Holding the proper pose for a plank in Pilates gets tough when a 2-month-old calico kitten named Blondi races under your arms.
Proper breath control easily dissolves into giggles when a pair of gray and white kittens called Angela and Pam race across a yoga studio floor.
This is Pilates with kittens at Breezeway Studios in Knoxville on a Sunday morning. Instructor Susie Kaplar gives her 18 students instructions in stretching, twisting, breathing – and animal contact.
“When a kitten plops on your stomach, you are going to stop and pet a kitten,” she says.
The hourlong session was the fifth in Young-Williams’ summer “Kitten Yoga” series. Held at different exercise studios, the classes teach yoga or Pilates while kittens run, prance, stalk and sit among the exercise mats.
This Pilates class is a combination of stretching your spine and petting a kitten or twisting your torso and cuddling a cat. The humans, including myself, paid $15 each to perform core-strengthening exercises among the free-roaming felines.
Young-Williams volunteer Azura Miller made two trips to the center to bring the agile, adoptable kittens to the studio. The 2- to 3-months-old cats were a silver tabby named Dexter, three nearly identical gray kittens called Pudge, Angela and Pam and the calico trio of Blondi, Yakko and Wakko.
Young-Williams began Kitten Yoga after Development Coordinator Sophie Nguyen heard about a similar class in Louisville, Ky. When the first class sold out quickly, more were added.
Planks, bridges, and kittens
For Sunday’s Pilates, we humans began stretched out on rubber mats on the studio floor, putting us at kitten level. Miller and Young-Williams volunteers Allison Murray and Grace Malone removed the kittens from plastic or cardboard carriers. They scattered ping pong balls and catnip-stuffed mice in the middle of the floor, instantly drawing the cats’ attention.
We humans raised our spines slowly into a Pilates bridge. The felines chased the ping pong balls and batted the toy mice, often more interested in each other and their toys than the humans moving around them.
We humans pushed up on their hands to perform planks. The cats jumped over our outstretched legs and dashed under our raised abdomens. As a row of women bicycled their legs in the air, tiny calico Blondi sat quietly to watch wide eyed.
Mandi Bergeron’s pink sneakers were a kitty magnet. As she exercised, Bergeron sometimes jangled one shoe’s laces in the air as Blondi and gray kitty Pudge took turns swatting at the swinging strings.
Miller, Murphy and Malone got their own cardio workouts as they repeatedly retrieved the kittens when the cats ran into a small back room of the studio.
Kittens ‘extra perk’
Most class participants were familiar with yoga or Pilates, and many were pet owners. “Kittens are the extra perk,” sad Maddie Holtzclaw.
“I love animals and I like to exercise,” said South College student Allie Smith, who owns three dogs. “Put the two together and it’s irresistible.”
‘Kitten Yoga’ raises funds, awareness
Since the classes don’t include on-site adoptions, all the kittens returned at least temporarily to Young-Williams on Sunday. At least two class participants expressed interest in adopting kittens. Cats who participated in the past four sessions have been adopted but Nyugen didn’t know if yoga or Pilates participants adopted the animals.
The next Kitten Yoga sessions are 11:30 a.m. June 17, and Sunday, June 18 at Bullman’s Kickboxing & Krav Maga, 4589 Kingston Pike. Cost is $20. The series also includes two July sessions; those dates aren’t set.
Young-Williams has raised more than $1,000 from the classes, Nguyen said. The classes also raise awareness for the shelter. “They let people know about kitten season in general and that we need supplies and we need people to come and adopt,” she said.