Dog yoga, or ‘Doga’, promised to allow me to access my dog on a ‘more spiritual level’. I was previously unaware that dogs had a spiritual level. In my experience, dogs tended to exist very much on a ‘urinating on trees and sniffing each other’s bum holes level’. But there was one major obstacle to my dog yoga plans: I didn’t actually have a dog. I called my uncle and asked him if I could borrow his Jack Russell, Marmite, for a few hours. He said ‘Yes’ before I could finish the question, because Marmite is mental. He never stops moving, leaping around all day long like a popcorn kernel in a hot pan. And he barks, and he licks, and he chews, and he digs, and he farts. He’s a pinball with an anus.
I picked the dog up from my uncle’s flat in Putney. He was waiting in the road as I pulled in, with Marmite already straining at the leash. I opened the back door to my Peugeot to let Marmite climb in. For once the dog was stationary, looking away nonchalantly. ‘He doesn’t like to go in the back,’ advised my uncle. ‘He likes to ride up front.’ ‘Oh does he?’ I said ‘And what radio station does he prefer?’ I opened the passenger door and Marmite hopped on the seat, propped aloofly on his hind legs. My uncle handed me a small yellow bag. ‘He’s just been for a dump, but here’s a bag just in case.’ He then ran inside and locked the door before I could change my mind. We set off. I put Radio 1 on. Almost immediately Marmite pawed the radio and changed the station to Classic FM.The Doga was taking place in a dance studio near Fulham Broadway tube station. There were three other dog owners waiting in the hallway outside our room. The dogs were predictably losing their minds, turning the narrow corridor into a canine Hadron Collider. We all exchanged amusing small talk about the looming absurdity. The blonde lady looked down at her dog and looked back up at me and said, ‘He’s not going to talk to me after this.’ I stared back at her: ‘Does he talk to you now?’
Finally our instructor – Shawna – arrived to let us into the studio. She appeared to have a wig tucked under her arm, but on closer inspection it was actually a pathetic looking Shih Tzu. Shawna handed out our yoga mats. Then something very strange happened. The dogs started urinating on the mats. Mine in particular came in for a special hosing. Everywhere I looked genitals gushed. ‘Oh, this is totally normal,’ reassured Shawna. ‘It’s territorial.’ I looked down at my mat, which glistened blackly. ‘Errr … shall I go and get some loo roll?’ I wasn’t going to do yoga submerged in piss. I wanted to access my dog on a more spiritual level but I drew the line at water sports. Shawna reached into her bag and pulled out J-cloths and a luminous yellow bottle of Flash.
With the urine mopped and the congregation sat cross-legged on their mats, we were ready to begin Doga. ‘You are Yogi and Doggie,’ she said. ‘It’s very important to ignore your dog, don’t play with them or drag them in to you. Concentrate on your breathing, clear your mind and be in the moment, I promise your dogs will come to you when they’re ready.’ We began our breathing exercises. It’s very hard to be in the moment, to experience oneness with the universe, when there are five dogs attacking each other a few feet from your face. ‘Inhale … exhale,’ continued Shawna, a consummate pro. She seemed totally unfazed by the spaniel that had taken a huge interest in her vagina. We started to go through the yoga poses. A spaniel was now trying to escape through the door using his head as a battering ram. The other dogs barked and bit each other. This was pointless.‘Now we are going to breathe like a dog,’ said Shawna as if it was the most normal thing in the world. ‘Raise your cheekbones and smile … good … now open your mouth and stick your tongue out … now pant like a dog.’ We all exchanged nervous looks but did as we were told. ‘By breathing like a dog it allows us to vibrate with the same energy as our dogs.’ The dogs were now frenzied. ‘They’re barking because they think we’re dogs.’ After five minutes of panting, we returned to the yoga positions. The dogs continued to wrestle. Finally, something snapped in Shawna and she stood up and picked up her dog, which was placid to her touch. She knelt into position again, her dog on its back in between her legs, spread out like dough, totally docile. The others dogs seemed to relax. ‘Robbie is the leader … it’s all hierarchical. They will chill-out now.’
We continued the session and gently a miracle unfolded. As my heart rate lowered and my breathing slowed, Marmite came and sat with me. He became malleable. His eyelids grew heavy. He affectionately licked my hands. He lay on his back in front of me. And let me pick him up and hold him against my waist as I stood legs far apart, bending in the trikonsana pose. He even appeared to mouth the word ‘namaste’, but I could have been hallucinating. Inhaling urine fumes for two hours will do that to a man.Finally, I released him as we did some final breathing exercises and he retreated into a corner and fell asleep. I had somehow become the dog whisperer. ‘We are one energy,’ explained Shawna, ‘I believe in oneness – if we are relaxed and in the moment, then our dogs will be relaxed.’ It sounds mad, I know, but if a delinquent like Marmite can be tamed with the power of the mind then maybe there is something in it. I put Marmite on the lead without a struggle for the first time ever, thanked Shawna and left the studio. As we walked down the stairs and through the lobby Marmite appeared in a trance. Then, as soon as we got outside, he first tried to run after a bus, then urinated on a pram, and then tried to wrestle the stick off a blind man. Within two minutes we were back at square one.
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