Cats: They’re naturally flexible, capable of “meditating” (read: napping) for hours on end, and able to heighten any Zen-like state with the calming rumble of a purr. They seemingly were born to practice yoga. It doesn’t hurt that they can effortlessly put their feet behind their heads, either.
Last June, Jeanette Skaluba, yogi and volunteer at Homeward Bound Pet Shelter in Decatur, Illinois, put these two seemingly obvious ingredients together when she began hosting Yoga4Cats events to raise money for the shelter. The class resulted in pure magic – and a video, naturally.
With more than 240,000 views on YouTube, the adorable, relaxing video shows friendly kitties sniffing people’s faces during poses such as downward-facing dog, or calmly grooming themselves on the corner of someone’s mat. Basically, it will make you want to rush home and do yoga with your own cats right this minute.
Dealing with cats, though, it’s best to expect the unexpected. In the video, one particularly gutsy feline climbs on top of a woman’s back while she continues to practice before gently jumping down and trotting away. Later, the same cat gets comfy on someone else’s back, prompting the woman to hold the pose a little longer than usual, relishing the opportunity to bond with her furry new friend. Skaluba has had similar experiences practicing yoga with cats, particularly a senior kitty from the shelter named Oreo.
“She used to climb on my shoulder, and she’d stay there if I bent over and did a forward fold,” Skaluba says. “She’d just hang out.”
Oreo’s influence prompted Skaluba to organize the first Yoga4Cats event. Featuring adoptable adult cats, each of the four events has raised money for Homeward Bound’s Catification project, which aims to remodel the organization’s free-roaming cat rooms. So far, two rooms have been remodeled, and the surrounding publicity has led to numerous adoptions.
Cats and yoga might seem like a perfect fit, but it’s no secret that cats are notoriously finicky and sometimes elusive. Skaluba admits that it can be difficult to predict how a cat will behave in a class, but she said she tries to choose outgoing, free-roaming cats who are roommates and already familiar with each other. She also recommends giving the cats a few hours to get comfortable in the yoga studio before the class starts.
“For this I’d say an evening class is probably better, because you can introduce the cats to the space in the morning and let them hang out all day,” she explains. “It’s important to allow the cats to acclimate and get comfortable in their space so they’re not hiding from people – but you’ll have some cats who are so outgoing that it doesn’t matter.”
Skaluba also recommends approaching the class lightheartedly, with an open mind, because the very presence of felines dictates the class will not be super hardcore.
“It’s obviously not going to be serious – not that yoga needs to be serious,” she says. “It’s going to be a lot more playful and fun. For the one we did in October we chose an instructor who used to be in theater, and she designed a practice that was very cat-animated: Stretch out your paws, arch your back like a cat. She chose a playlist that was all cat themed. It was really cool.”
The events have also provided “serendipitous networking opportunities” for Skaluba and Homeward Bound. For instance, after the Yoga4Cats video went viral, the owner of Squirrel Den Studio, a clothing designer in New York, contacted Skaluba, saying she had a t-shirt that might work well with Yoga4Cats events. Since then, t-shirts have been sold at Yoga4Cats events, and Squirrel Den has donated a portion of proceeds to Homeward Bound.
Skaluba says Decatur doesn’t have a very strong yoga community, so at first, when people all over the world were going nuts over the Yoga4Cats concept, people in Skaluba’s hometown had a different response: “Everybody was like – huh? What are you smoking?” Regardless, the events have developed a dedicated following.
“Cat people aren’t as easy to find,” Skaluba says. “Dog people are more gregarious, I think, but cat people – once you find them, I think they might even be more loyal than the dog people. Some have been to every single event.”
Skaluba insists that any shelter or yoga studio can organize similar events; since last June she has seen examples pop up in different cities. To anyone organizing a yoga class with cats, Skaluba recommends capturing the moment, because you never know what might go viral.
“People want to ride the trends,” she said. “It’s become a hip, cool thing. Cat videos are swarming the Internet, but it’s typically not shelter cats. It’s really cool when you can feature shelter cats, because the main reason we’re doing this is to get cats adopted.”
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About Angela: This not-crazy-at-all cat lady loves to lint-roll her favorite dress and go out dancing. She also frequents the gym, the vegan coffee joint, and the warm patch of sunlight on the living room floor. She enjoys a good cat rescue story about kindness and decency overcoming the odds, and she’s an enthusiastic recipient of headbutts and purrs from her three cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey, Phoenix, and Salvador.