I don’t do dogs and I don’t do yoga.
Having inherited my mother’s abject fear of animals, I try to stay clear of anything with four legs and fur. Yoga is too slow for me. All that breathing and stretching and chanting and centeredness. Boring. I’d rather jump and kick and pump and gasp for air. But my curiosity got the best of me when I discovered that Bideawee, an animal welfare organization in Manhattan, offers a yoga class for dogs — doga. During the 45-minute session, pooches and their masters give new meaning to the phrase “downward facing dog.” The room was small but comfortable, and the dogs, I must admit, were adorable with saccharine-sweet names such as Picasso, Bailey and Sophie. Awww. Since I didn’t have my own pup, I borrowed Sophie, a 10-pound Shih Tzu, who was so calm I wondered if she’d been slipped a quaalude before class. In “child’s pose,” she stood on my back and slowly surveyed the room. I lifted her with my legs. Held her in “warrior pose.” Stretched her hind legs. Stroked her little head as we chanted Ommmmmm and Boooone. Watch this special yoga class » Were we bonding I think so. It was as bizarre as it was sweet. And some women in the class admitted as much. “There are a lot of people who think it’s a little silly, but the class is very lighthearted,” said Sophie’s “mother,” Grace. She carries Sophie around in a Louis Vuitton bag that’s bigger than my apartment. “No one takes it too seriously. It’s just a chance to bond with your dog and have fun,” she said. Another class member brought her “baby” because she thinks he’s a bit too hyper and needs to chill out. Instructor Kari Harendorf has been teaching doga for several years. She said she believes the classes are perfect for these stressful times. “It’s actually been proven scientifically that just the simple act of petting a dog will release happy hormones in humans and will lower their cortisol, which is the stress hormone,” she said. “Studies have also shown that it goes both ways, that when dogs receive the petting and attention that their stress levels decrease.”
By the end of our session, the dogs did appear to be more “blissed out,” to borrow a term from Harendorf. Not a bark or a growl was heard. The only person panting was me. As I lay on my mat contemplating how I’d become so inflexible, everyone filed out quietly. I was one step closer to conquering my fear of animals and touching my toes.