- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 21, 2007

By the end of a recent yoga class in Bellevue, Wash., many participants were passed out on their mats, in a position their instructor calls the “upward-facing belly pose.”

That’s largely because about half the group was about to walk out on four legs: The Seattle/King County Humane Society offers 40-minute “doggie yoga” classes.

Brenda Bryan, who teaches human yoga as well as the new class for dogs and humans, says the dogs seem to react to the gentle energy in the room.

“As we get into it, the dogs all kind of calm down,” says Miss Bryan, who developed the poses for the class by working with her own two dogs — Gus, a mixed breed, and Honey, a shar pei-boxer mix — and talking to instructors in such cities as New York, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh where yoga for dogs and their owners is starting to catch on.

The question she and the Humane Society get most often from prospective human students is: How do the people and dogs interact?

In Miss Bryan’s class, the humans do traditional yoga poses — yes, including downward-facing dog — while staying in contact physically with their pets.

Part of the class includes gentle stretching and dog massage, another of Miss Bryan’s specialties, but most of the time, the humans gently use the dogs like yoga props.

In downward-facing dog, for example, the humans rest their heads on their companions, who are relaxing — napping? — on the mat.

The yoga poses are modified both for humans of different sizes and abilities and for the dogs. During class, Miss Bryan reminds people not to push their canine partners to perform.

“Don’t be too ambitious,” she says. “Honor where your dog is and remember that dogs respond to our energy.”

Leilani, a toy poodle, is the star of the class, perhaps because the tiny 11-year-old is too timid to venture off the mat to play with the big dogs.

Her owner, Suanne Nagata, says afterward that Leilani just loves being touched.

“I could just feel her relax,” she says.

The class is designed to offer a new way for humans to spend time with their pets.

“This is 80 percent fun,” says Eve Holt, director of community relations for the Seattle Humane Society.

Miss Bryan calls it “partner yoga” because the class encourages the human and the dog to increase their awareness of each other.

“Magnet and I were just in this little bubble,” says Emily Keegans, referring to her black Lab.

She says her dog loves getting the one-on-one attention he receives in yoga class, and she likes having another opportunity to exercise and spend time with her dog.

She says she was doing dog massage at a Humane Society fundraiser — a dog fashion show — when the agency director mentioned that she is also a yoga instructor. The idea for doggie yoga was born.

“It was really just a marriage of all the things I love,” Miss Bryan says.

She says she hopes the class will open up yoga to a variety of people — and dogs — who have never done this kind of exercise before.

“We’ve been having a lot of fun with this,” Miss Bryan says, adding that her own dogs rush to the mat as soon as she unrolls it at home, whether or not she was planning to involve them.

Both the humans and the canines seemed to enjoy themselves before, during and after a recent doggie class at the Humane Society.

Shadow, a spaniel mix, visited every mat during the class and made a complete circuit of shoe sniffing toward the end. Beans, a majestic 2-year-old Vizsla, seemed a lot more interested in making new friends than relaxing, as his owner predicted before the class.

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