The latest exercise trend for animal lovers?
Lotus position. Warrior. Downward cat?
You may recognize the first two as common yoga positions, but how about the third?
Animal shelters across the country are beginning to offer yoga with cats as a way to not only offer physical and emotional health to human participants, but to provide the cats extra socialization time to increase their likelihood of adoption and make them even better potential pets.
At any given time, the Good Mews cat shelter near Atlanta, Georgia is home to 100 cats awaiting their furr-ever home. But a few times a month, the felines flee their cages for a chance to enjoy some human interaction through yoga. The class participation fee becomes a donation to help support the shelter’s animals.
“Cat yoga is an excellent way for those who may have been thinking about becoming more active to jump right in. In such an environment, there is no pressure to get that ‘sun salutation’ pose just right; with a sweet kitty at your feet, no one will notice if you become a little off balance,” says Dr. Jacqueline Ivey-Brown, internal medicine physician and associate program director of the internal medicine residency program at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill.
And Dr. Ivey-Brown says there are an array of health benefits from both the yoga and interacting with animals.
“There are multiple health benefits with yoga that are centered on improved cardiovascular health, and well-documented studies have noted multiple cardiovascular benefits to interacting with pets. Those specifically noted are decreases to resting heart rates, lower blood pressure, decreases in perceived stress levels/anxiety, and lower levels of depression.”
Dr. Ivey-Brown explains that because humans are very social creatures, we tend to do well in groups and not in isolation. As such, pets can be a wonderful vehicle in making sure that need is met both inside and outside of the home.
“The same is true and has been studied in animal companionship. It has been noted that their presence in a room alone is enough to decrease a person’s resting heart rate as well as blood pressure. Cat yoga also guarantees you will be in a room with others who enjoy the company of felines, and this can broaden one’s social interactions and overall well-being.”
But for those with pet allergies, Dr. Ivey-Brown suggests exercising caution.
“I would definitely caution anyone with pet allergies to not do this particular activity. Even if one has ‘mild’ allergies such as sneezing, repeated exposure to dander can increase the symptom severity. What may have been a mild sneeze whenever you come across a cat at a distance might progress to hives or even anaphylaxis (a life threatening emergency when the airway can become swollen and closed alongside a severe drop in blood pressure) within seconds to minutes,” she says.
No word yet on whether or not these classes will be pouncing into Chicagoland. But you can always consider purchasing a yoga mat and adopting a furry friend for your own home.
About the Author
Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is the public affairs coordinator at Advocate Children's Hospital. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.