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The art of Budokon

There is nothing elegant about the dancing dog.

At least, not the way I do it.

Mimi Rieger makes the Budokon move look like some kind of living sculpture exhibit.

But when I get on all fours, try to bring my foot to my ear and then twist into a one-armed backbend, well ...

So, Budokon: It's the hot, new Hollywood whatever. Supposedly a godsend workout for Courteney Cox and David Arquette. Supposedly helped Jennifer Aniston get over Brad Pitt.

Supposedly — according to the official Budokon Web site (www.budokon.com) — it's "the art of living. It is your waking and your sleeping, your walking and your sitting, your living and your dying."

Thank God I hadn't read that description before showing up for Rieger's class in Washington or I definitely would have been rolling my eyes the whole time.

Budokon isn't some ancient practice, rooted in one of the world's great religions and beloved by monastic clerics on a remote island somewhere. It was invented seven years ago by a California dude named Cameron Shayne.

And it's a hell of a workout.

Budokon (translation: "way of the spiritual warrior") is a combination of yoga and martial arts, with a dash of meditation.

The movements would feel familiar to anyone schooled in either practice, though no one should show up expecting a sedate hour of breathing exercises.

"It is a workout — it's a conditioning class," says Rieger, who began teaching Budokon a year ago, after studying with Shayne in New York and Boston. Rieger had been teaching yoga for three years when she signed up for a one-time workshop with Shayne.

"I just fell in love with it. I went up to him after class and said, 'I have to teach this,' " she recalled. "I just felt like it was just really interesting, beautiful, well-thought-out movement. So different, but so organic at the same time."

Rieger uses the word "flow" a lot during her 75-minute class. Many of the exercises start out hands down on the mat, jumping from one position to the next. When Rieger demonstrates, her body seems to linger, suspended in the air, before landing softly. When the rest of us try to follow, the room vibrates with heavy thuds.

"You have to be lighthearted, but also a diligent practitioner," says Rieger of the effort it takes to gain proficiency in the exercise. "Once you do it more and more, you start to believe in yourself and in the movements."

In class, Rieger calls Budokon a "thinking man's exercise," because the moves require a lot of focus. They're not exactly intuitive, and, as Rieger says again and again, they require that we move slowly, precisely.

Belinda Bates, 38, of Arlington, Va., didn't feel so elegant with her dancing dogs either when she first started taking Budokon a year ago.

"It was very challenging," she remembered. "You could just feel all your muscles burning. But at the end of it you could just feel everything working."

Bates goes to two Budokon classes a week, in part because her waist has shrunk and her arms have gained muscle definition, but also out of loyalty to Rieger. Originally from Louisiana, Rieger is tough and articulate and has folks like Bates saying they'd "follow her wherever she was teaching."

"I'm always looking for something new, something to invigorate," Rieger says. "Because I want to keep my teaching fresh."

W. Kellee Charles, 25, stays low to the floor during a Budokon class in the District of Columbia. Budokon combines meditation and elements of martial arts and yoga. - THE WASHINGTON POST