Doga Classes: Combining Classic Yoga With Your Favorite Canine
Doga (rhymes with yoga) is a new type of partnered yoga practice that is done with a special type of friend. Your dog.
That critter of the furry paws and questionable breath, a yoga partner? Well, perhaps it’s not nearly as strange as it sounds.
Doga is a growing movement, with classes springing up across the States, two books on the subject, an instructional DVD, and ‘how to’ videos all over the internet. Well, maybe “all over” is an exaggeration, (the videos haven’t gone viral quite yet) but it is only a matter of time before you'll be seeing that Shih tzu doing the Sun Salutation with Letterman.
So how exactly do you do asanas with your dog?
I own a Ridgeback who has always despised being excluded from my morning yoga practice. I never expected him to partner me in Pranayama since my first yoga tapes exhorted me to clear the room of ‘distracting’ pets, and I studiously followed this advice.
Yobi, the Ridgeback, never approved. Guilt inducing, plaintive, soft whines always leaked under the door as soon as I rolled out the mat.
But today, I open the door and take advice from Doga’s founder, Suzi Teitelman: I invite Yobi onto my mat. As soon as I lower myself to his height, he becomes excited and a little frantic. He licks my face happily. He offers me his very rough, un-manicured paw. He moves his body to stand across me, and waits to be rubbed. He leans into me. Calmly, I place both hands on his back, and try to coordinate my breathing with his. It is meditative for me, but apparently boring for him. After a minute or so, he tosses out a sign, and lowers himself, lion-style onto the mat. I think I detect a burp, but I continue to concentrate on my breathing, on touching him. He rests his head and waits. After a couple of minutes, I move onto the next sequence: eye gazing. But this requires partners to face each other and Yobi is still athwart. I poke at him to move, but he seems blissfully at peace, so instead, I rearrange myself to face him, raising his head with my hands and gazing into his eyes. We connect momentarily, (for all of two seconds), and then he cocks an eyebrow, rolls to his side and begins a nap. Clearly, the Doga session is over. I finish my AM yoga sequences with him at my side, lightly snoring. I occurs to me that I have failed in this Doga business: we accomplished not one asana together.
I call my friend Jeannie in New York for advice. She and her dog Hardcore (don’t ask) attend weekly Doga sessions in Manhattan and they are advanced practitioners. “Oh, for heavens sake,” she says, “Doga’s all about bonding, and connecting. Spending time together. If you get to help them stretch a little, that’s great, but not the point. Did he make you smile, relax?”
“Actually,” I heard myself saying, “It was the most peaceful thing just to have him there next to me.”
“That’s it then. Listen to your dog. He’s teaching you what it means to ‘be’ in the moment.”
Quite an instructor, that Ridgeback.