Owners of anxious, nervous or hyperactive dogs know that sometimes it takes more than a Milk-Bone to calm a dog down. These owners may now opt for doga, a style of yoga designed for humans to do with their dogs.
Doga was created in 2002 by Suzi Teitelman, an actress living in New York City and an instructor of yoga, the ancient practice she learned about from her grandmother, who was a yogi into her 80s.
“It happened organically and naturally,” Teitelman said. “I had just gotten a cocker spaniel and he wouldn’t stop getting on the mat, so I figured he should try it since he was already there.”
Teitelman began working at a gym where she developed new classes. Her puppy had responded well to yoga, so she decided to add doga, initially called “Ruff Yoga,” to the gym’s class schedule. It caught on, and now doga is popular in yoga communities in the United States and abroad.
In Costa Rica, doga is taught in the San José area by Marcela Castro, a Heredia-based yoga instructor certified by the Nosara Yoga Institute in the northwestern province of Guanacaste.
Costa Rica Doga, as the group is officially called, also works with animal welfare groups like S.O.S. Animales to promote classes and awareness about Costa Rica’s countless population of strays, by facilitating adoption, spaying and neutering, vaccinations and nutrition.
Loki, Castro’s black Lab mix puppy and daily doga partner, was a stray whose life changed drastically after he was adopted in June and transformed into the furry face of Costa Rica Doga.
“He wasn’t very affectionate at first. He’s sweet, but his past on the street means he can also be really independent. After doga he’s usually more affectionate,” Castro said.
While Loki’s doga routine is well-suited to his smaller size, achieving these results may take longer for larger breeds.
“Larger dogs can participate,” Teitelman said. “The challenge is finding the right poses for you and your dog. Every dog is different, and it takes effort to figure out what works best.”
Participants who have found what works say doga has a calming effect on dogs, a result that first-time doga participants Julio Rojas and his wife, Alexa Quesada, say they have sought tirelessly for their nearly 2-year-old miniature schnauzer, Balú.
“When other dogs are around, he goes crazy. He’s not a fighter; he just gets so excited by the company that he can’t relax,” Rojas said.
Balú is the only dog in their household, and Rojas said their attempts to socialize him with other dogs rarely succeed because other owners are concerned that the barking means he is hostile.
Balú spent the first 10 minutes of doga whimpering distractedly, but when it came time for the poses that sent him almost flying into the air, he relaxed and appeared to enjoy himself.
Doga’s benefits extend to humans as well. Castro focused on her human students as well as on the dogs’ responses.
“The dogs don’t know what’s going on at first, but they learn to trust,” Castro said.
And while some dogs respond better than others to the exercise, Teitelman said the physical benefits are secondary.
“In the end it’s more about sitting on the mat with your dog, breathing,” Teitelman said. “They sense their owner’s calmness and want to be surrounded by the feeling.”
Costa Rica Doga events this weekend:
Nov. 26 – Ciudad Quesada, in front of Fu-Hen Restaurant by the old USACA, 10 a.m. Cost is ¢3,000 ($6); proceeds go to animal welfare group Guatos o Mingos. Call 8381-8586 to reserve a spot.
ov. 27 – San José, La Sabana Park, 10 a.m. Participants will meet at the León Cortes statue near the National Gymnasium. Cost is ¢2,500 ($5); proceeds go to S.O.S. Animales.
For more information about Costa Rica Doga, contact Marcela Castro at 8883-9337 or [email protected], or find the group on Facebook.