Yoga has gone to the dogs — and cats

A novelty activity among animal lovers, but what about those who see felines as foes

Words by Mia Simone Rush
Video and Graphic by Megan Ellis
Photos courtesy of Amy Peddycord

“They can smell fear,” the nice lady told me. “They cling to it.”

“Yeah, and what’s even worse is if they know you’re afraid and you just so happen to be allergic,” said the nice lady’s friend. “You’re not allergic, right?”

“No,” I replied. But I was fearful, and for the next hour, I would have to grapple with that fear.

Cats.

I am terrified of cats —  the kind of terrified that brings me to tears. Yet I don’t quite understand where this fear comes from. Maybe it’s my belief that black cats are bad luck. Maybe it was my mother telling me not to interact with the ones in the neighborhood because they could have rabies.

Whatever the cause, I was now subjecting myself to yoga — a seemingly peaceful activity — in a room filled with cats. And the people who love them.

Cats run around the room freely as Amy Becker teaches class.

But maybe facing this fear would be great. After all, it was in the name of charity.

We entered the room where the event would take place. A small area toward the door was blocked off for the cats. The cylindrical barricade attracted the attention of the other participants but not me. I looked for a spot far from the barricade.

Pet yoga is a relatively new trend. At the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, the proceeds directly benefit the organization while giving the cats an opportunity to find a new home. Participants can register online for $10 or pay $15 at the door. During the event, cats roam freely. Some are completely in the mix and interact with participants, while others hang around the edges, waiting for it all to be over.

I thought of myself as one of the cats on the outskirts of it all. I tried to hide my fear as much as possible. I prayed that when my eyes were closed, one wouldn’t sneak up on me and catch me off guard. I listened as the yoga instructor, Amy Becker, talked about breath and how important it was to be calm and present. I was working on it.

Peddycord said the dogs seemed relaxed by the end of class

Breathe in through your nose. Exhale out your mouth. That was my focus. I became less concerned about the cats and more concerned about my breathing — until a cat entered my bubble. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, but when I opened my eyes it was near my belongings.

The cat was black. “Remember, black cats are bad luck,” I told myself as I tried my hardest to not lose focus. Breathing, Mia, breathing. Relax. It’s fine. What’s the worst thing that can happen? I put my energy back into myself.

And then the cat threw up. Twice. I was done with cat yoga, but it wasn’t time to go.

The Animal Rescue League isn’t the only organization bringing animals, yoga and charity together. At Invoke Studios in Indianapolis, yoga instructor Amy Peddycord teaches a similar class annually. The only difference is it’s with dogs. All proceeds benefit FACE, a low-cost animal clinic in the surrounding area.  

“By no means am I a doga expert. I’ve taught yoga for 15 years,” Peddycord said. “I read a book and went online, learned enough to teach a charity class, but I’m not like some people who do this all the time.”

Invoke Studio’s first doga class sold out and had dogs of all sizes.

The class is not as chaotic as one would think. By the end of the session, the animals seem calmer. The event has become a bonding experience between the owner and the animal.

“I think that everybody likes their dog and everybody likes charity,” Peddycord said. “I don’t think that if it was once a week without charity that we would get such a good drive.”

The class ended with a breathing technique: putting the same energy out as we wanted to receive back. My eyes were closed and I felt relaxed. The soothing music had a way of taking me to another place where cats weren’t all round. But when I opened my eyes, they were everywhere, and the last place I wanted to be was in that room.

But I was relaxed, and maybe charity was the reason I was able to make it the whole session without a major meltdown.

Maybe.

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