Yoga with cats

A new meaning to the term "cat stretch"

Student Sam Irish pets cat.
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Yoga is one of the few physical activities I really enjoy doing, probably because no one is yelling at me to kick or throw a ball with any degree of accuracy. It’s all about your individual pace and improvement. Even though there’s always someone showing off their perfect headstand or inhuman flexibility, there’s no real way to ‘win’ yoga class. 

Cat yoga, however, is a completely different story – I do believe you can win at cat yoga. How? Be the person who has hoarded the most kittens on their mat by the end of the class.

Since its grand opening last year, the Southpaw Cat Café has been a hit amongst coffee, dessert and animal lovers. When I first visited the café on its opening weekend, there wasn’t a single seat to be found within the enclosed cat room of the café as people clamored to get inside. This time, there were no seats for a different reason. Rather than the usual comfy couches and plush rugs that make up the cat room, the floor was covered with yoga mats.

I used to think cat yoga only took place in trendy downtown lofts in New York or Toronto, but Southpaw has brought this trend to Kingston. Instructor Bee Smith of Moksha Yoga has led several classes at the Southpaw Cat Café so far and, while I only attended one, I can see why they’re so popular. There were men and women of all ages and even an entire four-person family who came to try it out.

Throughout the class, yoga practitioners were inspected not only by the instructor, but by curious cats trying to figure out why we were all moving in sync.

Everytime we switched a pose, I felt more aware of my body movements than any yoga class I’ve ever been to. Probably because, more often than not, a cat was sprawled out on my mat, or sniffing my ponytail – it took a lot of concentration to make sure I didn’t step on a tail. While it made the class a little more challenging, it also made it a lot more fun and rewarding.

For example, I pushed myself like never before to learn how to properly execute downward dog with one hand. I would have never done that, had it not been in order to pet one little white cat that decided to hang out under my head. 

Despite pushing myself to learn these new moves, the atmosphere at cat yoga was less serious than a typical yoga class. The people there didn’t come for quiet reflection or to work on their form. They all agreed to do something fun and ridiculous, and it showed with every giggle and smile between mat neighbors. 

On a regular day, Southpaw offers a unique form of stress relief that comes from interacting with animals. Adding yoga to that mix left my friend and I completely at ease by the time we left. So, it turns out cat yoga isn’t just for middle aged cat ladies, it’s for anyone who wants some unconventional downtime.

Besides adding a unique playfulness to the yoga classes, another purpose of the café is to socialize adoptable cats and hopefully have them meet their new owners in the process. Since they really can’t help but be curious when everyone in the room is inexplicably folding into pretzels, the cats become especially social during the hour of practice.

Priced at $15 a session, Southpaw offers classes that are less expensive than a lot of the yoga studios around town, and a portion of the proceeds go to the Kingston Humane Society. In addition to cat yoga, Southpaw offers sewing workshops and “Mew-vie nights”, where – you guessed it – you hang out and watch a movie with the cats. More information can be found on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/southpaw.cat.cafe/

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