A mother and baby yoga class may not be as serene and mindful as your

typical yoga gathering, but a 20-pound infant on your thigh does make for an

effective weight when going into a ''warrior'' pose, and toddlers are very

good at imitating a ''down dog'' pose.

Best of all, participants sometimes put so much into a 90-minute class that

they're ready to all stretch out on the floor at the end.

Boasts Sebastopol yoga teacher Devorah Blum, ''We had nine babies in here

the other day and in our final relaxation pose there wasn't a peep.'' Of

course, three were also nursing.

A roomful of barefoot mothers sitting in the lotus position while newbie

yogis crawl among them is only one part of the changing scene of yoga. In

fact, there would seem to be no end to the new twists on the centuries-old

practice of physical postures, breathing and meditation.

Blum's Yoga Ganesha Studio in Sebastopol also specializes in prenatal yoga

and kids' yoga.

At other Sonoma County sites, you can find yoga classes specifically

designed for horseback riders and one for gardeners. There are yoga teachers

who focus on moves and stretches for surfers, dancers and construction

workers. You can find laughter yoga clubs and dog owners can rent a video on

yoga exercises to do with their pets called ''doga.''

It's no surprise that yoga, traditional or morphed, is popular in the

region, said Allan Nett, a Napa contractor and longtime yoga practitioner who

came up with a form of yoga for blue collar workers.

''People in the Bay Area have an openness to investigate new things.

They're able to cut loose and experiment,'' said Nett.

The lifestyle in Sonoma County puts an emphasis on wellness, said Blum.

''People here are always looking for ways to take good care of themselves in a

natural way.''

Melanie MacDonald of Petaluma counts on yoga to help her ''stay grounded as

a new mom in my very busy world.'' Before the mother and baby class, she took

a prenatal yoga class which she credits for her ''fairly easy labor.''

The physical benefits of yoga poses (called asanas), said Blum, ''help a

mother to regain abdominal strength and tone, aids the uterus in shrinking

back to its normal size and brings stamina to sleep-deprived women.''

The emphasis on mindfulness, which yoga encourages through breathing and

meditation, is useful in ''learning how to become calm in challenging

situations,'' said Blum, who designed the mother and baby yoga class when she

was a new mother and looking for a class she could attend with her baby, help

her get back in shape and meet other new mothers.

Orthopedic physician Gail Dubinsky, a longtime yoga practitioner, designed

a series of yoga moves specific to gardeners after she hurt herself during one

long day of mulching her Santa Rosa garden. She tried to wrestle an overloaded

wheelbarrow and tore up her right elbow.

''After months of therapy,'' she said, ''it occurred to me that gardeners

as a group are all so fanatic about their passion and such universal

over-doers that I could really provide a service in helping them do it in a

more sustainable way, both physically and attitudinally.''

Focusing on the correct way to lunge, reach, bend forward and ''use your

legs to save your back,'' Dubinsky put together an instructional DVD called

Yoga for Gardeners, using Sonoma County gardeners and yoga enthusiasts as


Yoga, said Dubinsky, has ''almost limitless potential for variation and

modification for different needs and abilities of people. Since the physical

arm of yoga is such a comprehensive system for strength, flexibility, balance

and focus, one can pick and choose postures that suit their needs.''

Vickie Morse, a fitness instructor at the Airport Club in Santa Rosa,

combined her two passions for yoga and horseback riding into a yoga for

equestrians class.

Riding and yoga, she said, ''share the universal goal of establishing

union. In yoga, union refers to merging all aspects of yourself, attaining

unity of body, mind and spirit. Transferring that quality of union to your

riding will help you to attain the ultimate relationship with your horse.

There is nothing like being in complete harmony with your horse, whether it be

dressage, jumping or even working cattle.''

Her yoga for equestrian classes are for the human, not the horse, although

she has taught mounted classes in which students do their yoga stretches in

the saddle. Generally, students work on yoga moves that help strengthen core

muscles, elongate the spine, open the hips and relax the shoulders.

The physical part of yoga, she said, is ''a natural fit'' for riders. But

so are the breathing and mindfulness parts. ''If you are not mindful you may

be sending mixed messages to your horse. And even subtle changes in your

breathing can affect the quality of the movement with your horse.''

Allan Nett's class Yoga with Your Boots On is an offshoot of a successful

one he designed several years ago called Yoga for the Construction Industry.

As a construction worker, he knew that people in his business ''use their

bodies like donkeys.'' Taking the basics of Iyengar yoga, which emphasizes the

physical alignment of the body, he devised a series of stretches that target

the back, shoulders, neck and hips.

''Most construction workers are off balance.''

It was a hard sell at first, especially to some men, who Nett said

''worried that I was going to make them wear spandex.'' He renamed the poses

to tool-guy friendly terms. For example, Tadasana or the ''mountain pose''

which basically teaches someone to stand straight and balanced, he calls

''Plumb Bob.'' When his students found that yoga stretches were more effective

than ibuprofen or simple suffering, he had his niche.

Yoga with Your Boots On speaks to the fact that students can wear their

regular work clothes, be that blue jeans, work boots, dresses, suits or

loafers (but no high heels). He's adapted that yoga style around the Bay Area

for a variety of trades and professions, including school teachers and city

park employees.

Then there's laughter yoga in which participants use exercises that

stimulate 20 minutes or more of therapeutic laughter. Monnet Zubieta leads

laughter yoga groups at Santa Rosa Junior College and elsewhere in Sonoma

County and said the yoga comes in through the breathing technique, which

focuses on the abdomen and diaphragm and is known in yoga as kalabati

breathing or breath of fire.

But she said, in terms of traditional yoga, it's really more about laughing

than yoga.

Which is exactly what 16-month-old William MacDonald was doing one morning

in his mother and baby yoga class. As mother Melanie attempted a yoga crunch,

he decided it was hop-on-mom time. It was not exactly what the instructor

meant when she said, ''Now, we need to let mommy work on her abs.''

Susan Swartz is a freelance writer and author based in Sonoma County.

Contact her at

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