There are so many yoga poses inspired by – and named after – animals. Still, you won’t likely see dogs, cats or any furry or feathery creature doing yoga any time soon. However, you can come close to the experience by taking one of the Animal Welfare League of Arlington (AWLA)’s kitten or puppy yoga classes, which the organization has been hosting regularly since 2016.
As some of the AWLA’s kittens and puppies await adoption, they attend kitten or puppy yoga classes as guests of honor. And while the young animals don’t do yoga themselves, they do steal the proverbial show. During these classes, human yogis not only get the benefits of a workout taught by a seasoned certified yoga instructor, but they also enjoy the company of young cats or dogs who have free rein of the room.
“As the puppy yoga classes go on, the puppies mostly run around, jump in people's laps, play with each other, and fall asleep on people,” Chelsea Jones, AWLA Senior Communications Specialist, said. “Kittens can be a little more diverse. Some get stuck in right away and go up to people for a cuddle, some want to play, and some take their time surveying the room before interacting with anyone.”
These classes offer a win for every party involved. They not only warm up the hearts (and muscles) of animal lovers in the community, but they also serve as important fundraisers for the AWLA. All the while, these classes also provide excellent socialization opportunities for the participating young animals.
“The puppies and kittens sleep really hard after each of these events,” Jones said.
All kitten and yoga puppy classes are taught by certified instructor Beth Wolfe, who was the one to approach the AWLA with the idea for this program back in 2016. She offered up her skills to the AWLA, and with her experience with both animals and yoga, it was an obvious ‘yes’ for the local animal welfare organization.
“I also teach goat yoga, and I used to work with a marsupial sanctuary.” Wolfe said. “We did a lot of kangaroo yoga, so I know the benefits of combining animals with yoga well, and I love facilitating these classes.”
Wolfe added that yoga practice that includes animals is very different from traditional yoga – and that both forms of practice offer tremendous benefits
“Practicing yoga with animals is totally different from practicing yoga in a traditional vinyasa class,” Wolfe said. “Rather than focusing on the traditional postures – asana – of yoga, I shift the focus to the yoga rasas, or ‘energies,’ which include love, humor, wonder, and calmness. I find that the ‘animal therapy’ aspect is beneficial for relieving stress. There is a lot of laughter and silliness at the animal classes, and everyone leaves with a big smile on their face.”
These smiles don’t come at the cost of the puppies’ or kittens’ health and safety, either; the AWLA is very intentional about choosing the right animals for these classes.
“There are a few factors that go into deciding when we have puppies or kittens that can attend yoga,” Jones said. “They need to be at least six weeks old and able to be away from their mother for a few hours. They also must be up-to-date on their vaccines and healthy overall. No runny noses allowed! We also look for litters of social puppies and kittens who won't be scared by a crowd of people.”
Jones added that it is usually between ten and 12 kittens who attend kitten yoga, and between seven and ten puppies for puppy yoga. AWLA also caps the classes at 25 people to avoid overwhelming the puppies and kittens.
Wolfe is also on her toes for every kitten and puppy yoga class she teaches. She is always sensitive to the nature of the specific kittens and puppies when leading each class – ensuring that the classes complement the temperament of the young animals.
“The number of yoga poses we do varies depending on the energy of the animals,” Wolfe said. “When they’re sleepy or shy, we do more movement-based yoga, and when they’re playful and cuddly, we focus our energy on being present with them. I always try to incorporate some easy ‘feel good’ stretches – mostly seated and prone. And of course, we always do animal related poses like cat, tiger, sphinx, puppy, down dog, and upward dog.”
As Wolf doesn't always expect human yogis to always execute perfect poses, the AWLA team doesn’t expect perfect potty etiquette from the animals. They always come as prepared as possible for bathroom malfunctions.
“The kittens are almost always already litter-trained, so we make sure to have a few litter boxes around the room,” Jones said. “It's a different story for puppies. They are too young to be house-trained, so we come prepared for accidents, which definitely happen. We have lots of paper towels, poop bags, and cleaning spray. We warn yogis about this and ask them not to bring yoga mats they are particularly attached to.”
Still, these classes are worth putting up with potty accidents. Since their inception, both kitten and puppy yoga have been among the AWLA’s most popular fundraising activities.
“Kitten yoga, and especially puppy yoga, is extremely popular,” Jones said. “We almost always sell out for the classes we offer, and then for puppy yoga, there is usually a long waitlist.”
Since the classes depend on the availability and health of kittens and puppies, the AWLA cannot establish a set-in-stone yoga schedule. While kitten yoga is typically held once or twice per month, puppy yoga happens less frequently because the “inventory” of the AWLA’s healthy puppies isn’t as reliable.
The classes are ticketed, with each slot costing $40. Children must be over the age of 12 to attend.
In order to stay in the loop with these classes, which are held at the AWLA’s facility, visit bethawolfe.com/events. Also, follow the Arlington Welfare League of Virginia on Facebook, or on Instagram under the handle @awlaarlington.