They yowl. They attack ponytails. They scamper urgently across the room in pursuit of things we cannot see.
And yet, cats are a strangely relaxing presence during yoga class.
“Yoga is all about being in the moment,” and cats are in the moment “all the time,” said Amy Apgar, one of two yoga instructors at Meow Parlour, a cat shelter and cafe in Lower Manhattan that, like a growing number of places across the country, offers yoga classes with cats.
The yoga sessions are partly just for fun, but they also bring in new people who may want to adopt a pet. (The cats on hand tend to be highly available.)
Other animal-inspired yoga classes include doga with dogs, yoga with goats and yoga with rabbits. But yoga with cats has gained a small but cultish following.
Meow Parlour, which charges $6 for a half-hour admission to the cafe and $20 to $22 for a yoga class, regularly fields requests from tourists who want to schedule a class during their visits to New York City.
At the Good Mews cat shelter in Marietta, Georgia — a 5,500-square-foot facility with about 100 cats at any given time — repeat visitors are common at the monthly yoga classes. “We have space for 15 people, and we just clear the cat trees and stuff out of the way,” said Nancy Riley, the volunteer marketing coordinator for the shelter. “Instantly, the cats are there on the mats.”
At least 40 cats will wander through the yoga class, Riley said, while others will sit on perches and observe. “Sometimes one will choose a particular person and will stay with them throughout the whole class,” she said. “And some are social butterflies who meet with all the different students.”
During the savasana, or final resting pose of a yoga class, “usually at least half the people will have a cat asleep on their chest — it’s just the sweetest thing,” Riley said.
For Megan O’Boyle, a 30-year-old social worker who moved from her native Wisconsin to New York for graduate school, cat yoga is just one way to spend time with animals, something she misses from home. Living in the city with a roommate, “I need animal time,” she said. “I go to the dog park sometimes.” O’Boyle said she grew up with cats and occasionally practices yoga. After a recent class at Meow Parlour, she said, “It was easy to do, and it was fun to have the cats all around.”
Her roommate, Anna Ginzburg, who is 28 and works in finance, took the class, too. Although the dozen or so cats weren’t particularly cuddly on the night she went (with cat yoga, you take your chances), one of them, a 20-pounder named Freddie Mercury, did make his presence known by repeatedly drowning out the teacher with his meows. The instructor occasionally had to stifle a giggle.
“It’s a big stress reliever,” Ginzburg said. “I want to keep coming back.”
Yoga participants are warned against bringing their own mats, which are likely to see some claw-induced damage.
“None of the classes are ever the same,” said Emilie Legrand, a co-owner of Meow Parlour and an affiliated bakery, Macaron Parlour, both on the Lower East Side. “It depends on the group of cats and the time of day.” Afternoon classes tend to be more laid back, she said, because the cats are sleepy and just observe, while at the evening classes, when the cats are anticipating supper, they tend to be more frolicsome.
At KitTea Cat Café in San Francisco, the Cats on Mats class happens every Wednesday night and costs $30 a person. There are typically at least a dozen cats, but room for only eight yogis.
“Our yoga instructors always incorporate the silliness and unpredictability of the cats themselves,” said Courtney Hatt, 31, who ditched a job in high tech to start up KitTea, which serves teas, Belgian waffles, wraps and other fare.
“Like, sometimes a cat will be using the litter box.”
Similar cat cafes have sprouted across the country in the last two years or so, typically separating the animal playspace from the food area, for health reasons.
The emphasis tends to be less on the food than on fostering good times for people in need of a cat fix. Cat participation in the yoga classes varies widely.
“We’ve actually had kitties who have stretched with people,” Hatt said. “Probably unintentionally. But they do an excellent downward dog.”
Legrand, of Meow Parlour, said that the rotating cast of cats refreshes the experience. “It’s fun when we have a few new cats, and you can tell it’s their first yoga class, because they are very curious,” she said. “The yoga mats are like cat magnets.”
Ingrid King, a cat blogger, practices reiki, a healing therapy that involves the transfer of energy from person to person or, in King’s case, person to cat. And while she herself is more of a Pilates person, she called yoga a good fit for everything feline.
“Cats’ energy is such a wonderful and relaxing thing to be around,” King said. “I think it’s a perfect match to yoga.”