LAS VEGAS -- There is nothing sweeter than the smile of a dolphin.
As I walk through the underwater viewing area of the Mirage Hotel's Dolphin Habitat, a beautiful smiling dolphin swims right up and kisses me through the glass. The entire family of dolphins seems as friendly as puppies, swimming close to the window and showing off, clearly interested in being near people.
"I have developed such a love relationship with these dolphins," says yoga instructor Willow Withy, who leads the Yoga With Dolphins class at Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat.
Withy also regularly teaches yoga to the stars of Cirque du Soleil's many Las Vegas shows. Yoga helps the high-energy performers relax after their incredibly intense daily workouts, Withy says.
"After practicing 500 back flips a day, they need it," says Willow Withy, whose beautiful name suits her personality and psyche.
Everyone benefits from yoga, which is known to boost GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) levels in the brain, Withy says. The amino acid is found in the central nervous system and low levels are associated with anxiety and other conditions.
"(The calming effect of GABA) is what every anti-depressant on the market tries to simulate."
But combining the healing powers of yoga while in the presence of dolphins is even better, she says, and serenity-seekers can sign up for a one hour yoga class in the dolphin-viewing room. (Space is limited so reserve in advance.)
"It's the best cocktail combination that Vegas has to offer," she quips. "Science has always documented the health benefits for humans with animals, whether it's kittens or puppies -- but with dolphins, it's off the charts."
Nobody really knows why, but it's true, dolphins have a special relationship with humans, and have been known to accelerate emotional and physical healing -- even boost the mood of the clinically depressed.
But Dolphins in captivity? It's not without controversy, but Withy believes these domesticated dolphins are happy.
Dolphins need lots of exercise and stimulation, and they get that from trainers who provide work-outs and 'round the clock attention, she says. And watching them swim up to their trainers and roll over to have their tummies rubbed, it does appear they are content.
There are no dolphin shows, as the facility is a research and training centre, but along with yoga classes you can also sign up to work with a dolphin trainer for the day for an up-close and personal experience with these beautiful creatures.
For more information, see mirage.com and check out the spa and fitness links.