By Arden Moore
We can learn a lot from our cats and dogs when it comes to keeping limber, shooing away muscle aches and reveling in the moment.
In fact, cats and dogs are born yoga teachers, if we just pay closer attention to how they move and stretch with purpose and grace.
“Yoga is an art that is more than 5,000 years old and many yoga postures came from observing how animals pose and move,” says Stacy McCarthy, a nationally recognized master yoga instructor and proud pet parent of two limber Bernese Mountain dogs, Buddha and Lilly.
“Yoga is all about energy movement. When I teach a ‘doga’ yoga class, I tell people that how their dog behaves is a relaxation of their energy. If you come into class anxious and stressed, that will be conveyed to your dog. If you calm down, sit down and breathe and relax, that energy is reflected in your dog as well. We teach you how to switch your energy on and off and learn how to balance energy.”
McCarthy explains that dogs and cats are natural yogis.
“Dogs approach their lives with dedication, loyalty, sensitivity and love, plus they live in the moment,” says McCarthy, who conducts many of her doga classes in southern California, with proceeds benefiting animal shelters. “What I love about cats is that they rest when they need to rest and then can be so active and engaged. Yoga is the balance between being active and passive and our dogs and cats serve as excellent role models.”
In fact, yoga advocates throughout the country recognize the influence our canine and feline pals play in this mind- and body-benefitting activity. When a happy dog “invites” you to play, he promptly stretches out his front legs, lowers his chest and shoulders and raises his hips and rear end. In canine circles, that maneuver is known as the play bow, but in yoga, it is referred to as the downward facing dog posture.
“In our household, Buddha and Lilly are naturally performing this downward dog position 10 to 15 times a day,” laughs McCarthy.
Typically at the end of yoga classes, instructors guide their students into a cat-influenced deep relaxation pose called the deep savasana. You lie still on your back with your eyes closed — like a cat taking an afternoon nap in a sunny spot — and completely relax and let go.
The hot trend in yoga is extending the class invite to well-mannered canines. Both people and pets benefit in many ways. Unlike conventional dog basic obedience classes where the emphasis is on mastering “sit,” “down,” and “stay,” doga yoga focuses on learning how to do healthy stretches and massages on your dog and embracing living in the moment.
If we give them a chance, our Zen-like dogs can teach us to wag more and bark less. I love taking my high-energy dogs, Chipper and Cleo, to doga yoga classes once a month. By the end of the hour session, all three of us are sprawled on the yoga mat feeling limber and mellow. They snooze in the car during the ride home.
If you want to try a class, you’re in luck. Once a month, there’s a doga class scheduled at the Gyrotonic Sat Nam center in West Palm Beach. The next class is set for Jan. 15. Cost is $20 and class is limited to dogs weighing 30 pounds and under.
The class is taught by Oblio Wish, a Kundalini yoga instructor who also loves dogs.
“Yoga encompasses all of life,” says Wish. “It calms the owner down which calms the dog down. We learn to move together. The dogs are usually completely blissed out by the end of the class.”
Learn more by visiting www.gyrotonicsatnam.com, by calling (561) 650-0304 or by clicking on this short YouTube video that offers a glimpse into this doga class:
Arden Moore, Founder of Four Legged Life.com, is an animal behavior consultant, editor, author and professional speaker. She happily shares her home with two dogs, two cats and one overworked vacuum cleaner. Tune in to her “Oh Behave!” show on Pet Life Radio.com and learn more by visiting www.fourleggedlife.com.
Benefits of Begging
Far too many dogs, especially large ones and those with long backs, face hip and mobility issues as they age. One effective way you can maintain your dog’s flexibility is by training him to sit up on his rear legs in a begging position.
“Dogs face a lot of the same age-related issues as we do. Sadly, too many find themselves disabled as they age due to lack of exercise for rear legs,” says Christine Zink, DVM, PhD, a veterinarian and professor of pathology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
“My advice: teach your dog to sit up and beg. This movement strengthens your dog’s abdominal and back muscles as well as his rear legs.”
So the next time your dog begs for a healthy treat, have him keep that pose for 20 to 30 seconds before handing over the tasty morsel.