Yoga for Dogs -- No Joke

Dixie gets pre-class attention from 10-year-old Nathan Jester, above, and 13-year-old Hallie Jester, below.
Dixie gets pre-class attention from 10-year-old Nathan Jester, above, and 13-year-old Hallie Jester, below. (Katherine Shaver)
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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

When Ashley Storm wants to chill, she does yoga. And when she wants to help her Labrador mix relax, she has Loki join in.

Yes, a dog doing yoga. It's called -- what else? -- doga. People help their dogs into yoga poses and then rub or nuzzle them while the dogs stretch or just hang out.

"They stretch naturally, like we do in our yoga poses," says Storm, a yoga instructor and co-owner of Hot Yoga in Chevy Chase. "It just feels good to them. It feels good to us, too."

Doga (pronounced DOE-guh) is popular in New York City and London, England. Washington-area kids are getting in on the act, too. Nathan Jester, 10, recently did doga with Dixie, a friend's fox terrier mix, at Storm's studio.

"It's fun," said Nathan, a fifth-grader at Chevy Chase Elementary School. "It's really calming for both of us. She [Dixie] likes getting the attention because she's getting played with at the same time."

In doga poses, the dogs look a lot like they do when they loll about and appear to be happy. It's no coincidence, Storm says, that a common yoga stretch for people is called "downward-facing dog."

In the chair pose, dogs sit on their hind legs with their front paws in the air while a person holds them from behind. In the chaturanga pose, dogs lie on their abdomens while someone strokes their backs. In the savasana relaxation pose, they lie on their backs while someone rubs their belly. Aaaaahhhhh.

If dogs don't want to do doga, it's fun to have them hang out on a mat while you do yoga, Storm says.

The most important part of doga is spending quality time together. Doga helps dogs and people bond, Storm says, because they have to focus on each other. No TV or video games. No homework worries. Just you and your dog stretching and relaxing.

The result: Busy, highly scheduled kids have to slow down, and couch-potato kids get up and do something.

Leah Enelow, 13, recently tried doga with her dogs, Chance and Sadie, at Storm's studio. She liked it. "I love doing anything with my dogs and spending time with them," said Leah, a seventh-grader at Westland Middle School in Bethesda.

Storm started doing doga with Loki about four years ago, shortly after a friend gave her a book about it.

Loki, a rescue dog who had been abused, used to get so stressed out around strangers that she would shake. But after hanging around the yoga studio and doing doga, she seems far more relaxed and happy.

"Everyone says she's a different dog," Storm says.

-- Katherine Shaver

© 2008 The Washington Post Company