animal yoga
animal yoga

Surrounded by Furry Creatures, Finding Your Inner Zen Is No Sweat

Cat yoga is the hottest thing in fitness. So 'pawmaste,' my friends.

Imagine unwinding from a difficult day by going to a yoga class. You unfurl your mat, do a couple preliminary stretches and begin your session with the instructor guiding you through asana. You are in in the downward facing dog position when you feel a furry creature rub against your legs and curl up underneath you. Welcome to Pawmaste.

There is a cat café just up the road from my university that holds monthly yoga sessions with cats. Being both a yoga and cat enthusiast, I convinced my friends to come with me and spend an hour doing sun salutations and tree poses in a room with a dozen felines. The room, separate from where they serve coffee, was already filled with mats, people and tons of cats. Walking through the door was akin to reaching nirvana for me.

Yoga animals include, but aren't limited to, cats.
Yoga animals include, but aren’t limited to, cats, goats and dogs. (Image via Pawmaste)

Yoga for the Mind

It’s no surprise that practicing yoga of any kind is good for your mind and body. With roots in Hinduism, hatha yoga (the kind widely practiced in America) is fundamentally meant to balance the mind through physical poses (asana), controlled breathing and meditation. Besides the benefits to the mind, it also increases flexibility, tones muscles and improves balance.

Perhaps you choose to start your day with yoga, centering yourself before jumping in to school and work so you are more prepared to handle whatever the day throws at you. Or maybe you’re more like me, and do yoga in the evenings as a way to shed the stress of the day and stretch out your sleep-deprived muscles before doing homework or going to bed. No matter what your practice time preference, it still has tons of positive effects for you.

Feel like there’s a new yoga studio every time you head downtown? Yoga has been growing in popularity over time, with a large surge in recent years. Thirty-six million Americans practice yoga, and that number has increased by 50 percent from 2012. In addition to Bikram yoga and cannabis yoga, animal yoga is another modern variation quickly gaining popularity.

Yoga with Animals

Lainey Morse of Oregon conceived the idea of Goat Yoga in 2016. After going through some hardships with her health and relationships, she turned to her goats for comfort, which is not as odd as it sounds. Pets are an excellent mood-booster that relieve stress and anxiety. Animals are increasingly being utilized as a form of therapy, especially on college campuses. My university brings therapy dogs to campus during finals week so students can take some time to pet dogs between and de-stress between exams. (It is, understandably, extremely popular.)

When I did Goat Yoga with Morse last summer, I experienced firsthand how her goats could relieve stress. I was running late to the session and almost couldn’t find an Uber to take me so far out of Portland. Needless to say, I was frazzled by the time I shamefully snuck in five minutes late. Luckily, however, I didn’t hold on to that attitude for long.

Goat yoga
Instructor Lainer Morse specializes in “Goat Yoga.” (Image via Doug Raflik)

Not only is being able to pet goats (and pigs and chickens) while doing yoga incredibly fun, it’s also funny. The goats were mischievous, sometimes knocking over bins of food or jumping on somebody’s back while they’re in a tabletop pose. There were two chickens that seemed to have no interest in humans, yet still stood next to each other off to the side watching us. A pig waddled to the mat of the person in front of me and plopped down, staying there to sleep and snore through the entire session. He and I shared some giggles, as he had to modify most of his poses as not to disturb his new friend.

Good for Everyone

I’ve been to Pawmaste (a cat pun of Namaste) in Indianapolis a couple times now, and each session brings something new and wonderful. The instructor emphasizes how the point of Pawmaste is not to practice yoga perfectly, but rather to have fun and enjoy yourself. They usually plan two catnip breaks during the practice so we have time to play with the animals. The cats usually choose to stay on the cat trees and shelves on the edges of the room and watch the humans do weird poses, but they can’t resist the treat tin and will happily emerge from their hiding spots for some catnip. After that, it’s not uncommon for them to take a nap on your mat, exactly where your leg should go.

At this café, all the cats are up for adoption. It’s a win-win scenario, because humans get to be around cats and possibly take one home, and the cats get to socialize with people and receive plenty of affection. Additionally, the admission fee usually goes back to the animals, providing them with supplies and a facility to stay in.

For me, yoga is about taking time for myself. When I first started practicing yoga, I was worried about how I looked and if I was doing the poses correctly. I was self-conscious that I couldn’t touch my toes or that my warrior poses were wobbly. The more I participated in it and listened to the instructor’s words of affirmation, however, the more my anxiety melted away. As one of my favorite instructors says after a session, “All that you are today, and all that you are not, is enough.”

Animals don’t care how silly you look. They don’t care if your triangle pose is crooked or if you have to put your knees down when you do a plank. They just care if they get scratched behind the ear and receive a treat or two.

Ready to do animal yoga but don’t like cats or goats? Thankfully, there’s plenty of other animals to do yoga with, like horses, dogs or mini pigs. If the animal exists, yoga akin to them is bound to exist, too. Personally, yoga with bunnies is next on my to-do list.

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