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Yoga for dogs

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Yoga isn't just for people anymore - it's for dogs, too.  Doggy yoga - Doga - is a great way for you to exercise with your pet.  With soothing Enya tunes playing in the background, Marnie Pomeroy gracefully goes through "downward facing dog,'' a classic yoga posture that mimics the natural stretch dogs take every time they get up.

Pomeroy is not doing the exercises alone. To varying degrees her yoga partner, Hailey, joins in the breathing and stretching exercises.

Pomeroy rocks with Hailey in her arms. She uses Hailey as a yoga prop to move through her position. Sometimes, Hailey takes a break, lying on the exercise mat.

Hailey is a special yoga partner: She's Pomeroy's dog, a shepherd mix.

The twosome is among a dozen other human-dog teams attending a free monthly Paws & Flow "doggie yoga'' class at the Lakeshore Athletic Club at the Illinois Center in Chicago.

Club general manager Roberta Duguid, who has a half dozen rescue dogs, and exercise instructor Becky Solomon, who brings her littermate Chihuahuas to class, developed the class three years ago.

"We were looking for a way to help dogs socialize with each other and to encourage interactions between busy owners and their dogs. We thought we'd do it once. But it was such a huge hit that we hold doggie yoga every month,'' Duguid said.

Solomon, an exercise instructor for 18 years, said, "I was always into dog training; I just kind of made it up myself.''

Doga catching on

The idea has been spreading around the country. Classes, sometimes called "doga,'' rhyming with yoga, are being held in New York, California and elsewhere around the country.

There's the book "Doga: Yoga For Dogs'' by Jennifer Brilliant and William Berloni. And the Bodhi Store in Venice, Calif., and online at www.bodhitoys.com, offers toys for yogi doggies, such as the "Om ball,'' which when bounced plays a recording of the om chant recorded by yogi Bhagavan Das.

Solomon said dogs can't really do yoga, other than the downward and upward dog. But she says that the goal is to give them some exercise and to socialize. She said owners also learn how to relax their dogs with massages.

"The class is mostly for the people and a little bit of the yoga for the dogs. There's only so much you can do with the dogs because they come in so many different sizes and temperaments," Solomon said.

She said the class gathers in a circle on mats. The group starts off with breathing exercises. "The dogs are so in tune with our energy. We create a calm energy in the room and see how the dogs respond,'' said Solomon, who teaches people spinning, muscle conditioning and dance.

Stretching with doggies

During doggie yoga, owners go through stretches and try to put their dogs into some yoga poses.

"You practice deep breathing. You make your movements slow. Nothing is fast. Nothing is loud,'' Solomon said.

She said the group does stretches that stretch both humans and dogs. "For instance, you'll be standing with the dog in front of you, you take a deep breath, and you do a forward fold. You bring your hands underneath the dog and you gently pull them up as you're pulling yourself down," she said.

Not that all the dogs cooperate. Sometimes, they just wander through the exercise studio during the 45-minute class.

Chaos mixed with fun

While he was lying on his back doing a stretch with Bart, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, in his arms, Steve Maza was visited by a Chihuahua and a West Highland terrier. The dogs sniffed Maza and Bart.

"Sometimes, it seems like a lot of chaos. But it's a lot of fun. The massage techniques are very useful,'' Maza said.

The class finishes with playtime when dogs receive treats and toys and run around the studio.

A table in the studio contains treats, water bottles, bowls and some Frisbees. There is also a disinfectant and a roll of paper for clean-ups. "Sometimes, the kids get a little excited,'' Solomon said.

Debra Watkins said the class gives her miniature long-haired dachshund, Marlow, an unusual English Cream, a chance to socialize with other dogs and to bond with her and her husband, Dave.

Solomon said dogs become pals and seek each other out during the sessions.

Ernie Ward, DVM, of Calabash, N.C., recently observed a doga class in California. "There's not a lot of workout for the dogs in doggie yoga,'' said Ward, a personal trainer of people and an Ironman triathlon competitor. "But I am in favor of anything that gets humans and the dogs to interact more. Doggie yoga is great for that.''

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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