There were two main questions on my mind before taking my first cat yoga class: Would the cats do yoga with us? And would we hold them up, Simba-like, as we switched from downward dog to a sun salutation?
As it turns out, the answer to the first question is "yes."
The adoptable cats at Tiny Lions Lounge and Adoption Center, 5245 Jackson Rd. in Ann Arbor, roamed freely as yoga instructor Lisa Norgren led the gentle one-hour class I attended. The cats sometimes crawled onto attendees as we lay in child’s pose or wandered underneath our stomachs as we piked up into downward dog. Sadly, the answer to my second question was "no" – although patrons of Tiny Lions are encouraged to play with and interact with the cats, the staff asks that you not pick the cats up or touch their stomachs.
Tiny Lions, a project of the Huron Valley Humane Society (HSHV), is a unique space for cat lovers of all types. The idea for the "cat cafe" was inspired by the popularity of similar establishments in Japan and many other Asian and European countries, according to Wendy Welch, director of communications for HSHV.
"We’ve been space-constrained at our main shelter for awhile," she says. "People have been wanting to do more, and of course we always want to expand our adoption numbers. So everything just seemed to come together with this solution."
Tiny Lions is open six days a week for patrons to come in and read, work, or just play with the cats. Yoga classes are held on Thursday nights and Sunday mornings for a $10 drop-in fee per class. Holding yoga classes at Tiny Lions was also an idea that Welch and her colleagues got from cat cafes elsewhere in the world.
Norgren, who has been teaching cat yoga at Tiny Lions since the classes began a year and a half ago, wasn’t sure at first how yoga and cats would mix, since yoga is typically a quiet, mindful practice. But she’s enjoyed what the cats bring to her sessions.
"There’s not usually a lot of laughter in yoga practice," she says. “And sometimes cats do really silly things."
Norgren recalls feline hijinks that occurred while several class attendees were struggling to hold a tree pose.
"This cat had been climbing on the wall and just bit it," she says. "And it was like, 'See? Everyone struggles sometimes!'"
Doing yoga with cats gives individuals who might be interested in adopting a chance to interact with cats in a more natural way than adoption centers typically offer.
"I love that yoga here gives people the chance to see the cats’ personalities more rather than just walking in and trying to get a cat to play with you," she says.
It’s clear that some of the regular yoga practitioners at Tiny Lions have favorite cats, greeting them by name as they enter and enticing them over with toys. Multiple yogis have ended up adopting cats from the cafe after engaging with them during a few weeks of yoga.
Welch says HSHV is "thrilled" with the success of both the cat cafe and cat yoga. The yoga classes are typically full or close to it, and hundreds of cats have been adopted from Tiny Lions since it opened. In fact, the HSHV is so pleased with the cats that have found homes through the cafe that Tiny Lions displays the updated adoption number on the front door each week.
Yoga classes are set to continue for the foreseeable future, and Welch and her colleagues are working on more programs to host at Tiny Lions.
"There have been lots of studies that have been done recently specifically on the effects that cats have on our health," she says. "It’s been shown that their purrs reduce our heart rate and that just being around them makes us happier."
Elizabeth Pearce is an Ann Arbor resident. In addition to Concentrate, she frequently contributes to Pulp.
All photos by Doug Coombe.