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Monday, November 17, 2014

Ask the Doga Instructor: Part 1

An interview with Jess, our Doga Instructor
Jess and Nikki B. Play Peekaboo
Today I'd like to give you, my readers, a chance to get to know Jess a little bit better. Jess is our doga instructor, having worked with me to provide a basic yoga series that we can practice while bonding with our dogs. Today is the first of several of these questions I have asked Jess to elaborate on. We invite you to ask your questions in the comments section. Thanks for joining in. Now let's get started with my question for Jess:

Hi Jess,

It’s great to talk with you again. I had such a good time working with you to produce the yoga videos for All Things Dog Blog. Tanner, Oliver and I are really enjoying this practice and have continued to bond more deeply by working out together. Today I’d love to have you answer a question for my readers. Perhaps we can continue this feature for several weeks, getting your insight on a number of items that my readers have asked about. I’ve polled a few of them for their insights on our video yoga segments and we’d love to get your thoughts. Ready? Great!

For me, thinking about a way to stay in shape meant considering a healthy workout that will take me well into old age. I probably am much like my readers and fellow pet bloggers in that sense. We want to work on our physical strength and flexibility, while not always having to leave our pets behind as we do this. What are your thoughts on the benefits of yoga for those of us who have never tried this wonderful way to begin to build a healthier mind and body? 

Jess:  What I love about a yoga practice is the fact that we can all gain a lot from very little. What I mean by that is: in as little as 15 minutes, we can build strength, endurance, flexibility and balance, not to mention all the spiritual and emotional benefits that come with a yoga practice; especially one that involves the use of a partner like our dogs, our most loyal and devoted companions. 

Of course, the longer your practice, the more benefits you’ll enjoy, but let’s face it: we don’t always have an hour to dedicate towards working on our health every day. I’m lucky if I get 20 minutes a day, but I cherish those 20 minutes and I make every second count. I don’t have to purchase a gym membership; I don’t have to travel anywhere, and I don’t need any fancy equipment. 

Sure, there are a lot of options on the market today for high quality yoga mats and props, but they aren’t a necessity. A long scarf can be used in place of a yoga strap, for example, and a stack of pillows can be used instead of a yoga block. These are items that we all have lying around the house which require no financial expenditure. A high quality sticky mat is, of course, recommended, but if you’re just starting out in your practice, and you aren’t practicing advanced level balancing poses, but are, instead, practicing beginner level seated poses, a beach towel on your living room rug will work just fine. The point is: a lack of funds will never deter anyone from beginning a yoga practice at home and may very well be the best decision you ever make for your physical, emotional and spiritual health. The best things in life really are free! 

When I have some time for yoga, I get comfortable in my yoga pants, spread out my mat in my living room, and I’m ready to begin. It takes less than 5 minutes for me to prepare for my practice and I’m already establishing a deep belly breathing pattern, which switches the brain from the sympathetic nervous system into the parasympathetic nervous system. As I taught in our doga videos, the deep belly breathing pattern involves the movement of the breath from the diaphragm, up into the chest, then out the diaphragm, and out the chest. 

This switch into the parasympathetic nervous system is, ultimately, what makes yoga so beneficial to the body, mind and spirit. Most forms of exercise keep our brains in the sympathetic nervous system, which is great for burning fat and calories; but yoga, on the other hand, works in the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls our body’s resting and digesting. This is when our bodies, minds, and spirits, can really rejuvenate and replenish and it is the slow, controlled diaphragmatic movement of the breath that tells our brains to make that shift in the nervous system. I always tell my students that even if you don’t practice any asanas (postures) at all, if you’re practicing that deep belly breathing pattern, and keeping your mind focused on the present moment, void of all worries and distractions, you will notice significant benefits to the body, mind and spirit almost instantly.

So, no matter what your level of experience is with yoga, we can all benefit from its practice simply by breathing deeply and, in the case with doga, establishing a greater connection not only with ourselves, but with our furry friends. Carrie, you have succeeded in helping your dogs become willing participants that act as blocks, to elevate the level of the floor for you, balancing aids and weights, thereby making your yoga practice much more beneficial, personal, and meaningful. The physical challenges that come with the practice of the asanas should only be attempted after we have established that deep belly breathing pattern. We can, of course, always try practicing the asanas without the deep belly breaths, but we would be doing so within the confines of the sympathetic nervous system, thereby robbing ourselves of yoga’s greatest benefits: physical, emotional and spiritual connection.

Being patient with ourselves and taking every pose one step at a time is, of course, highly recommended. Start small, using props and modification options, focus on the rhythm and quality of the breath, and try moving deeper into a pose only if it feels good. Our bodies will relax more with each exhale of the breath, which will enable us to delve deeper into a pose, with time and patience. Pain is not gain in yoga, so always remember to modify a pose to make it feel good, or simply transition slowly to a different pose entirely. This is why yoga works for every body type, regardless of age, mobility level, or experience. 

To get you started, following are some modifications from the yoga workout we created. You'll want to be sure to view the instructional yoga videos first. These can be found at this link. 
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If you're new to Doga or Yoga, please be sure to do these three things: (1) Get your doctor's permission to start a yoga workout, (2) Check with your vet to make sure your dog is able to participate in simple Doga exercises safely, and (3) visit our introductory post where I've outlined a few tips that will help your experience go more smoothly and enjoyable. Keep in mind that you can always stop if a pose is uncomfortable, returning to a relaxing pose.


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