When yoga goes to the dogs, they call it doga. And while doga may not measure up, fitness-wise, to a game of fetch or a run on the beach, experts say practicing yoga with your pet can soothe the not-so-savage beasts of both person and pooch.
"I consider it partner yoga," said Suzi Teitelman, a Florida-based instructor who has been teaching doga to man, woman and beast since 2002. "It's my lifelong passion." Teitelman stumbled upon doga because her dog liked to lie under her while she practiced. "When you feel good, they feel good," she said. "They want to be around your goodness."
Classes, DVDs and a training manual followed. Teitelman said she's trained more than 100 people around the world in doga, some from as far away as China and Japan. Disco yoga, kid yoga, beach yoga, spin yoga and yogalites are but a few of the trendy hybrids saluting the sun at fitness centres these days, all takeoffs on the 5,0000-year-old practice that coordinates movement and breath.
But Teitelman insists she teaches a traditional yoga class, even if the downward facing dog is flesh and blood."We chant together to feel the vibrations, then we start moving into twists and turns," she said.Traditional poses such as warriors, triangles and backbends follow, possibly enhanced by a little dog balanced at the belly or waist.
"The person takes dog deeper into a stretch, and the dog takes the person deeper," she said. "If you have a dog on your arm in a standing posture it helps balance and strength." Teitelman believes the rewards of yoga accrue to human and animal alike. "You're moving their body. They're getting touched, they're getting love," she explained, "and everybody needs to be hanging upside down."
Dr. Robin Brennen, a New York City veterinarian, was sceptical of the hugely popular doga classes at the Bideawee animal shelter and learning center where she works. Then she attended one. "I witnessed the demeanor of the animals changing during the class," she said. "They'll come in barking, seven, eight, nine dogs in room, but by the end of the session, they're sleeping. They're in savasana (the final resting pose)."
Brennen said unlike running or jogging, doga is not physically strenuous for the dog. "It's a level one yoga class and with this big dog in front of you it's hard to do poses," she said. "It's basically stopping and starting." But then doga isn't about dogs doing yoga, but about owners interacting with their dogs. "It really highlights the human-animal bond," she said. "For me, being in animal rescue, and seeing so many homeless pets, and people who very easily discard animals, I like these activities on the other side of the spectrum."
But she is doubtful about the spiritual side. "It's hard to think of a centering practice like yoga being centering to an animal, because it's hard to know what centers them," she said. Teitelman believes doga can embrace other domesticated creatures. "It definitely works with cats," she said, "and when I do downward dog my bird comes over."
But Brennen has her doubts. "Cats? Obviously you'd have to change the format. They want their feet on the ground. Then there's the scratching and clawing factor."