Forget the downward dog – at one Northland yoga studio it is all about the kittens.
Yoga and frisky felines might not seem an obvious combination but for the owner of Yin Side Yoga, near Paihia in the Bay of Islands, they are a perfect match.
Francie Long, also a volunteer with local charity Coast to Coast Cat Rescue, said the sessions were fun but also served a serious purpose.
So far a dozen abandoned, rescued or unwanted kittens had found “forever homes” after capturing the hearts of people attending her yoga sessions.
Long said she had fostered 30 or so kittens herself.
“I love kittens and I love yoga, so I thought it was a good mix to bring the two together to raise awareness and to fundraise for fostering and the desexing programme.
“And with yin yoga, it’s very much about resetting your nervous system. Adding kittens into it brings another element of joy and laughter and just being able to relax.”
On the day RNZ attended a session at the Haruru studio, nine people were practising yoga while 13 kittens, all about six weeks old, frolicked, scampered and dozed around them.
A few clambered inside T-shirts or settled in for naps on people’s laps, backs or bellies.
Long said that was one of the challenges of kitten yoga – if a kitten fell asleep on you in mid-pose, you might have to wait for it to wake up before you could change position.
“They’re very quiet so you don’t know they’re around you sometimes. Maybe it’s only when you roll out of a pose or move that you hear a meow or feel a scratch telling you to stay exactly where you are. Once a cat finds you and sits on you, you can’t move until they move.”
There was no set fee for the sessions, but anyone taking part was invited to give a koha to Coast to Coast Cat Rescue.
Socialisation was an even more important aspect of kitten yoga than fundraising or rehoming, Long said.
“If kittens come off the street and they’re a bit feral or a bit timid, they’re hard to rehome. So giving them this little bit of time, with people and other kittens, lets them know that humans aren’t all bad. So it helps getting them fostered or rehomed to their new whānau.”
The benefits extended to the people taking part, Long said.
“Cats are very calming. I know, for myself personally, I deal with a lot of anxiety and I find it really soothing to have my cat in the evening to come home to and to be able to chill out with him. And they’re entertaining as well.”
Ironically, Pip from Whangārei was working on her cat-and-cow pose when a kitten made itself comfortable on her back.
“This is the first time I’ve heard about kitten yoga. I signed up straight away,” Pip said.
“It just sounded like the best combination to make your week, and it has. This is the cutest thing ever.”
Rose, from Waipapa, was another kitten yoga convert.
“I just think it’s a brilliant idea. It’s good for the kittens, it’s good for us. Especially because I can’t have cats where I live, so this is my little kitten fix.”
One of the kittens even seemed to come up with a plan for finding a home, by snuggling itself deep into the reporter’s camera bag and falling asleep.
Long said unwanted kittens were a significant problem in Northland because the mild climate meant cats could breed almost all-year round.
“So it’s really good there are a lot of free desexing programs around at the moment. That’s taken the economic barrier out of owning cats or a kitten. Now there’s no excuse really for not desexing your animal.”
However, as long as kittens needed to be rehomed, Long said yoga and kittens would make a perfect combination.
“Kittens love the energy. They’re very, very aware of the energy of people and with yin yoga, your energy grounds a little, you become calm and it settles the kittens. They feel comfortable, they feel safe, and they’ll curl up with you. They’ll fall asleep on you. They might start pulling your hair or nibbling your toes, but yeah, it’s definitely a good mix.”
The next kitten yoga session will take place in the New Year once kitten season is underway.
Northlanders wanting to adopt a kitten are welcome to contact Coast to Coast Cat Rescue.