Doga – that's meditation for mutts

Canine yoga craze hailed as opportunity for owners to bond with their pets
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The Independent Online

If you are not feeling quite ready for spring, if your brain seems a little scrambled, if your hind-quarter joints have stiffened over the winter months or if your coat has lost some if its lustre, maybe it's time to talk to your master about Doga classes. You know it's all they are talking about down the dog run these days.

Spending an hour watching their owners contort themselves for no discernible reason may not immediately appeal to your average pug or Pekinese. But there are humans out there who think differently and are begging to drag their pooches along to yoga. Expect when tails are wagging as well as bottoms, it's not yoga, it's Doga.

To be clear, this is a pet-participation deal. Little Fluffy will not be tied up to watch from the sidelines. When the instructor asks for the sun salutation, Fido should be ready with front paws turned to the sky too. We assume that he will be a natural at executing one of yoga's classic poses, the adho mukha svanasana, in Sanksrit, or "downward facing dog".

Dotty though this all may sound, Doga is catching on fast across the United States. Pioneered in a New York gym by Suzi Teitelman seven years ago, it is advertised as an opportunity for dogs and their owners to bond and draw together on the benefits of bodies made more limber by stretching and minds more clear by meditating.

Some forms of yoga may be less appropriate for canine partnering than others. Shaggy-haired dogs may not appreciate Bikram Yoga, normally conducted in 40-degree heat. Nor would everyone recommend beagles coming along to Mantra Yoga, where loud chanting is encouraged. Barking, howling and yelping generally are not.

Fans of yoga, sometimes known as yogis, insist that to become dogis, your pets will not be expected to perfect all the classic yoga positions.

Most Doga classes instead involve some massage and gentle stretching of the dog's limbs on the mat and possibly positions where the pets bodies double as cushions or pillows for the human.

Most teachers will understand if the dog nods off before the end of class or wanders off to sniff a student or two.

Ms Teitelman, 37, started 'Woof Yoga' in Manhattan in 2002. She renamed it Doga when she left New York for Jacksonville Beach, Florida.

She takes group classes (usually five dogs and five humans), teaches other instructors and is about to release her first Doga video for people (and dogs) anxious to try it at home.

"It soon becomes part of your lifestyle for ever," she says. "You and your dog can do a pose when you wake up, when you come back from work and before you go to sleep at night. "

Ms Teitelman sees interest in Doga growing globally. "When I first started, people thought it was just this crazy thing. But it's not a fad any more, it is getting bigger and better and people are really starting to accept it," she explained yesterday. "It's not something people laugh about."

But purists like David Freiman, who teaches yoga in Manhattan, is not entirely relaxed about the idea.

"This seems to me to be just another example of American's multi-tasking," he said from his studio, My Good Life Yoga, in Manhattan.

"We can't just go to a yoga class and be in the here and now. Instead, it has to be a time we share with our dogs. That seems very trivialising of yoga to me. And it's such an American idea."

Mr Freiman, who works often with students from special communities including the old and the disabled, invokes the second sutra of Patanjali, credited with writing the first yoga scriptures. It speaks of removing all distractions and opening the mind to the power of meditation. "Doga might seem entertaining, but what could be more distracting than having a dog scurrying around the place?" he asks.

While not every dog co-operates from the start, Ms Teitelman says, most of them eventually get the idea and stop scurrying around.

"When the person comes in with a negative attitude they are putting that on to the dog and it doesn't work. But if the partner is into it, the dogs are into it and everything goes fine."

Some dog-owners could be forgiven for being sceptical. Anne-Marie Gardner is a magazine editor who dotes on her two dogs as well as her yoga instructor. But the three would not mix, she says. "How are you supposed to go to a class with a dog and have it humping your head and mounting you from behind?" she asks. "Dogs don't need yoga, they need running and fresh air."