OK, cat yoga isn't exactly new. It started with cat cafes, which became a thing in Asia way back in 1998. Now, there are cat cafes all over the world (with adorable names like KitTea, in San Francisco, and Crumbs and Whiskers, in Washington, D.C.). And numerous animal shelters have partnered with cafes and yoga studios in the past year or so to offer cat yoga classes. But since cat café Meow Parlour—half cat-themed bakery and half-cat lounge (don't worry, they're separate spaces for sanitary reasons)—opened in New York City last year and started offering weekly yoga classes, it seems like cat yoga has become more appealing than ever. It's a fit animal lover's dream.
It's also a fool-proof way to relieve stress. I went in the middle of the day, during a particularly grueling day at the office. I left work late, the subway was delayed, and I had to half-run down five blocks to make it to Meow Parlour in time. But to walk in and be greeted by 10 cats frolicking and napping? Instant mood booster. (Science says this is the best workout to make you happier, BTW.)
In my dreams, cat yoga meant 75 minutes of savasana with kittens cuddled up around me. IRL, not so much. Cats are notorious for not cooperating with preconceived notions (or Instagram photo opps), and after some initial signs of interest—like sniffing our toes and using our mats as scratchpads during the 30-minute pre-yoga cat time—most simply settled down for a nap, occasionally cracking one eye as if to ask, "oh, you're still here?"
Here's the deal on the yoga: This is not your average vinyasa flow. Rather, it's a restorative, slow-paced sequence that makes plenty of time for ooh-ing and ahh-ing over your feline neighbors while still guaranteeing a feel-good stretch. In fact, it was the fastest 45-minute vinyasa class I can remember—mostly because I spent half the time eyeing the adorable cats surrounding us. But instead of being distracting, it kept me even more in the moment. And isn't that the whole point of yoga? The one tough part: staying focused on your breath, mostly because the room has a distinct smell of litter box (it goes with the territory, I suppose).
As for the health benefits? Sure, one study says there is some truth to the stereotype of a "crazy" cat lady, but being around cats has some major perks. Owning a cat can decrease your likelihood of death by heart attack by 30 percent, according to research from the University of Minnesota's Stoke Institute; a follow-up study published in the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology showed that it can lower your risk of dying from stroke too. Even better, the top 10 percent most productive people in the business world share one thing in common, according to research from software company DeskTime: they take 17-minute breaks every 52 minutes to do things like watch cat videos on YouTube. And it's long been speculated that cats' purrs can have a calming effect.
If you're more of a dog person, that's fine (and there are health benefits to that too!)—we're not trying to convince you to adopt. But if you can make some time for a furry flow, you won't regret it. Because when a fuzzy kitten flops down on your mat and gives you side-eye when you're in downward dog, how is that not worth it?
Just don't count on getting the perfect #catstagram pic.