downward facing dog
Canine Zen: Yoga with your four-footed best friend at Austin Doga
Four dogs and their owners were equipped and sitting on their mats in the darkened room prepped for class. The ambience was perfect, with soothing classical music and candles lit to provide a supportive presence for Austin Doga participants. A chocolate Labrador, a Chihuahua/terrier mix, a Pomeranian and a stray rescue hound joined their owners, ready for class to commence.
Inhale, stretch, now exhale and calmly massage your dog. The four-pawed participants and their owners were ready to close their eyes and indulge in deep relaxation and meditation. Forty-five minutes later, class was over and the dogs were radiating a Zen-like presence on their way out the door.
Also visiting the class was Gretchen Meyer, former volunteer with Austin Pets Alive (APA) and founder of Firecracker Dog. Meyer, along with two other APA volunteers, started Firecracker Dog with the mission of raising money for dog rescue groups and helping owners so that fewer "high energy"’ dogs are surrendered to animal shelters.
Each month, foster dogs and their families are encouraged to attend a complimentary Doga class. Both Doga instructor and lead Yogi Nicole Vyvoukal and Sonya Wilson, the owner of Southpaws Playschool where Doga classes are held, strongly support foster dog adoption along with the value of providing outlets for high-energy canines. “The idea for the complimentary class,” says Nicole, “came about as a way to say ‘thanks’ to local rescue foster parents and to provide a space for fostering the human-canine bond through doga. Most rescues and shelter animals,” she continues, “are exposed to trauma and a hectic shelter environment.”
Bonding with your canine companion, stretching, meditating while applying the Eight Limbs of Yoga with class at Austin Doga—
Yama universal morality
Niyama personal observances
Asanas body postures
Pranayama breathing exercises and control of prana
Pratyahara control of the senses
Dharana concentration and cultivating inner awareness
Dhyana devotion and meditation on the divine
Samadhi union with the divine
Priceless! Spending quality time with the fur kids while applying the spiritual principles of Doga/Yoga? Priceless! Namaste, a traditional Sanskrit greeting frequently spoken by yogis, (those who lead Yoga/Doga classes), roughly translates as myspirit honors yours.
Early Days of Doga
The concept of Doga (pronounced doe-ga, rhyming with yoga), was originally conceived by actress Suzi Teitelman in 2002. She had been a lifelong advocate of yoga and noticed her cocker spaniel, Coali, began inching toward her mat whenever she practiced the art of yoga in her home. She would inhale and throw her arms up, and Coali would do the same, almost. She would twist and Coali would twist.
Teitelman eventually came up with the concept of Doga (first called Ruff Yoga) and began teaching classes and spreading the word about stretching in poses as Downward Dog and other moves, with your four-footed best friend. “I didn’t create Doga thinking it would spread all over,” Teitelman explains, “I created it so I could bring my dog to class with me and it looks like so many others think the same way I do!” And she adds that not only is Doga gaining in popularity around the U.S., it has even spread to all corners across the globe.
Doga is a lifelong process and as you and your dog evolve your level of skill and relaxation will evolve as well. As any yoga devotee can tell you, there is no right or wrong way to participate, rather enjoy the encounter, let go of your inhibitions and savor the experience.
When Nicole started Doga classes in Austin a little over a year ago, there were no similar classes offered in the community. She was amazed that such a “cool town with so many yogis/yoginis” did not have Doga classes. Later after being encouraged by the owners of Southpaws Playschool, Nicole began conducting research and applying her knowledge of yoga and canine behavior to develop coursework for Doga classes.
“Austin Doga follows a similar philosophy to Austinites,” Nicole adds, “living in the moment, taking time for play and not taking ourselves so seriously are important life lessons we can learn from our dogs.”
Austin Doga takes place Sundays afternoons and evenings (call 512-413-2648 for weekly time) at Southpaws Playschool (2324-B South Lamar). Classes are $12 per session and rescue foster dog families are invited to a complimentary session once a month. You can visit Firecracker Dog online.