Now bow, inhale, bow-wow, exhale and try this sun salute

Dog-yoga class proves pups can be perfect posers


October 05, 2003|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

LOS ANGELES - Just when yoga enthusiasts thought they'd seen it all - yoga with spinning, yoga with Sinatra music - comes this: yoga with your schnauzer.

Perhaps it speaks to the fact that we humans will try almost anything that inspires us to work out. But dogs and yoga do have a link - canines have been the influence, after all, for standard poses such as downward facing dog and upward facing dog.

Crunch gym in West Hollywood launched Ruff Yoga this month, when instructor Heather Stevens led a class of seven humans and their canines through several poses. Crunch had already rolled it out in May in New York.

The Los Angeles class appealed to television writer Catherine Lieuwen because it combined two of her favorite things. "I don't do yoga a lot," she says, "but I like it - and I love my dog."

Stevens led the class - six women, one man and dogs that included a standard black poodle, a miniature dachshund and a German shorthaired pointer - to a clearing where mats were placed in two rows on the dirt. This first class would be brief, about 20 minutes, so the dogs could get used to the new activity.

Stevens, working with a friend's 13-year-old whippet named Diva, encouraged the group to "be really accepting of what your dog can and cannot do. What they need today are lots of kisses and hugs and love from us." The class happily obliged and the affection flowed.

To avoid any dog having to be rushed to the vet, Stevens asked if any of the dogs had pre-existing injuries or conditions. Modify any moves to suit your pet, she advised. As the students rested their chests on their dogs' backs (to feel the animals' vibrations), Stevens began with three "om" chants.

Stevens then went into shoulder rolls, accompanied by belly rubs, then sun salutations, in which owners lifted their pets' front paws into the air. Downward facing dog was achieved by lifting the dogs' hips. For the flying dog pose, owners got on their backs and hoisted their hounds in the air with feet and hands. Most of the canines went with the flow, occasionally fussing or refusing to hold a pose.

"It's clear to me what special relationships you have with your dogs," said the blond, affable Stevens. "Doing yoga will enhance those special bonds."

But will they? Suzi Teitelman, Crunch's national yoga director who developed the class, thinks so: "Coali has changed completely," she said of her 2-year-old cocker spaniel who inspired the course. "He's so well-behaved now," she says. "He's so calm and relaxed and smart and he listens."

Placing Fido into the cobra pose because it makes us feel good may not necessarily make him a happier, healthier dog, some veterinarians say. Throwing a Frisbee or taking your dog on a nice long walk is just fine for maintaining canine well-being and fitness, they say.

But using relaxation and massage techniques on dogs is nothing new, said Pamela Reid, director of the ASPCA Animal Behavior Center in New York, and having a dog nearby while practicing yoga may not be a bad idea. "You're both kind of chilling together," she says.

Further proof that the dog yoga trend is growing is the publication of two books: Doga: Yoga for Dogs (Chronicle Books, 2003) and Bow Wow Yoga: 10,000 Years of Posturing (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2003).

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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