Paws and Breathe

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Kandy Evers was making her way down the city sidewalk, hand on the harness of her new guide dog, when the dog

stopped short and backed up three steps, forcing Evers back. "A Prius had swung into the driveway right in front

of us," Evers said. "The car was so quiet, I wouldn't have known it was there."

That evening, on the 11-acre campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, California, Evers unwound from the

tense traffic practice by going to yoga class. This nonprofit center, which matches blind and visually impaired

adults (and some children) with guide dogs free of charge, added yoga classes to its residential program three

years ago. Since then, hundreds of participants have gone through the requisite training program with greater

ease.

"This is an intense learning environment," says staff nurse Helen Brackley. Participants spend up to four weeks

becoming attuned to their dogs as they learn to work together as a team, something that requires extreme focus.

The program can also be physically demanding. "Residents here are getting more exercise and walking faster than

they're used to," Brackley says.

In an effort to reduce stress and prevent injury among the program participants, Brackley brought in Suzanne

Kanner, a veteran Iyengar Yoga instructor and co-founder of the Yoga Center of Marin in nearby Corte Madera.

Kanner's popular classes at Guide Dogs for the Blind have made a big difference. "We used to see maybe three

cases of shin splints in a class of 25," Brackley says. "Now we get about one case every four classes."

Evers, who lost her sight two years ago and is a recent graduate of the program, found that besides offering

stress relief, yoga helped ease the transition to working with a guide dog by conditioning the body. "Yoga

definitely helps strengthen and relax all the muscles you use daily with the dog," she says.

While Kanner adapts the class for her vision-impaired students by choosing poses that can be done safely and

announcing her intentions before laying a guiding hand on a student, she says her classes at Guide Dogs for the

Blind, with their emphasis on awareness and alignment, are little different from those she teaches to sighted

students. "Yoga requires keen concentration and strength as well as flexibility, and it brings balance, poise,

and a deep sense of inner tranquillity," Kanner says. "Sighted or blind, this is what students are gaining from

their practice."