For thousands of years, the ancient practice of yoga has led to peace and enlightenment for people wishing to unite their body and mind. While some techniques have changed over time, chances are the early gurus did not anticipate the newest set of devotees: dogs.
"We're going to Om, but I want you to actually Om towards the dog," said instructor Kari Harendorf in front of a yoga class for dogs and their owners. "Inhale, Ommmm, Ommmm," she continued.
The latest fitness craze for dog lovers is called "doga" and it's coming to a mat near you. In a typical doga class, owners help their pups facilitate different poses, and they also do their own poses using the animals as helpful props. Owners also perform doggy massage and acupressure to help soothe and relax their pets.
"This is about you and your dog, and time with your dog," said Harendorf as she began the class and instructed the owners on how to gently stretch their dogs' legs and paws.
Speaking of stretches, this whole concept may seem like one to many people. But it's not to Harendorf, who is a yoga instructor, dog trainer and former veterinary technician.
"When I tell people that I teach yoga for dogs, they say, 'Oh, my dog would never be able to do yoga. He's too hyper or too this, too that,'" she said. "I'll say, 'Well, try a couple of poses with him.'"
That's how Harendorf started doing doga with her dog Charlie five years ago. "Every time I would get my mat out, Charlie would come lay on top of it," she explained. "I would go into [downward facing] dog and he would just lie under me and look up at me. He put his paw on my hand, and we started doing yoga together."
Now, Harendorf and Charlie lead monthly classes at Bideawee Animal Shelter in New York City. The tranquil ambiance is set with candles, incense, and calming music.
It turns out the quest for zen is not just for the hyper pups of the Big Apple. Doga has spread to Seattle, San Francisco, Jacksonville, Fla., Canada, and even Japan. Later this year, Suzi Teitelman and her dog Coali will debut the first doga exercise video for those who would like to practice their poses from the privacy and comfort of home.
Doga has also inspired clothing lines, books, and a plethora of pet accessories. At Trixie and Peanut, a pet boutique in New York City, dogis on the way to enlightenment can find stylish velour sweat suits. "It's just like a sweat suit you would get for yourself when you're going to do yoga," said store owner Susan Bing. "It stretches," she continued. "It keeps them warm."
For playful dogis, Bodhi makes a variety of chew toys inspired by Indian art and philosophy. Squeaky "Mendhi Balls" are decorated with lotuses and leaves in the style of Henna tattoo art, while "Shanti Sticks" are inscribed with the mantra "Om Shanti Shanti."
There's also the "Om Ball," which plays a recording of the mantra Om when bounced on the floor. "[It] was recorded by renowned yogi Bhagavan Das especially for this," said Bing.
Finally, the ultimate luxury gift for any doga dog is the custom-made "Lotus Bed," a suede lounge cushion with hand embroidering. "They feature a lotus bud," said Bing, "another sign of good luck and harmony in meditation."