If you're a pet owner who's ever attempted to exercise at home, you're probably familiar with this scenario: you lay out your yoga mat, turn around to grab your water for no less than three seconds, and by the time you turn around, your beloved four-legged friend is sprawled out on the entire thing, peering up at you with an incredulous look.
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Whether you have a sprawling home or a studio apartment, it seems that pets always find their way to those mats, but why are they so drawn to them?
Most sources break it down to three main reasons: comfort, love, and learning.
They like the way yoga mats feel
In somewhat recent years, the addition of the yoga mat to the practice of yoga has increased in popularity. Many people appreciate the use of a yoga mat for its ability to provide a thin, firm yet supportive cushion for their bodies and joints when working out on the floor. Our pets, especially senior friends and those with conditions like arthritis, a torn ligament, or even skin irritation issues, may simply find it physically comforting to rest on a padded surface. A yoga mat also prevents one's hands and feet from slipping on certain types of flooring, like wood or vinyl, which may be appealing to pets as well. If your pet usually slips on your floors, or even if the bed or blanket that they lie on does, they may prefer the sticky grip of a yoga mat for its ability to stay in place, which can provide a sense of security.
They like being close to you
The bond between a person and their beloved pet is hard to describe, and just as we adore them, they love us right back, including our scent. It's no secret that the olfactory powers of the canine nose are among the most impressive in the animal kingdom, packed with up to 300 million scent receptors. Dogs navigate the world with their noses, and sniff out familiar scents as a measure of safety. Yoga mats are covered in our sweat and the smells that come with it, be that from our feet, hands, or other parts of our skin. In one study, conducted at Emory University, dogs were placed in an MRI machine and were given two swabs to smell — a familiar human, and a familiar dog. Researchers noticed that a structure known as the caudate nucleus, which anticipates positive things, was lit up when the dogs got a whiff of their people. When your dog lays on your yoga mat, it could be like curling up in bed or other happy place with your favorite person in the world.
They learn to focus on the mat
Many domesticated animals, like cats and dogs, learn by following facial cues, and look to their human counterparts for everything from permission to assurance to direction. BBC states that cats have been shown to associate certain facial expressions with positive or negative experiences. So, if you find yourself feeling relaxed and centered every time you work out on your yoga mat, chances are, your face and body language is projecting that sentiment outward, which could be why your cat is so drawn to that space.
Dogs often learn by following physical cues, like pointing or specific hand gestured, and it's possible that your canine companion is looking to you for direction, and may be attempting to follow along with your every move. Even if you don't use a yoga mat but tend to work out in the same area of your home, you may find your pet around, or sometimes, right underneath you, because they notice that you're focusing your attention on that area (when, clearly, you should be paying attention to them.)
Exercising with pets
If your pet absolutely insists on joining you for your daily yoga practice, or if you simply wish to share your workout and time with your best friend, there are some yoga poses you can enjoy with your companion. Downward dog, cobra pose, child's pose, and sun salutations are all simple poses that are easy for most beginners and can usually be done with a dog or cat around you.
If you're more interested in practicing yoga with pets in a group setting, there are countless classes in many areas that offer yoga with animals like bunnies, horses, and goats. Some classes even allow practitioners to bring their own pets along, with some slow sequences encouraging pet owners to include their dogs in the practice by using them as a furry weight. Larger pets will often lie or stretch alongside their person, with some even imitate certain movements with ease, like downward dog, which is essentially the same stretch some dogs enjoy when they get out of bed or up from their seat. Whatever moves you include your friend in, always take care to make the safety of you and your pet a primary concern by watching where you raise your hands and feet. If you use your yoga mat for light weight training, always be careful to pick your weights up to prevent your pets from tripping on them and possibly injuring themselves.