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by Susan Hoffman
In yoga, the salutation "Namaste" means "The spirit in me respects the spirit in you." What better way to show your dog that you respect his inner and outer happiness than to include him in your yoga practice?
Doga is a new way to partner with your pet to experience the physical (and humans say spiritual too) benefits of yoga.
All people and dogs can practice doga -- fit or fat, large or small, young or old. Poses can be modified for all sizes, shapes and abilities, just like in regular yoga classes.
Yoga for Dogs: A Bonding Experience
Doga combines massage and meditation with gentle stretching for dogs and their humans. Although it might seem unusual, dogs generally dig doga because, like yoga, doga emphasizes the union and connection with other beings, and there's no being your dog would rather be connected with than you.
"Doga is all about bonding with your dog," says Suzi Teitelman, a nationally televised doga instructor who teaches in Jacksonville, Fla. "It's much like doing yoga with an infant. You move and stretch them. You help them extend their limbs. You balance them on your body and you move over and around them."
And much like an infant, your dog will love the touching, massaging and relaxation time with his human parent, even if he doesn't understand exactly what doga is.
"People are often concerned that their dog isn't mellow enough for doga, but I encourage them to give it a try. I've had many skeptics come to class and leave happy with the results," says Brenda Bryan, author of the book Barking Buddha: Simple Soul Stretches for Yogi and Dogi, and a doga teacher near Seattle, Wash.
Finding a doga teacher or class is not always easy because the practice is still relatively new, but more and more instructors and practitioners are popping up around the country. "Dog parents can definitely practice doga on their own, especially if they already know yoga, but it's best to take a class or two or watch a DVD or read a doga manual to learn techniques that are safe and healthy to do with their pet," says Teitelman.
Bryan calls her doga poses whimsical names such as Woofing Warrior, Camel Rides Dog, and Muttley Mudras.
"These poses incorporate your dog fully into your yoga practice. They're a bit nontraditional in practice but quite traditional in theory," says Bryan.
Ready to embark on some beginner doga poses? Try one of these:
Kneel and squat, balanced on your toes. With your dog facing away from you, gently and slowly encourage him to stand on his hind legs with you supporting his weight under his front armpits. This pose stretches your dog's abdominal muscles and front legs and strengthens the back leg joints.
Stand with both feet under your hips. Roll and bend forward, hanging from your waist, with your hands and head low. Scoop up your dog to add his weight to your bend. This increases your stretch. And while your dog is "weightless," you can give his limbs a good stretch too.
Stand behind your dog and lean slightly forward. Gently pick his back legs up, supporting his hip joints with both hands, and slowly encourage him to stretch and flex his torso. This pose stretches his abdominal muscles, loosens the hips and strengthens the front leg joints.
Humans should wear comfortable, stretchy clothes, just like you'd wear for any yoga practice. Dogs need no special gear, although both human and dog should practice on a mat that provides some cushioning and traction. Keep cool water on hand for both of you to stay hydrated, and take breaks as needed.
Like yoga, doga is a journey, not a destination. The joy is in the practice. It's something you can try for both the sheer fun of it and the deepening of the bond between you and your best friend.
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