Tonight was yoga night in the living room. As I attempted various poses called “downward facing dog” and “mountain pose,” Jetta the dog insisted on licking my fingers and head butting me while Scabs the cat wound through my legs and aimed at jumping on my back. It was at best a semi-successful yoga session.


I have come to enjoy yoga, though I don’t practice it regularly. Although holding odd body contortions for prolonged periods and being constantly told to “breathe” may not sound like much fun, it does stretch out body parts that you didn’t even know you had and I’m told it’s great for core strength. However, sometimes I derive the greatest joy simply from learning the names of the poses.


Either the yogis of the past really liked animals, or they had a veterinarian in their midst, as a majority of poses are named after animals. Take “dolphin” for example, or “cat,” or “cobra.” There is even “cow," “lion,” “monkey,” and “heron.”


On some of these positions, I can feel and hear my shoulders crack and hips pop. I am reminded that palpating large Holstein dairy cows takes its toll on the human form (a common chronic use injury for large animal vets is rotator cuff injury) and I sometimes think that perhaps one should design a yoga session or two aimed at the large animal practitioner.


For starters, a very basic position, in which the practitioner is standing straight, with one arm long at the side and the other arm at a right angle to the body, could be called “Lucky Cow,” facetiously mimicking the stance we take as we palpate. During this position, the practitioner would close her eyes and her mouth, taking only deep breaths through the nose, focusing on the feel of ovaries and a bovine uterus and keeping manure out of her face.


Another possibility, albeit a position aimed at the more experienced Yoga for Vets practitioner, could be a pose in which the individual is bent at the waist at about a thirty-degree angle, with arms and legs bent and tense. Feel the tension in your hands as you wiggle your fingers in small, intricate movements. Focus your eyes on a small area just below your hands, visualizing suture material and a scalpel making incisions and tying knots. This is the “sheep C-section on barn floor” position. This position really helps strengthen the core and concentration abilities.


For the most seasoned Yoga for Vets practitioner, there is a position called “leaning Clydesdale.” In this position, one would be bent at about a seventy-degree angle, with arms curled as if she were holding something very heavy. The back would be rounded, and the legs strong, bent, and held shoulder’s width apart. Imagine a hoof — a very large hoof — in your lap, as you examine the sole for a tiny dark spot indicating the start of an abscess. Then visualize this hoof belonging to a two thousand pound draft horse who has decided that if you insist on holding his foot, then he can use you in place of his foot and therefore lean one quarter of his weight on your back. Don’t forget to breathe.


Granted, “sheep C-section on barn floor” doesn’t really have a good ring to it, but neither does Ardha Chandrasana, which means “half moon pose.” Perhaps “sheep C-section on barn floor” translates into something beautiful sounding in Hindu. If it does, I think I may have just found my marketing angle. In the meantime, I’ll work on perfecting my “cow” pose along with my “lucky cow” pose, provided the dog and cat stay out of the way. 


Dr. Anna O'Brien



Image: Yoga Cow, by fabulousfabs / Flickr