Nameowste: Cats Reap Yoga Benefits, Too

As soon as I sit down, my cat Natasha becomes my yoga partner. She helps me stay focused when she swishes her tail under my nose while I’m in Half Moon pose or swats my ponytail while in Downward Facing Dog. She’s a master at shavasana, the relaxation pose at the end of practice.

Cat-loving yogis have always admired their pets’ abilities in the practice of yoga, and now more people have the opportunity to experience the benefits of yoga cat-style, thanks to cat yoga classes. The fun, furry, and physical phenomenon is popping up in shelters, cat cafés, and other places from coast to coast.

From philanthropic to physiological, everyone benefits from cat yoga events. Participants get a good workout, with the bonus of interacting with cats. Shelters and rescue groups raise needed funds to care for cats. Cats get to brush up on their socialization skills with people, making them more adoptable. Win-win-win!

Symbiotic Health Benefits

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health identifies yoga as one of the most commonly used complementary health approaches to maintain health and wellbeing, relieve stress and anxiety, and enhance quality of life. Health benefits include lower blood pressure and heart rate, relief of depression and insomnia, reduced symptoms of low back pain, and improved strength, flexibility, and overall fitness.

A wealth of research points to health benefits of yoga for humans, but do shared yoga classes benefit cats as well? Science says yes.

During the session, some cats actively engage with people, seeking to touch or be touched, and people respond accordingly. Touch receptors beneath the skin of humans and animals activate the flow of oxytocin and a cascade of “feel-good” brain chemicals, creating a calming effect. Physiological effects of this type of beneficial touch include lower blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate, and drops in levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

Heads up if you’re new to cats: studies find cats prefer to be petted in the temporal region, between the eyes and ears, followed by the chin area, and do not like their tails touched.

Cue Music

Music is like a second heartbeat and can have a profound effect on living beings. In yoga, music helps to prepare the body, mind, and breath for the practice ahead. In Wales, recent veterinary school graduate Sian Barr studied the effects of yoga meditation music on cats in the veterinary clinic. In the yearlong test she observed body postures, ear and eye placements, and measured respiration levels. In an interview she said, “I found that the music had a dramatic effect on respiration rates, with those exposed to the music decreasing to a relaxed rate much quicker than those not exposed.”

Other research has found that cats prefer species-specific music based on pitch, tempo, and timbre. One sample was based on the tempo of purring. The research shows such music can reduce stress and bring about calm behavior. Purringtons Cat Lounge, in Portland, Oregon, has weekly cat yoga classes, and co-owner Kristen Castillo said she noticed cats responded favorably when an instructor started the class with a loud purring sound that lasted for several minutes. Perhaps Om Shanti yoga meditation music strikes the right chord for cats.

Yoga At Home

If you don’t live near a facility that offers cat yoga, you can practice at home with your own cat. Not only will you both enjoy the health benefits, the interaction will help strengthen your bond. Even if you’re not a yoga enthusiast, just sitting on floor doing gentle stretches will get your cat’s attention.

Cat yoga provides health benefits to both people and cats and, bonus, you get to train with feline masters of flexibility, mindful meditation, and the art of living in the moment.Nameowste.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.