Dogs + Yoga = Doga: Involving your Tahoe pooches into your practice | SierraSun.com

Dogs + Yoga = Doga: Involving your Tahoe pooches into your practice

Shannon Barbour and her dog Rylee practice yoga each day. Barbour says her dog gives her the "look" for downward dog first thing in the morning.
Courtesy Shannon Barbour / The Sanctuary |

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Yoga Studio Tahoe is located at 10775 Pioneer Trail, No. 105B, in Truckee. Visit www.yogastudiotahoe.com to learn more.

The Sanctuary is located at 205 Stateline Road in Kings Beach (essentially at Crystal Bay). Visit www.thesanctuarytahoe.com to learn more.

The Yoga Room is located at 475 North Lake Blvd., No. 251, in Tahoe City. Visit www.yogaroomtahoe.com to learn more.

TAHOE-TRUCKEE — Yoga is a fantastic way to exercise your body and mind; it stretches your muscles and builds strength while using breathing techniques and keeping your thoughts in the present moment. The practice is as popular as ever, with new and sometimes unusual variations popping up left and right.

“Yoga and wine” classes reward your workout with a delicious varietal of your choosing, while “death metal yoga” encourages its students to yell in various poses as a stress and tension release.

In a “paint yoga” class, you will walk away with a masterpiece on your mat, created by your own body swirling paint around throughout your poses. There’s “Bikram” (hot) yoga, and let’s not forget it’s reverse, “snowga.”

You can find even find “naked yoga” classes — the capacity for blending creativity with exercise seems endless.

Luckily for dog-friendly North Tahoe-Truckee, one silly and rewarding variation to yoga practice requires just you, your mat and your dog — or dogs! Rather than pushing your pet away from the mat, incorporating them into your poses can have some wonderful health and emotional benefits for both of you.

The Sierra Sun caught up with three local instructors who’ve mastered the art of “doga” to offer tips for how you can unwind with your best friend at home.

Dogs are healers

“It can’t be taken too seriously — there isn’t a “wrong” way to practice doga,” said Elle Miller, an instructor at Yoga Studio Tahoe.

Miller has been practicing yoga for 10 years and has been incorporating her German shorthair pointer, Hank, and pit-mix, Maggie, for eight years.

“It’s meant to be another form of interaction with your dog; another way to be together,” she said. “At first I was like ‘get off my mat!’ but now I get to incorporate my dogs, whom I love, into my yoga practice, which I also love.”

“Dogs are natural stress relievers, They provide unconditional love and being around them releases endorphins, it slows your heart rate and gives you a calming sensation,” Miller added. “Yoga is all about being in the moment, and being with your dog allows you to really be present in your practice. They’re so inquisitive, they are always investigating what you’re up to.

“When you’re on the floor, you’re at their level and they will usually respond to what you’re doing.”

Use them as a bolster

Having dogs gives you something to focus on while moving through yoga poses. This isn’t about teaching your dog yoga, but about bringing them into your space on the mat and benefiting from their good vibes.

“You can copy what your large dog does and tailor your pose sequence around their natural movements,” Miller suggested. “If you have a smaller dog you can pick them up during poses, balance them on your body, use them in your poses.”

“Dogs also can make a great block for you,” added Shannon Barbour, an instructor at The Sanctuary yoga studio in Kings Beach who has a boxer-shepherd mix named Rylee. “Instead of using a block, you can place your hand on them when needing support when you cannot touch the floor.”

Jenna Minnes owns The Yoga Room in Tahoe City and says her dog Stella’s favorite pose is savasana, but as an 85-pound mixed rottweiler-Chesapeake Bay retriever, “she makes a really good bolster and will sit on my lap while I’m meditating.”

Minnes has been practicing yoga for about 15 years and says Stella is good for forward folds especially, as she can use her as a block “when I can’t get my forehead to my knees — she makes a great cushion.”

Miller also lies over her large dogs for support: “My dog sits in front of me on the mat so I’ll do seated poses, put my leg or arms over her, and take some time to give belly rubs and just be with the dogs,” she said.

Meditation with your pup

Seated with her hands in prayer recently, Miller said her dog Maggie came over and fell asleep in her lap.

“It was so sweet; it’s relaxing and fun for both of us,” she said.

Dogs are receptive to their owner’s mood, so having them around often helps create a calming atmosphere for practicing yoga.

“She also lies on the mat while I do downward dog,” Barbour said. “It’s great to have her energy on the mat and learn trust while I am stretching over her.”

Stella the dog also joins Minnes’ classes at The Yoga Room.

“She’s always very joyful and can always relax. I’m lucky because she’s older and is a very calming presence, she isn’t hyperactive,” she said. “She comes to classes and the students are able to connect to that feeling of relaxation. She is very grounding, people give her a pet after class, after coming back from that meditative state; it’s helpful to hear her breathing. You can focus in on your practice, matching your breath to hers to make sure you’re breathing correctly.”

A great wintry activity

During these winter months when a walk is more challenging, doga is a great way to interact with your pet. Each of the experts shared the following tips on how you can incorporate your dog into at-home yoga practice.

Start out on the floor and just see how engaged your dog is with you.

Begin building your poses around the dog and where they want to be; you can lunge over or around the dog if they’re larger, or pick up smaller dogs and balance with them on your leg in warrior, for example.

Downward dog is naturally a great option to match their movements.

Boat pose can be modified using a tug-of-rope held between your legs when extended in boat pose. It doubles as a great core workout and incorporates play and focus for the dog.

Resting positions like child’s pose, savasana and forward folds are great for lying near or on top of your dog and breathing together. Take the time to slow down, get on your dog’s level and slowly stretch, give belly rubs and even dog-massages for a relaxed, happy pup.