On a Sunday morning, the Justbe Cafe in Bengaluru was bustling with life: both human and canine. A Pawga session was on. I watched people twisting their way from asana to asana, with a puppy curled on their mat, a sense of warmth, calm and love permeating the room.
Pawga, yoga sessions with puppies, is a unique initiative by three college friends, Swathi Renugopal, Sindhuja Krishnakumar, and Subhashree Madhavan. Both spending time with animals and yoga have been shown to decrease the levels of stress hormone cortisol in your body, making Pawga a great option for people struggling with anxiety. These sessions, which will be held across multiple cities in January, including Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad, are not just a great excuse to practice yoga; but are a forum to spread awareness about indie dog adoption.
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The idea for the initiative started back in 2019 when they noticed that many people they knew were struggling with their mental health. At the time, Renugopal was volunteering at Blue Cross of India, and the other two would often join her. “At Blue Cross, we became more aware of the stigma around indie dogs. The idea of owning a dog is linked with prestige for many. People rather spend huge amounts of money to buy a German Shepherd or Husky than adopt an abandoned indie dog,” she says.
They had come across puppy yoga sessions happening in London, which sparked the idea of bringing it to India.
Their first session, held at Blue Cross in Chennai, was a free one with 10 invited guests. Renugopal explains, “There was scepticism from family and friends as yoga is known to be focused and peaceful, so bringing in puppies who can be like kids running around didn’t appeal to many.” But as it turned out, that’s exactly what worked. Having the puppies come up to you for random cuddles and sneak into your lap while you breathe in and out was the best part of these sessions.
Pawga, over the next two years, got more and more popular, with sessions sold out within 72 hours after being announced. On average, there are about 15 participants in every session and about the same number of puppies. Renugopal explains, “These sessions have been a two-way street. The abandoned puppies need all the love and care and people also find it therapeutic.”
“We have seen people come to tears during the sessions and tell us that this is what they needed after a stressful week,” adds Krishnakumar.
Although Amelia S, one of the participants, has been practising yoga for years, she says this was a different experience. “There is so much love in the room. You feel different; there is a renewed energy in the room.”
While doing yoga with puppies is exciting for many, people do reach out to ask if there are puppies of foreign breeds. Recognising that the attitude of dismissal toward indie dogs often stems from existing stereotypes and a lack of interactions, the founders often invite them to come for a session anyway. “In the last two years, we have seen a general shift. People come for the sessions and recognise that Indie pups are also playful, active, and give a lot of good licks,” Krishnakumar says.
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In every city, Pawga partners with an NGO, that shelters abandoned indie dogs, to bring the puppies for the sessions. In the last two years, Pawga sessions have led to about 20 puppies finding their forever homes. Pawga also donates a portion of its ticket sales to the NGOs they collaborate with.
At the Bangalore session headed by Preejo, a yoga teacher and behavioural coach, participants do beginner yoga with some movements adapted to include the puppies. “I have been associated with Pawga since the first test session, so over the years I have learnt how to make small changes to engage the participants with the puppies.”
Talking about the effect on puppies, he says, “These sessions have a relaxing and calming effect on the puppies. See, that one has slept off,” Preejo points at a tiny one fast asleep. “People also get the opportunity to interact with dogs for the first time. There have been people who have feared dogs and during the sessions developed comfort and liking. Also, you are taking care of your physical and mental health, so multiple wins!” he grins.
Hari Suresh, a reluctant participant who was coerced into attending the session by his sister, was last to leave by the end of it; he stayed back to cradle a puppy. “This is my first yoga session ever, and it was amazing. I am so surprised that my back pain is almost gone, and I feel happy overall. I am definitely coming back.”
Pawga is planning on expanding to Mumbai, Trivandrum, and Coimbatore this year. To know more, visit their website at pawgapetsyoga.com