Last weekend, rather than practicing yoga in my studio, I unrolled my yoga mat in my lounge room and came down to sit on my mat. That’s when it happened, my beloved wolfhound X hopped up off her bed. My intention had been to calm the noise in my mind and find a stillness in my practice. But my dog, Jenni, had other ideas.

Her paws landed on my mat as she padded over from her bed. As I was breathing and moving into an inverted triangle shape, there she was walking underneath me, rubbing her head and body against mine. She wanted my attention and was making herself known. Jenni always brings me joy. She helps regulate my emotions and even as I tried to ignore her and continue practicing, she was everywhere. She was nudging my body with her nose, pushing against me with her shoulders. I had no change of finding balance or moving my body gracefully with her furry body intercepting all my movements and intentions.

So what did I do? I finally gave in, thinking perhaps I could incorporate Jenni into my practice by dropping her a kiss and a belly rub as I moved through some shapes and movements. Instead she bounded towards my head and face. Jenni was sending me a reminder that today yoga was about connection to her. I had no choice, falling on the floor with laughter we rolled and cuddled, connecting, with her restoring my wellbeing in a way that I had not intended for this practice!

Later I wondered what it is about yoga that draws her towards me.

Playtime

Friends have also mentioned that as soon as they start to set up for yoga, their pooches come running to join in on the action. There are fun reels and videos online showing animals joining their owner’s on the mat. My favourite are the cute posts of an Australian Shepherd dog practicing alongside their human!

It seems that no matter where our dogs are hiding, once yoga practice starts, they tend to turn themselves in our way. But why? And how do other people handle the cute playfulness?

Turning to Google I struggled to find any specific studies to evaluate this pattern of behaviours in a scientific context. There are some possible explanations. It seems many pooches interpret their owner getting down on the floor as an invitation to play or to interact.

Where people routinely practice yoga, it’s only going to take a few repetitions of ‘mat to yoga’ for most dogs to figure out that the unrolling of the mat is a predictor of floor time activity.

This helped me understand why setting up my mat and props brought Jenni into the room from wherever she’d been hiding. It was almost as effective a way to get her to come to me as saying “biscuit!”

What the experts say…

Dog behaviour experts suggest that dogs love to get involved with what we are doing. They want to be included. So when you get on the ground, you’re getting on their ‘level,’ literally and figuratively. Being down low and moving in ways that are non-confrontational, inviting, and playful (including showing your belly) takes you out of a ‘leadership’ position. Around that, dogs feel more free.”

Other information from Google suggests that “Pets feel the shift in our energy.”

“Our animal companions are very aware of our emotions, nervous system states, and overall energy, and they sense the shifts that happen when we begin a practice such as yoga.”

It seems a sense of ease and happiness in us is not only palpable to our pets but inviting.  It was even suggested that some dogs pick up on breath work & calmer energy, that typically go along with a yoga practice. They then seek out interactions with their family at those times based on the energy they feel.

How interesting that the yoga practice—accessible and available to all—can be felt throughout the animal realm, not just by humans. Maybe I wasn’t imagining it when I had thought my calmer, more positive yoga vibes could be drawing Jenni to the mat.

So if dogs can sense our energy, maybe we can use the practice of yoga to connect in new ways with our fur family Just as they affect us, we affect them. We can use the breathing and gentle movements to help calm our pets as we calm ourselves.

Doing yoga with Jenni is different for sure, but I find that now I role will it and allow Jenni’s presence in my practice, no matter how wild she is when she shows up, eventually I bring my focus back to me. So now my heart and mind has opened to practicing with her regularly. It reminds me to be playful and helps bring me into the present moment and to soften.

When I adopted Jenni from a Facebook post, she was a timid 6 month old who had had a rough start. She was called Jane. This didn’t fit her or me as I used to work with a person with that name who affected me negatively. Looking back, I am not sure where Jenni came from – some people think it’s a funny name to call a dog – but it seems to fit her. She is kooky and I like that. Since we have been together she has saved me more than once, nudging be (quite literally) to be strong and resilient as I navigated domestic violence and the emotional repair afterwards. Now when I look at her I am not sure who rescued who!