano studs for yoga practice. This breed is said to be very tame and easily trained — the perfect yoga partner. To ensure the safety of all, classes are designed based on the participants’ riding and yoga experience. Students are taught to connect with the horse’s breathing, use the animal for support and stability, and hold poses such as headstands and handstands on horseback.

“Whatever level you’re at [with your yoga practice], the relation you have when you’re in silence with the horse, when you breathe together and touch the animal — it’s amazing,” said Manuel Rosell, CEO of La Donaira.

Goat Yoga: Not “Kidding” Around

Yoga with goats caught fire in Oregon and Arizona, and now classes are popping up around the country. Lainey Morse began offering sessions on her Oregon farm after yoga instructor Heather Davis said it would be the perfect location to practice poses. Goat yoga classes take place several times per month, sometimes followed by wine tastings.

Arizona Goat Yoga was created by April Gould, who for years worked with her Nigerian dwarf goats, training them to go on her back while she performed push-ups, planks and squats. She partnered with fitness yoga instructor Sarah Williams to offer classes in a side pasture of Gould’s home.

The Wobbly Ranch, a goat sanctuary in Snohomish, Washington, offers weekly two-hour goat yoga classes. Participants go through an instructor-led class surrounded by wandering goats for one hour and can then stay for a second hour, if they wish. Goats roam freely, sometimes rubbing against the participants, lying down next to them or just eating the grass nearby.

“This brings people a lot of joy,” co-owner Amanda Leone Carner said. “It brings the goats lots of joy, too.”

Before You Participate

Practicing yoga with, near or even on animals can be interesting, nurturing and fun, but it’s not for everyone. It can be distracting and even dangerous, considering the claws and hooves and teeth in the mix. If you give it a go, just do so carefully and with an open mind. Then, relax and enjoy!

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