For years, I’ve said that I’d like to try Yoga. Not only due to my quest for self-harmony and tranquillity in life, but because I heard it aids with trauma-induced aches and pains. As an equestrian who has been thrown, trampled, kicked, bitten and battered one too many times, I ache everywhere. Nevertheless, time constraints have always gotten in my way.
Then COVID hit, and life was redesigned. Though just as busy as before, only in an altered way, I have found the need for a period of daily solace more necessary than ever, thanks to the added stresses of the pandemic-instigated changes. And so, my Yoga journey began.
The cats stared at me
Three weeks in, and despite the protests from my fused lower vertebrae and sporadically placed soft tissue damage, my new regime has left me feeling rejuvenated. My cats, on the other hand, find it most peculiar.
At first, the furry pair sat and stared at me, no doubt trying to figure out why I was at their level or what was wrong with me. It was actually somewhat unnerving. Then Tonka, the senior and the more sophisticated of the two, began to pace the room or circle my mat. The oddity has now worn off, and he pays me no mind.
Trouble, on the other hand (the black menace, as I’ve so affectionately dubbed him; my shadow, my familiar, my dog-like companion), has decided I am doing it wrong and need his help. To assist me, he meanders in and out or under my limbs while I’m in poses, to ensure I stretch them to their fullest capabilities.
I must admit, his methods have proven very affective. Though much more relaxing when cat-free, as I now spend most of my time focusing on not inadvertently squashing my cat while I reposition, Yoga has definitely begun to enhance my flexibility. Also, I cannot help but smile at Trouble’s antics.
I had heard of animals being used in Yoga before. Really, who hasn’t heard of goat Yoga or horse Yoga by now? However, as Trouble licked my cheek while I was in downward dog, it led me to wonder how many other animal-focused Yoga classes were out there. Are they real things, or just gimmicks derived for social media, using people’s impertinent pets?
Apparently, Yoga with animals is a growing trend. Goat and horse Yoga have expanded into a Noah’s Ark of classes. To name a few, there is now dog/puppy Yoga, bunny Yoga, llama Yoga, mini-pig Yoga, butterfly Yoga and lo and behold, cat yoga. Trouble will be thrilled.
As an animal lover and a person with many different furry, feathery, and scaly friends, I understand the desire to include animals in daily activities. It is no different from people cycling or jogging with their dogs. But what are the benefits of such classes? With the distractions and potential dangers, I could not comprehend any.
I’ve been around horses all my life, yet I can only think of a handful I’d have considered doing Yoga on. Even then, it would have been iffy. Cobra or cow poses, sure, because one can easily straddle the horse if it spontaneously moves, but the wheel pose, not so much.
The same goes for goats. I loved them while growing up on the farm, but they poo everywhere, eat anything and head-butt you when you’re not expecting it. Plus, their two-toed hooves aren’t gentle on the skin. Then there are the other animals and their disadvantages.
Animals are unpredictable, a fact that people tend to overlook. They bite, kick, head-butt, poop, pee, chew and so on. They have thoughts and feelings of their own that do not always synchronize with ours. It is ill-advised to let your guard down when working with them, so you don’t get hurt or accidentally hurt the animal.
This, in my opinion, takes away from the relaxation of Yoga. Would you find it tranquil to have a puppy nibbling on your toes while trying to meditate in lotus pose? I think not.
Nevertheless, there is one factor that overshadows all the rest, one I can attest to without a doubt. Animals are cute, cuddly and fun. People enjoy their curiosity, their hilarious antics and their lovable traits. Their presence breathes positivity into a space. Animals offer us unconditional love, acceptance and companionship, all of which benefits our health.
Animals are anti-depressants
Studies, such as the National Institute of Health’s in 2012, have found that human-animal interaction releases positive hormones, which boosts our mood.
In other words, animals are natural anti-depressants. They not only bring brightness to our lives, but also benefit our health, as happiness decreases blood pressure; reduces depression, anxiety, emotional weakness, physiological stress and self-reported fear; and aids with social attention and behaviour, along with interpersonal interactions.
We laugh when a goat jumps on our back while in child’s pose, smile as our cat curls up under us in cat pose, and giggle while bunnies or puppies play around us while in tree pose. People find peace when they watch butterflies flutter around them, or mentally relax as they listen to their mount breathe beneath them. Animal Yoga allows people to become mindful as they live in the moment and enjoy it. If nothing else, it gives city-dwellers and restrained dog and cat lovers the chance to interact with animals and get their furry fix.
It may seem strange, and like me (initially), you might think these yogis are crazy, but ask yourself this: If animals have no place in Yoga, why are so many asanas named after animals?
Animals have influenced Yoga since its inception 5,000 years ago in Northern India. In a country with high regard for creatures in general, ancient yogis believed imitating animals would help one become enlightened. They found it not only aided with the development of self-clarity and environmental awareness, but also with cultivating a wholistic perspective and an appreciation for the world around us.
Animals keep themselves aligned
Humans are preconditioned to perceive that they exist on a superior plane to all other life forms. Our first step to living a healthier existence is to acknowledge and accept that the animal kingdom and human world intertwine. What better way to do so than by incorporating animals into Yoga classes?
Unlike animals, we constantly struggle to keep ourselves aligned; perhaps by observing, listening and imitating creatures, we can learn how to balance our emotions and stresses. Don’t just pose like the animal, think like it, too.
Until Trouble curled up on my lap while I was in auspicious pose, I believed Yoga with animals was a precarious, radical trend I wanted no part of. However, I have since reconsidered this. I know I am new to Yoga, but isn’t its main purpose clarity? To promote inner peace, tranquillity and awareness?
Therefore, I would think that since the optimal state of being to help us achieve this is happiness, then animal-focused Yoga might just be the key. If you can stand the fur, feces, space invasion and flies, you will be healthier for it. There are definitely worse wellness solutions out there to try.
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